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?


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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 […]


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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