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B2B: One Big Top Light

We're back to basics today -- looking at working with a single, large source and how to tweak it.

Five years ago, I mostly thought of large sources in a "45-degrees-up-and-over" kind of way. Safe? Yes. But now, that kind of stuff all looks the same to me. So I almost never use them that way.

I definitely light harder than I used to. Getting into on-axis fill opened up a lot of possibilities for me. These days when I do use large light sources, they are more likely to be right behind me (as fill) or in a table-top position, as in the photo above.

Unfortunately, this does not work well with a standard umbrella as this light is all about working the edge of the beam and making use of the fall-off. An Octa works great, but you can get the same feel for lots less with a Photek Softlighter or similar (PLM, etc.). These sources are huge, under $100 and create beautiful soft light with an edge.

So, here's the setup and how to tweak it:

As you can see, the light is right over the top of his head (with a boom). You'd think that would be blowing his face out from being so close, but he is outside of most of the light's beam. His face is right at the edge, so we can easily feather the light down his body.

The light is huge -- and very close -- so it is gorgeous on his face with a nice, big specular highlight. This essentially creates a false tone on Caleb's face that is pretty much all built from the reflection of that large light in close.

As we travel down his body, the light gets further away. But we also move more into the beam of the light, so that equals things out somewhat.

Think of it this way: his hands can "see" more of the light (because of the angle of attack) but they are further away. It nets out, and that relationship is something that can be easily adjusted.

Making Adjustments

We can tweak this light a few different ways. One, the physical distance of the light, represented by "A" in the diagram. The closer the subject to the light, the more pronounced the beam edge.

Speaking of the beam edge, you'll be in or out of that by varying the distance denoted by "B" above. That will affect the light on the face, and where it edges out. You may want it to extend physically over his head just a tad, to double as a rim.

By rotating the light ("C," above) you will control how fast the light falls off as it travels down his body. "B" and "C" are micro adjustments, and will depend on each other. For instance, the closer you are with "B," the more effect a small "C" rotation would have.

Lots of different feels you can get with this one light in a table-top position and tweaking the distance/angle of attack. In this frame he looks vey human/engaging. But I could have pulled Caleb towards me (adjustment "A," bringing him under the full energy of the beam) and his eye sockets would have progressively darkened. The effect would have been less human/engaging and more intense/badass.

BTW, don't be fooled by the glow on the background. It is not a separate light -- I did that in post just to give a little focus. Would have been easy to do while shooting, just a decision I made later.

To keep the feathered burn just on the background, I created a duplicate layer and put a full-frame darken edges burn on that. Then I erased his jacket/shoulders/hands/etc. to the "unburnt" layer underneath. Just makes the burn look a little more three-dimensional, as it would if done with light.

In case you are wondering, Caleb is the same cellist I photographed earlier here. He is onto some really cool stuff since winning the HCAC Rising Stars competition. Really talented guy, and creatively fearless. Exactly the kind of person I hooked up with HCAC to gain access to.

We did a full shoot a couple weeks ago, which we'll OA later.


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