Portrait Lighting – Side Light with One Softbox – Feathering The Light

Sometimes, less is more. As I mentioned in my post about On Axis Lighting, if you can’t use one light properly you will be lost with more lights. This time, I will show you how to shoot some moody side lit portraits with a single flash / light source and a softbox as a modifier.

What we need for this setup:

  • flash on a light stand (studio flash or just a speedlight)
  • black background / sheet of paper / clothes
  • a soft box (get a big one) as our light modifier

The light is placed at a 90 degree angle in relation to the camera, but on axis to the person. It is placed slightly higher and shining down. And now for the important part: when everything is set up, move it slightly backwards (towards the backdrop). The center of the light is the brightest area but we only want the subtle light fall off from the rest of the softbox.

Not using the brightest area of a light modifier like a soft box but the light fall off towards the edges is called feathering the light

Here is an image of the actual setup within the studio:

Light Setup - Softbox - Feathering the light
Light Setup – Softbox – Feathering the light

So, now for the incredible results you can get with this setup. I told her to hold the marble a different way, otherwise nothing changed. On the left side is the out of camera image, on the right side is the photoshopped final result. Click the images to view them large.

Portrait Side Light - Original Portrait Lighting - Side light

As you can see, you get an incredible nice light fall off on the side of her face and the back of her head dissolving into the darkness.

It is not about lighting up the whole person but creating moods.

Here is another example that I shot using exactly the same setup, although I asked her to turn slightly towards me:

Portrait Lighting - Maternity Shot

I really hope you enjoyed this little insights tutorial. I try to keep things simple, but if you have questions, just shoot ahead! Make sure to follow us, so that you don’t miss my next tutorial about studio lighting.

I'm a professional photographer from Central Germany where I run a photo studio. I love to shoot portraits and I always like to push the limits. Whenever I'm not in the studio I'm outside chasing the light. I'm totally addicted to photography!

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