Photography News issue 25


Photography News Issue 25


All about softboxes

Feathering simply means turning the

Softboxes are one of the most common light modifiers used in flash photography and will often be supplied with a flash head in kit form. But when you get into expanding your range of modifiers you’ll find that you can buy softboxes in a variety of sizes and shapes. The basic construction of a softbox remains consistent across all types, with a flash head places inside a closed chamber, and diffused by at least one layer of translucent material; a second internal baffle is often used to further diffuse the light. This arrangement means that light is more directional than an umbrella but still remains soft and even. The shape of the box changes the spread of light and also the style of the catchlights in the subject’s eyes, so a while a square box will produce a straighter edge, octagonal softboxes give a more rounded look. Deeper boxes are more focused than shallow ones. You’ll also find strip softboxes, which are long and thin to produce more restricted spread of light. Softbox size is also a factor, as the larger the box in comparison to the subject, the more shadowless the resulting light will be; smaller boxes produce harder shadows.

softbox away from the subject so that less light is striking them... obvious effect takes place. Different modifiers, even different types of softbox produce different thicknesses of penumbra, so it’s well worth experimenting with the gear you’ve got to see how the shape and size of the shadow’s edge changes; for example, here we used an octagonal softbox, which would have a subtle difference to a square one. What all thismeans is that, while aiming the softbox directly at the subject will produce one look, turning it so that only the edge is used to light them will look very different again, and it shows how small changes can make a big difference. You’ll also notice that catchlights in the subject’s eyes look different – they’ll be thinner, because the lightsource is so angled away from them that it becomes a thin beam. Subtle light In this month’s technique, the purpose was to create subtleglancing light,whilealsoallowing the illumination to spill onto the background. The latter part allows the shadowed side of the subject to stand out against a lighter pool, and while this is something you’d often use a second light to do, the combination of the glancing light, the spill and the heavy shadowed side, makes it possible with just one (learn to use fewer lights, and you’ll be able to work more easily on location). If you don’t want a lit background, you can angle the softbox away from the background and use the other side of the light for the feathering, though of course in that position it will be firing back towards you so will need to be flagged from the front to prevent lens flare. Alternatively, you can use a grid attachment on the softbox to restrict its spread. Setting up With Harri around three feet in front of a dark backdrop in the studio, we set up a single light in the four o’clock position. Fitting this with an 85cm octagonal softbox and using both the diffusers in the ’box for the maximum softening effect, the light was directed straight onto her. Next, to find the edge of the light, as desired, we switched on the modelling light, turned it up and swivelled the head away from her towards the background. In doing this, we didn’t move the position of the light itself, just the way it was facing. In turning the head, eventually no light will be striking the subject directly and they’ll be in full shadow (umbra). You can judge this by eye, but it’s often easier to take a test shot. Once Harri was in full shadow, we started to turn the light back onto her very slightly, stopping pretty much as soon as any light hit her face. With just the edge of the light catching the subject, and most of it being blocked by the side of the softbox itself, the subject is now in the transitional point between full light and full shadow. From here, before you get to metering and shooting, it’s all about checking that the modelling on the subject is as you desire, and because the lighting is so precise, it can be helpful if they don’t move too much and keep looking in the same direction. If the light is too full, feather it away a little more. If not enough of the subject is lit up, bring it back. In this position we also assessed whether the enough light was falling on the background,

Octa softbox

Square softbox

Strip softbox

wanted, so we dropped closed the aperture by 2/3 of a stop to f/7.1. Another choice to make is whether you want to provide any fill light using a reflector. In our setup, this added a little more detail to Harri’s hair, but again the choice is purely up to the style of lighting you want. Positioning the reflector can be tricky as so little light is being directed towards it from the feathered softbox; keeping the subject in position, so they don’t block the sliver of light, move it around until it catches; silver and gold surface will have the most effect here. Finally, remember that glancing light can be unflattering, so use it wisely, and carefully retouch any areas where the light is creating too much texture and contrast in the skin. Modifying the setup very slightly, by using a silver reflector, we were able to throw some of the light back onto Harri’s shadowed side giving the picture a little more balance. The reflector must be carefully positioned as the amount of light hitting it is minimal. Check out the shape of the catchlight, too – the softbox feathered it’s just a sliver of light.

too, and with the light basically turned onto the area behind Harri, there was plenty.

How much power? With the light inposition, you can thenmeter it in order to get the correct exposure.We did this using a Gossen Digi Pro F2, and with the light at 1/4 power it delivered an aperture of f/5.6 at ISO 200 – the low f/number / wide aperture might seem unusual at corresponding power but this, of course, is because the power of the light is reduced in the penumbra. Next there was an aesthetic choice to make – whether to stick to the metering or underexpose a little to keep up the moody look. It’s best to try both, and in this case, the metered exposure was a little too bright, losing some of style we

Nextmonth Find out how using two softboxes can give you a variety of different portrait looks. Thanks to This month’s Lighting Academy model was the brilliant Harriadnie Beau (

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