The edge of the light

A soft box is a really great light modifier for all kinds of portrait photography. However the soft box is like other modifiers in that the best and most interesting quality of the light, is frequently found at the edge of the light.

Some time ago I saw Bjorn Thomassen talking about using the edge of the soft box, and specifically the bottom edge of a soft box, I put that bit of information away in the brain knowing it would be useful at sometime in the future.

At the end of 2012 I worked with a fantastic model called Nikola Trifunovic at a photo shoot put together by the fine folks at London Speedlite Scene. For me these shoots are great ways to test out lighting techniques, and hone skills for other projects.

Aim the soft box up in the air

Seeing as Nikola had a white shirt and the night club had tall black painted ceilings I knew that I could aim the light ceiling-ward and not have it bounce back to disturb my picture.

Nikola Trifunovic lit by single soft box aimed upwards

First I used a single soft box, a vintage Chimera small sized soft box and positioned it so that the bottom edge was inline with the model’s eyes. As the soft box is tilted up, then the spread of light down his shirt is also minimised, avoiding the highlights from blowing. I “drew” on the image to show the position of the soft box and the direction of the light. At 1/200s at f/2.5 there was some light from the club’s lights captured in the frame event at ISO 100.

Keeping the flash in place I then added another Speedlite flash to the left of the picture to provide separation between Nikola and the background.

Softbox and separation light

With the bare Speedlite to the left of the picture I created the separation I wanted but it was a bit too strong. Fortunately I had the ST-E3 so a turn of the dial and the manually controlled separation light was turned down.

More atmosphere with more lights

Nikola Trifunovic lit with three Speedlite flashes

Taking a cure from my earlier attempts I decided that I wanted to create some starburst effects in the back of the picture, and add a second separation light. To the camera left and out of the frame, a Speedlite flash was placed. It was fitted with a red gel and Honl grid. It creates the red accent on Nikola’s right sleeve and the right side of his face. Way back in the night club I placed the other separation light with a blue gel and a Honl grid on top. Up front was the last Speedlite in the soft box still aimed towards the ceiling. I used an aperture of f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/60s and ISO 800 to bring some of the lights from the club in to the shot, yet still let me create the start burst for the flash. An EF 135mm f/2L USM lens was fitted to the EOS 5D Mark III.

  • Using the edge of the soft box is not new, but many photographers only seem to think of the left and right edges not the top and bottom edges.
  • Having the high black painted ceiling prevents light from bouncing off the ceiling and back down in to my picture.
  • The fall-off in light that exists at the edge of the soft box is quite wide since the Chimera soft box has a flat, not recessed front. My Lastolite soft box has a much harder transition to the edge light due to a recessed front.