Editor’s Note: Each week we’ll be featuring members of the Photofocus community.  As such, Melissa Niu will personally select images from our readers and feature them here on Photofocus.

If I could, I’d marry this light. 

Recently, while watching one of my photo heroes, Mr. Joel Grimes, teach an online workshop, he demonstrated a technique he developed based on classic Rembrandt lighting. He discovered that instead of mounting the light in the center of the soft-box, moving the source of the light all the way to the side achieved far greater control over how the light hit his subject.

The appeal of this moodier type of light we all find so beautiful is its subtle transition from light to shadow. By changing the location of where the light is mounted in the soft-box, this effect is more pronounced. My first thought (after “holy cow!”) was, “how can I modify my own soft box to achieve a similar result?” As I am totally inept at DIY, this idea was DOA. Lucky for me, he also happened to mention that one of his students asked him if it would be possible to simply use two soft-boxes stacked next to each other instead of creating a soft-box with a modified mount… essentially turning the two lights into a giant source but allowing you to adjust each one separately. He confidently responded that he couldn’t think of a reason it wouldn’t work ;)

The moment I heard it, I could see it in my head and knew I had to try it out on my next shoot.

All told, I had a total of 4 lights going. Two for the key light, one modified with a 5ft octa bank, the other with a smaller 3ft octa bank stacked horizontally right next to each other about 3-4ft away from the model. For fill light, I used a 6ft parabolic umbrella right on-camera axis but I’m pretty sure it was only adding the slightest pop of light, if any at all… most of the heavy lifting was done by the two octas. Finally, I had a medium gridded soft-box pointed at the background for a little separation.

You’ll also notice a large v-flat that was used as negative fill on the shadow side to avoid any light from bouncing around in the studio. I love my studio, but it’s all white and without the v-flat, it’s hard to achieve any kind of control over the light.

The secret sauce to this set up is the ability to control the two key lights separately. This was Joel’s original genius in modifying his soft-box to have the light mounted further back and to the side. This alternative approach with the two light setup effectively allows you to control the shadow, as well as the lit part of your subject’s face independently, but all from one main light source.

It still blows my mind a little to think that a light positioned all the way to camera right side is able to affect the shadow part of my subject’s face to camera left.

I’ve drawn out a quick sketch below to help better illustrate this:


And the results?


To see more of Stephen’s work, go to or follow him on Facebook.

If you would like your photo featured, read this article.

We’re excited to feature your work to the Photofocus audience!


This Post Sponsored by:

Viewbug  Stick With Viewbug & Photofocus throughout 2014 – because we’re announcing the biggest contest in Photofocus history — coming soon!

Adobe  Photoshop CC and Lightroom for US$9.99/mo. Limited-time offer for Photoshop CS3 and later customers. Get it here. Be sure to also check out the Video for Photographers learning center to get new ideas on how to work with Adobe software.

The HDR Learning Center Check out new ways to use High Dynamic Range photography to make compelling images. Free tutorials and posts to get results. Produced in partnership with HDRsoft.

Mosaic A complete solution for photographers using Lightroom who want to manage and share their photos. You can easily view images with their iOS app or web service. Plus your photos are backed up to the cloud with several plans to match your needs. Learn photography anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace—from bite-sized tutorials to comprehensive courses. Try free for 10 days by visiting Photofocus.

The Topaz Labs Image Enhancement bundle. Open up a world of creative possibilities with a seamless, integrated workflow. You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard to look like one. Click here and use the code photofocus to get a 15% discount.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. That is a great portrait. The models eyes are very powerful and the light really focuses on that.

  2. […] right… FREE, the last professional portrait of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Glynn really likes this lighting technique, but be warned, you’ll need to take out a second mortgage to afford all the equipment to pull […]


Let us know your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About MelissaNiu

Melissa Niu is a storyteller at heart. Niu's work ranges from her Broadcast Journalism experience at NBC in Seattle to her recent work as a co-founder and host of the photography platform, [FRAMED] Network. Her passion for photography, music and journalistic skills harvests into a massive need to tell a good story. As a mother of three daughters and running multiple businesses, Niu is constantly seeking balance, health, laughter and progression.


Featured Photo, Photography, Portrait, Shooting, Street, Technique & Tutorials, Your Focus