Learning to control the light is a key principle in photography. It’s also something that often ends up being a life-long learning process. In a recent blog post for Lensrentals, commercial beauty photographer Zach Sutton shared his tips for feathering and zooming light.
Let’ start with the basics: intensity, direction and quality.
“Intensity is simple, after all, it’s just the brightness of the light (in relativity to your subject),” says Sutton. “Direction is largely just as easy. Is the light coming from above? From the side? How does the direction of light affect the highlights and shadows? Understanding basic principles like intensity and direction can get your lighting work 80% of the way there; but the quality is where the special sauce is applied.”
Quality of light is a bit more nuanced. The quality of light refers to a wide variety of adjectives that can be used to describe the light. The quality of light can be hard or soft, color balanced with daylight or creative gels and have a variety of shapes. The falloff of light can be subtle or harsh. Basically, light quality refers to all of the variables that might effect the final image. Learning to control these lighting variables is where things get exciting.
A feathered lighting technique is related to light falloff and the shape of your strobe. This technique is often used to create a soft, natural image that reduces harsh shadows and highlights in an image.
“The reason why feathered light is considered “softer” is that it mimics the way that light behaves in nature, where the edges of shadows are usually not well-defined and there is often a gradual transition between light and dark areas. This can help to create a more pleasing and natural-looking image,” Sutton says.
You will need to angle your light so that the edge is what’s lighting your subject to achieve a feathered light. The end result will be images that are both dramatic, and natural looking.
This technique will give you even more control, but you’ll need to have access to a Profoto strobe to execute it. Profoto’s zooming modifier allows you to adjust the quality of the light beam dramatically by repositioning where the flash bulb sits inside the modifier. Zooming the flash bulb in or out will increase or decrease the amount of feathering that you are able to achieve in your final image.