In this video photographer, Gavin Hoey looks at the different effects of feathering a light and how it changes the look of your model and background simply by changing the angle of the light.
Feathering a light simply means pointing your light source ahead of your subject instead of straight at it. Doing so is commonly said to produce a softer light. Hoey takes on the challenge of testing this concept and demonstrating the real effects of feathering.
Let’s start with a basic test – if you turn your light away from your model and into the background letting just the edge of the light hit your subject you will get a pretty shadowy look with one side brighter than the other. If this is what you are going for – great, but in many circumstances, you might actually want something different and that means turning the light to feather in the other direction (i.e. away from the background and away from your model). Here is an interesting tip – if your model can still see the white part of your softbox than some light is still going to reach him/her.
When turning the light away from the background and model you instantly turn your background black (that is if you are using a single light and setting your exposure correctly in camera in a studio). This, of course, means that you can either use the black background as it is or add a second light to create some interesting splash of light in the background behind your model.
Hoey also dispels a myth – feathering light doesn’t mean softer light in the sense that your light source (at least the part that is effecting your subject) becomes smaller and as you know the larger the light the softer it is and he actually demonstrates this by looking at the shadows as he feathers the light of a model next to a wall.
As Hoey mentions, although the most common way to feather a light is to by move it horizontally, you can also do vertical feathering and you can play with this and see what types of results you might get (this depends a lot on the look that you are after but also on your floor/ceiling and how they bounce light).
Finally, using different light modifiers will have a different feathering effect – a feathering a beauty dish even slightly will give you very dramatic results, while feathering an umbrella will have very minimal if any effect until you get very far from the center.