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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.


SkipperlangeSkipperlange Member
edited October 2013 in home
Can anyone offer a description of what feathering is? It's one of those elementary terms that I missed along the way and am not certain I understand how it's done. I know it's reducing the light on a subject by moving the main light off-center but beyond that I do not know how feathering is done. Is it placing the subject at the edge of the light? Thank you. In NVN's latest tutorial -- of twins in NYC -- he feathered the light. Thanks!


  • Skipperlange said: Is it placing the subject at the edge of the light?
    You got it. Let the edge of the light hit the subject.

  • Thank you. So..... is subject still fully lit? Fully covered? Does feathering affect the amount of light hitting subject (otherwise why not just reduce the light)? Or does it affect the direction of it? Or just make it softer? Does it affect the light to darkness ratio on the face?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator

    I feathered the video light here so it doesn't hit her full on, but rather with the edge of the light. You can clearly see how the light beam falls on her and the background.

    Here's the rest of the article: http://neilvn.com/tangents/video-light-vs-bounce-flash/
  • The subject is still fully lit, but you'll have reduced specular highlights, softer light, (larger highlight to shadow transition) and more wrap around the subject.
    Although the subject is fully lit, the light intensity will be less though.
    Different light modifiers have slightly different effects when feathering i.e a shoot through umbrella behaves differently than a soft box etc.
    Another advantage of feathering the light is it allows you to control the spill onto the background.
    Although obviously this will depend on the variables of your flash output and different distances between the model and backdrop.
  • Feathering is essential technique for group shots with one light.

    You put the light off to right side of the group, and point it at the person at the far left edge of the group. The full brunt of the flash hits the far person, but only after traveling a long distance. The closest person to the flash only gets the edge of the light, so he still won't be overexposed.

    That's an oversimplification for the sake of explication, but the main point is:

    With feathering, you get even lighting for group shots.
  • Thanks everyone very much for all this great information!

    One more question -- when you feather the light do you move it from one side to another (or pivot it) until you see that the subject is at the edge of the light and would be in darkness if you kept going or do you feather it by adding something like a grid (such as the one NVN used with the twins shoot - Tangents 10/31/13) or softbox or another light modifier? Or both?

    Shulim, that's really interesting. I'd love to try this out. With groups I've always centered the light if I have only one light. But just one light off to the side? Yikes, I can see where it would work well if done right. So, in your example, is your one light modified at all with grid or diffuser something? And if the person at far left is getting full brunt of light, he is not getting feathered light, so where does the feathering begin? With the second person? I imagine this works only with small groups. How large a group would you use this technique with?

    Thanks for the link to the tutorial Neil. I was wondering about this line from that:

    "Here I specifically wanted the light to be feathered upwards, forcing there to be less light on her chest. This accentuated her face."

    Where was the light for this photo? The shadow on the left side of her nose suggests that the light is up a bit high off her face and to her right?
  • MikeZMikeZ Member
    edited November 2013
    Not to jump on Neil's response, but from my experience, generally, pivot or twist the light. Really just make sure there is enough even light as possible on all your subjects for a group shot . Or a less direct effect on a specific area of your subject as in Neil's example above. He was able to light her face but not her entire body, creating mood in the photo. A grid may make the light more spotlight like. Probably wouldn't be wise for a group shot as you would only be lighting what you would be pointing the light at. There would be no spill to light the subjects to the side of the light as they would not be exposed to the light. Don' t forget you are dealing with falloff in these scenarios, not just the direction of the light.

    My guess as to where the light is in Neil's photo would be roughly where her eyes are looking. He then tilted or twisted it as needed to get the light off her clothing.
  • Thank you MikeZ.

    Re your line 'just make sure there is enough even light as possible on all your subjects' I wonder how this can be ascertained in an outdoor setting where it's impossible to see where the light is going prior to the shot? Metering? Experience?

    I wonder whom you'd meter the light for in a group shot when feathering?
  • MikeZMikeZ Member
    edited November 2013
    I judge the feather and evenness of the light with the lcd screen. Look for hotspots on the people closer to the flash and underexposure on the people farther away from the flash. Adjust the rotation or the power of the flash to compensate for either issue. I expose for the background and add the flash to taste. I use one light source for most all my wedding formals. I don't meter for any one particular person. This method takes less than minute with a few test shots while I'm making small talk with the subjects. It used to be unnerving but after a few tries you realize that it is really just a matter of more or less flash power and a little steering on the light source. That being said, working with speed lights, sometimes there is a very small difference between the ambient and what the flash is adding as fill especially outdoors.
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