Today I’m going to treat you all to the view of my handsomely sculpted profile, please enjoy. Wait, come back…err, I mean, today we’ll discuss the quality of light at the edge of things…that’s right, nice and easy, you just come back here now…
Everyone likes soft light, right? Everyone also knows that you get soft light from really big light sources. However, many of us (myself included) can’t afford those huge modifiers that makes everyone look so good with ridiculously soft falloff and shadows. Luckily, there are ways to make those smaller softboxes feel softer than they really are. I’m talking about lighting your subject with only the edge of your light source.
In my self portrait to the left, I used this technique for both the key and the rim light. First thing first: those lights are two LP160s, the rim with a hint of CTB gel and a small Lumiquest Softbox III and the key is in a 54cm Lastolite Ezybox. Those aren’t very big modifiers, they’re both very portable, but in my opinion they produce very nice and soft light in this shot.
I’m standing right at the leading edge (the one closest to the camera) of the bigger softbox used for the key light. By placing the subject at the edge like this you’re effectively working with the softest part of the light, avoiding hotspots and getting a very nice falloff. In this shot I used the leading edge but you could also place the subject at the far edge and get a completely different look. If the subject is at the far edge the light will wrap around in the softest way possible – meaning smoother transition into the shadows. It all depends on what look you want.
Back to the shot. The key light is also working with the edge in a different sense; the lower edge of the sofbox is somewhere around chin level (if memory serves) and that’s to create a bit off falloff towards the shoulder. Had the light been more centered (hight wise) on the face we would get a brighter area on that white shirt, which would steal attention from the face.
Using just the key light would have been fine but I also wanted to add a rim to get a bit more shape and separation going. The rim light actually isn’t pointing at the subject at all, it’s standing a bit behind the subject and to camera left and is aimed at a perpendicular angle to the camera. In other words, it’s only the absolute edge of the light that hits the subject and that really helps to soften up the light from an otherwise fairly small source. Another thing to note is that the rim, even though it’s not even aimed directly at the subject, is running on the lowest power. When it comes to rim light, often all you need is the most gentle of touches.
I don’t have much else to discuss about this shot, other than to say that I’m really happy with it – I probably consider it my best self portrait so far, could just be that I’m so handsome though…you know I’m right.