Saturday, 25 October 2008

Feathering the light

The shot above is one I took recently. The eagle eyed among you will spot it's a three light setup. You can see the setup in the pic below, albeit without the third background light which I added later with a purple gel about 50 metres down the warehouse. If you're particularly eagle eyed, you'll notice I had the background flash sitting next to the left flash, and it was on but not gelled, so fired as well.

The point of all that was just to save me a lot of setup description - much easier to show a picture. The actual pictures which are of interest for this post use a slightly different setup, but only slightly. You'll see that I moved the umbrellabox round to the left, as our model turned round to face the column.

What you may not have appreciated is the importance that feathering the light played in this photo. I've seen various blogs (particularly David Hobby's Strobist blog) mention feathering the light, often in terms of a bare flashgun. It's hard to do that with a brolly though, because it bounces light pretty widely. However, with a softbox, or in my case an umbrellabox, you have a much greater control of the light.

Here was my first shot after I moved the light from the far side. I just pointed it straight towards her, and when I fired off a shot, I saw the beam reflected an awful lot of light.

So what I was looking for was to light only our model, and not the beam, or not that much anyway. So I turned the umbrellabox round so it faced across in front of her. That meant only the edge of the light was catching the beam, while a bit more was catching our model. The upshot of this was the beam isn't too bright, while the downside is that the light is a bit more contrasty on her face.

Going back to the photo I made after this, you'll see she moved back away from the beam. This means that the beam is in the feathered edge of the light, but the model is moving more into the main patch of light created by the umbrellabox. Not only that, but by moving away from the beam, she's moving to a position where the umbrellabox seems apparently bigger to her, so is softer light.

Think of it in this way - if you turn the umbrellabox to 90 degrees from your model, its effective size is zero square metres, even though it might be 0.8 square metres when pointed at her. By turning it, you're reducing the size, and effectively making a feathering version of a stripbox, which gives a brighter light towards the direction the umbrellabox is pointing.

There are plenty of other uses for feathering light, such as giving a nice vignette look to your images. A softbox or umbrellabox really does make this an easy thing to do.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the tutorial. Can I use the umbrellabox you mentioned here with a sb800 / sb900 ? if yes do i need any extra accessories for that?


n506 said...

You don't need anything you wouldn't already need for a normal umbrella. So you still need to get a tilting umbrella adapter for your lightstand. You probably already have this. The umbrellabox can seem quite expensive, but compare the price to an octobox of similar size, and it looks really good value!