What’s the Difference? is a series of video lighting tutorials. Each episode responds to a single question. In this episode, Jared Platt compares a set of bare heads with a selection of Light Shaping Tools. The entire series, including all videos, articles and lighting diagrams, is available at our website. And feel free to leave a question to Jared in the comment section if you have one!
Drama or more drama? That was the question for our portrait of recording artist Ben Thompson. Of course, adding softboxes or umbrellas to our lights was out of the question. So we started our portrait with bare heads all around. This lighting set up was a basic three light set up with a Zoom Reflector.
The main light (off the right side of the frame) was a bareheaded Profoto B2. The background light (also off the right side of the frame) was a bareheaded B2 as well. The hair light (above and behind Ben) was a Profoto B1 with a Zoom Reflector to keep the light from spilling onto the background.
Because our B2 lights were bareheaded, they produced a fairly hard light. But because they have nearly a 180 degree spread, they were able to bounce around the room a bit, which produced a softer look than the drama we were after.
We had one additional assist in the lighting, which was a Collapsible Reflector Silver/White L just off to the left side of Ben’s shoulder. This provided a bounced fill on the shadow side of his face. While the shadows in the first shot are not extremely deep, you can still see the hard lines created by these unobstructed, small light sources on the left of his nose, on his neck and on his shirt collar.
The look was good, slightly dramatic, but it wasn’t enough. What do you do when a small, bare head is not hard enough? That’s where grids, barn doors and snoots come in.
With Light Shaping Tools
First, let’s talk about the background. Adding an OCF Snoot and an OCF Grid to the B2 creates an extremely directional and very small light source. Moving it closer to the barn doors and changing the angle allowed for a nice slash of light across the background, which made things a lot more dramatic.
Second, we added a 30° Grid to the main light with a set of OCF Barndoors. The Grid kept the light traveling in one direction. The OCF Barndoors were closed to allow only a sliver of light to escape, which was rotated until the light was striking his face, his hand and instrument and spilling past him onto the Collapsible Reflector on the left. The Collapsible Reflector provided a reflected fill light for the left side of his face, but rather than lighting the entire side of his face, it provides only a hint of detail in his hair, and on his ear and neck. Perfect for drama!
The hair light was modified with a 10° Grid, which kept the forward light from spilling beyond its intended target, which was his hair and shoulders.
There were no power changes in the lights and no exposure changes in the camera.
Portrait and wedding photographers more often than not, are looking for ways to make their light source larger and softer. But there is also beauty in the small, hard light source. In fact, there can be a distinct advantage to shrinking the size of your light. In this case, we did it with an OCF Snoot and OCF Barndoors and further forced the light in one direction with OCF Grids. The results are beautiful.
So my advice to you would be that the next time you are thinking drama, pull out a snoot or some barndoors or even a piece of tin foil. Fight the urge to soften your light and shrink that light instead. Sometimes hard light is the right light.