Enhancing Soft Light

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I’ve always loved the light and airy photographs of infants. That ethereal, dreamy light really speaks to the angelic innocence of children and sets the perfect mood for creating treasured images of the wee ones. I wanted to experiment a little with what I could do in the simplest of setups that could achieve that type of image. It’s pretty easy to create that type of light with a massive Octabox and a V-Flat, or if you’re blessed with large natural light bearing windows and reflectors, but what about creating that same look with a single speedlight, anywhere, anytime? Read on!

This picture of my son I shot on a whim before breakfast this morning while looking at a new blanket that was gifted to us. I noticed how the light was reflecting off of it from the window and thought I’d try a little experiment. I grabbed a speedlight (one of my new YN560’s) that lives on a light stand in the corner of my living room that I keep out all the time for just this sort of “lighting emergency” and stuck it by my son’s bassinet, extended the 43″ umbrella, and brought the bottom edge of it almost even to the edge of the bassinet. I grabbed the new blanket and laid it out inside of the bassinet, the put my son back in and fired up the strobe. Normally I’d have to use another light on the other side to get that big, broad, soft light that I was looking for, but what I was hoping for is that the blanket itself would reflect enough light back at him to fill in the shadows. I really didn’t need the blanket to send back too much light since I had such a big light source (relatively) which was pushed right up to the bassinet, just out of the frame to the camera’s left. Having that big of a main light ensures that the light really wraps around your subject and keeps the shadows fairly faint.

To help give the image a soft and dreamy look I wanted to keep the depth of field as shallow as I could, so I used my Fuji 60mm Macro lens opened all the way up to F2.4. I figured that once I focused on his eyes the focus would fall off precipitously within millimeters of my focus point. Since I had my umbrella right up next to my subject’s head I needed to keep the power low enough that I could shoot at ISO 200, F2.4 with the fasted shutter speed I can sync to, which in my case is 1/180th of a second. That put my flash’s power way down to the 1/16th setting, and has the nice side benefit of next to zero recycle times.

With the technical stuff all taken care of, I could now start shooting. The fast shutter speed and quick recycle times were perfect for a fidgety infant. The one issue that I had to really look out for is my focus point. Again, I was shooting at F2.4 within inches of his face which makes for a very small sliver of acceptable focus. If his head was  tilted to the left or right just a fraction I’d have one eye that was razor sharp the the other would be visible soft. So just something to be aware of when shooting wide open right on top of your subject. Just look at the catchlights in his eyes and you can see just how close the flash is to him.

I was really please with how well I the blanket worked as a reflector, and that I was able to completely wrap my subject’s face in light with the minimal amount of gear. It’s nice to know that I can really do a lot with just one speedlight with a little bit of forethought and some good luck never hurts. So give it shot sometime and see just how much you can get out of your speedlight. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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