Photography News issue 25

Technique 34 Lighting academy Feather the light for low-key drama Turn your flash so only its edge catches the subject for soft, glancing light...

Photography News Issue 25

Words & pictures by Kingsley Singleton

What is feathering? Feathering simply means turning the softbox away from the subject so that less of it is striking them – often so that just the very edge is providing the illumination. To illustrate how this works, imagine yourself in the sitter’s position, as the light is slowly turned away from you; to that view the light would become narrower and narrower, compressing to a thin line, until eventually it’s completely occluded by itself. Technically any light can be feathered (although the huge spread of an umbrella or a globe diffuser obviously makes that edge far less distinct and therefore near impossible to direct, unless it’s flagged or further restricted somehow). The point at which the light starts turning to shadow, the very edge of the light therefore, is called the penumbra (umbra being full shadow), and it’s here that the most

If you think softboxes are all about creating shadow-free, low-contrast lighting, get set for a creative surprise, because this month we’re going use one to make a dramatic, low-key portrait with lots of contrast. To do this, we’ll be using a technique called feathering, which is all about angling the light so that just its edge touches the subject, producing a glancing effect. But doesn’t glancing light normally mean hard shadows? Fortunately not, because used in the right fashion, the look will still be flattering, and that’s partly down to the fact that feathered light from a softbox produces much smoother effects than fromamore directed or undiffused light like a bare bulb and spill kill. Of course it’s a look that won’t suit every setup, but, aswithother lighting styles, it’s good to have in your arsenal when you’re looking for a more subdued look, and of course you can mix it with other setups if desired.

Above In this version the feathered light from the softbox is working well, glancing across Harri’s face to give the low-effect required. The angle of the softbox also allows it to strike the background, adding light there and creating a nice contrast between the darker, shaded side of Harri’s hair and face.

Here you can see how the light from the softbox is feathered as it is turned in relation to the subject. Starting at the top-left, the light from the edge of the box is minimal, barely touching the subject and too little to use. Slowly turning it back onto the subject gives the look required, and lights the background, but eventually the lighting is too full.

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