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Portrait Tips: How to use V-flats to light a group

When you light a portrait, a good rule of thumb is that your light should be about the same size as your subject. That’s easy for a single individual where any softbox will work, but what about lighting a group of people? A light that big is hard to find.

V-flats offer an easy way to make a large light that gives soft, even coverage for your group. You can use them to make soft light on the whole group, but you can also move your subjects around for different effects.

V-flat as a modifier

The V-flat is two large sheets (typically 7 or 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide, each) of white foam core taped together to make a V-shape if you viewed them from above. Just position your light in the middle of the V with the light shining toward the tape holding the boards together. Now when the flash fires, it shines into the V-flat and reflects all around inside the v and then shines out. That means that the little tiny flash head is now making a huge light shining out onto your subjects. You can adjust where the light aims by adjusting the wide portion of the V. You can also make the light larger or smaller by making the wide part of the V wider or narrower. The key thing to remember is that the light isn’t only pouring out of the opening in the V, but also the reflection of the white is illuminating them, too.

A V-flat is probably the easiest large modifier to use and since it can be adjusted larger and smaller, it’s also one of the most versatile. For these portraits, I used it with a studio strobe, but it works just as well with a speedlight — the only difference is how much light the flash produces. I use the terrific tools from V-Flat World.

Arrange the set

I started here with the V-flat positioned about 8 feet away from my subjects and the V-flat set at about a 90-degree angle. Aim the center of the V-flat at the far side of the group of people so they get a little more light than the people nearer to it. The people closer are collecting more light on their skin and so aiming it across the group helps everyone appear the same brightness.

Here’s a diagram of the whole setup.

 

Since the surface of the V-flat is large, the light shining out is very soft and flattering.

Modify the modifier

As I mentioned above, you can alter the size of the opening and affect the size of the light. But you can also move your subjects in relation to the light and change the way the light reveals contours. Here, the subjects are positioned closer to the camera with the light coming more directly from the side.

This setup yields a lot more drama. The light from the side accentuates the body’s contours. Shadows reveal the shape of your subject’s body and face.

If you want the shadows on the face to be less dark, then move your subject away from the light a little and add a white reflector (which could be another V-flat) to the other side.

Work it

Start your shoot with the safe setup and then work it for some more creative lighting. You’ll find that the size of the V-flat makes it very forgiving and easy to use as a light. It’ll shine a gentle light across your group and that makes it easy to get soft light on the whole bunch. Then scoot your subjects closer to the camera and try some different looks. You’ll get a lot of variety with one simple lighting setup using V-flats.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

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