Flags, nets, and silks can help you control lighting in a variety of ways. You can shape, cut and diffuse light, and get much more control over your images. In this great video tutorial, Jay P Morgan shows you all the tricks you can do with different flags in order to shape light in your photos.
Flags come in different sizes, so they can cover all your shooting needs. You can find them in 18 x 24, 18 x 48”, or 48 x 48”. You can use them for shooting indoors, but larger flags are also great for shooting outdoors. You can use them to block the sun away from your camera and prevent the camera (and the cameraman) from overheating.
Flags can be divided into three groups: solid, net and silk.
Solid: solid flags are entirely black and used to stop the light completely. There won’t be any light coming through.
Net: nets are transparent, they are used to cut some light and they don’t change its quality. A single net cuts one stop of light and a double net cuts two stops. A lot of nets have a jagged edge which lets you feather the light without hard lines a frame would create.
Silk: silks are different from nets because they change the quality of light. A silk reduces the amount of light, but also makes the light softer.
How to shape light
There are several scenarios of shaping the light Jay demonstrates in the video. He lights the model with a butterfly lighting setup, with a single light at a 45-degree angle above the subject. Since the light source is high up and far away from the subject, the light is spilling onto the background and the model’s clothes, making the image look flat. So, here are the ways to use solid flags, nets, and silks to shape light and add some depth to the image.
As mentioned earlier, a solid flag cuts the light completely. In case the light spills onto the background, you can use a flag to cut the light and create some background separation. Place the flag on the edge of the frame and set it so it cuts the light off the background. The closer you put the flag to the light source, the smaller the coverage will be.
You can add another flag at the bottom of your light source and create a shaft of light on your subject. Another option is to move the flags away from the subject and point them at the background. In his example, Jay added them to rim light to create this effect.
Another variation is creating a “clamshell” with the lower flag being flat and the upper flag at a slight angle downwards.
By using a net, you can create a vignette on the model’s shadow side.
A net is used to even the exposure you have two subjects, with one of them standing closer and the other further away from the light.
You can also use a net to reduce the bright spot on the model’s head if you’re photographing someone who’s bald.
Silk is useful for creating soft wrap-around light in the studio. It’s useful for portraits or beauty shots.
You can also use silks to diffuse direct sunlight, or as book lights.
How often do you use flags for photography? If you don’t use them, I hope you’ve found this tutorial useful and that you’ve learned something new.