Creating Soft Light With a Strobe and a Large Diffuser

Flat light, lower and less shadows. Model: Erica Lourde

Flat light, lower and less shadows.
Model: Erica Lourd

Pro tip: you don’t need a massive umbrella, softbox, or octabank to get the look of really soft light. Instead, it’s possible with a strobe (flash or monolight) and a giant translucent reflector, silk or surface. But of course, photography isn’t all about the gear, so the knowledge of how to use these tools is also key. With that said, no part of this process is difficult to do.

Dan over at Adorama put together a video on how to use the tools to deliver soft light in a portrait using one light source. He uses a large silk, but to be very honest, it can be done with a large translucent reflector stand kit, a hot shoe flash being triggered off-camera and on one side of the reflector shooting through it, your model on the other side, and a neutral background. Frankly, you don’t even really need a strobe–you can do this with constant lighting or sun light; but constant lighting is pretty weak and sunlight is sometimes unreliable.

The video and an analysis is after the jump.

The key points here are:

  • Ensure that your light is set to its widest zoom head setting so it maximizes the coverage. The larger the light source in relation to the subject, the softer the light is.
  • Move the model a bit further away (Dan’s model is pretty much at the end of the reflector) to help avoid the effects of a hot spot towards the middle.
  • Note that Dan angled the silk a bit to give more of a wrap around look to the light.
  • Balance the shutter speed to allow for a shadowless look.
  • Bring another reflector in on the other side for extra fill light if needed

This is really one of the best ways to get a single light source and make the most of it when it comes to portraiture.