Main Light Tips & Techniques

I have noticed that many new photographers tend to aim their main light source (this could be an umbrella, a softbox, etc…) directly at the subject. While this will definitely light the subject, it’s certainly not the most flattering way to use your light source. In this post, I would like to introduce you to an idea called “feathering the main light”.

By nature, your light source is typically brighter in the center and tends to fall off toward the edges. Therefore, by aiming your light source directly at the subject, it tends to create more specular highlights and can produce hot spots or can cause the highlights to become overexposed.

So next time, instead of just aiming the light right at your subject, try feathering the light. By this I simply mean to direct the light in front of your subject. You should be working with the edge of your light source and not the center of the light source. I will typically turn my soft box horizontally and have most of the light pass in from of the subject, and just work with the light from the back edge of my soft box. By working with the feathered position of the main light, it gives me a softer, more flattering light on my subject.

Not only is feathering the light much more flattering for my subjects, but it allows me to easily work with a reflector as my fill light – by reflecting the light passing in front of the subject into the shadow side of the subject. When working with a large soft box and feathering, this box acts as both the main light and the fill light ( a term referred to as wrap-around lighting). It also helps keep stray light off the background so I can control the brightness of the background through the use of a background light.

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