Lighting Technique: Flagging and Feathering

flagging-and-feathering

One question I always encounter when teaching my workshops is how to control the spill of light, and the bounce of light. While this is always a good question, it mostly applies in on site/in doors shoots. Here are some simple lighting techniques that everyone should know. Those techniques may be trivial to some and new to others. Either way, they are very helpful in controlling light. The below examples also show that sometimes the easiest fix to our problems may be just simple and in plain sight and simple.

Flagging for the background

I was shooting a portfolio for gowns 2 years ago. We were shooting inside a house and it had a really great wooden background. I knew I was going to have a problem lighting the background because the wooden door was glossy and I knew that it was going to reflect my main light. Before I got the model to stand, I tested out my lights with the creative director.

I tested my mainlight first and knew that I had a problem, my main light was hitting the background and was causing a direct reflection on the BG.

I tested my mainlight first and knew that I had a problem, my main light was hitting the background and was causing a direct reflection on the BG.

I needed to find a way, a “quick way”, to correct this. So I got the first thing that I saw – a reflector. One of the reflectors had a black cover, so I got a lightstand and a clamp and used the cover of the reflector to block (or flag in photo-lingo) the light, so it wouldn’t spill to the background.

The mainlight from the left of the model and the black cover of the reflector so it wouldn’t spill to the background

My final setup for this shot. Softbox left of the model, flagged with black reflector cover. Then studio strobe at the back of the model for the background light. I didn’t mind the direct reflection of the studio strobe at the back of the model because I was sure that the model would have covered it.

Final Shot

Final Shot Gown

Flagging to show details on the subject + reflections

I was doing my 365 day project when I shot this one. I was playing around with my brother-in-law’s watch to practice my product shots. It was my first time ever shooting a watch and I didn’t really know what to except. I was using two studio strobes for this shot. While testing my main light I encountered my first problem. My main light that was 45 degrees to the watch and was causing an annoying glare in the glass.

watch flag

I needed to find a way to block the light of the glass (or to flag my light) so the brand and dials become visible. I had a the bag of one of my softboxes nearby, so I shoved my hand inside the bag, and used my hand to flag the light. I placed my softboxed hand in-between the softbox and the watch (in an act called GOBOin – as in go between) which created a shadow just big enough to see the brand of the watch.

My hand with a black bag at the left to create a shadow on the watch. Mirror on the right to create a 3rd lightsource.

My hand with a black bag at the left to create a shadow on the watch. Mirror on the right to create a 3rd lightsource

I was missing details on the right side of the watch and I wanted more light. The problem is the subject is too low to place another lightsource, so what I did was I got a mirror and placed it at the right side of the watch to reflect light from another source and create a highlight on the right side.

Final Shot

watch flag 2

The final shot showing the flagging that I did just so I can see the brand of the watch and the mirror I placed in the bottom right part so that I can get the highlight in the right of the watch.

Feathering to the background

One thing in photography I love to work with is Gels. When I started out, I only had a white background for my studio, and gelling the background lights was my only way to get colorful backdrops. The main problem was that I could never get the background to just match the color of the gel that I placed on my flash.

Normally, I will start off with my main light 45 degrees to the model. The problem here was that my home studio is just not that big, and my main light kept hitting my background and washing it with light, so the effect I kept on getting was similar to this.

My main light was hitting my background so it was killing the yellow gel on the back. I just couldn’t get the yellow that I wanted because of the spilled light.

Side view. Mainlight is 45 degrees from the subject so it was hitting my background

Side view. Mainlight is 45 degrees to the subject so it was hitting my background

To correct this inside my studio which had limited space, I can do two things. The first is to flag the main light so it wouldn’t hit my background (in a similar way to what I did in the tutorial above), the second one is to feather the light so it wouldn’t hit the background. Feathering the light means that it is not the center of the softbox that is aimed at the model, but rather the edge of it. For this shot I went with feathering.

Side View. I placed my light 90 degrees from the model.  I placed my model just right at the side of my light so that the spill of my light would hit her.

Side View. I placed my light 90 degrees from the model. I placed my model just right at the side of my light so that the spill of my light would hit her.

Final Shot

By feathering my mainlight I stopped the light from spilling into my background.

By feathering my main light I stopped the light from spilling into my background.

There you have it, two techniques to compliment your every shoot.

  • fauxshizzl

    Great article!

  • Chris Schmauch

    Great article about a relatively obscure lighting topic! A couple alternate solutions, if I may. Gridding that soft box probably would’ve prevented any need for flagging. Also, rotating the watch slightly away from the light source would’ve probably solved that issue too. But using your hand and fingers as a gobo is great option with dynamic, subtle effects on small subjects.

    • LSG

      Up! :) Thanks for the alternate solutions :)

  • urbanrunoff

    DP’s (film) are masters of these techniques.