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Modifying light with versatile, extremely portable V-flats

A set of V-flats is one of the most versatile — but not often talked about — light modifiers a photographer can have in their studio or home studio. Usually constructed of foam core, V-flats can be used to block light (known as flagging), to bounce or absorb light, or as a background. Most studio photographers use them so much, they forget to talk about them because they assume all photographers know their value.

I admit I fell into this trap until a set of V-Flat World’s portable V-Flats appeared on my doorstep. I called my buddy Richie and a few hours later we collaborated on a shoot with Florida based model Erika Megan to try out the V-flats in Richie’s home studio. Here are a few examples of how we use V-flats and how V-Flat World’s portable V-flats compare with our older V-flats.

Flag the light to prevent light spill on the background

Placing a light next to your subject and background can cause unwanted light spill on the background. To prevent this, move the subject about 10 feet from the background. If this isn’t possible, position a black V-flat between the background and the light. Turn on the light’s modeling lamp to see if the light is spilling onto the background. Adjust the V-flat until the background isn’t affected.

This technique is known as flagging or blocking the light. It modifies the light by controlling the direction and where it falls. Using the black side of the V-flats will prevent light from bouncing all over.

More options with a black/white V-flat

When I first created my V-flats, I had to create two sets of white and black because I could only find either white or black flats. Other than the obvious extra cost, you would think to have four V-flats wasn’t that big of a deal. For a large studio, storage isn’t an issue, but for a home studio, it is. Plus, changing the flats from white to black in the middle of the shoot disrupted the flow of the session.

V-Flat World made a very smart choice by having one side black and the other side white. This gives photographers more options when shooting. Use the white side to bounce light into the scene and the black side to absorb or take away light. Taking away the light is known as negative fill.

Portability comes at the cost of smaller size, but does it matter?

In my larger studio, space isn’t an issue, but in a home studio like Richie’s every inch counts. V-Flat World’s portable V-flats are smaller than traditional 48″ x 96″ (4′ by 8′) flats, measuring in at 40″ x 80″ x 1/2″ with white on one side and black on the other. They fold to a 40″ x 40″ square making them easy to store and carry to a location in a car. After shooting with both sizes, I don’t feel the smaller size is a disadvantage at all. The only need I can see for the extra height of the 8-foot V-flat is when you want to use it as a background for a full length or three-quarter shot.

Setting up a quick background

In the past, I’ve used a single V-flat — or combined two together — for a quick background. The 4′ x 8′ V-flat is tall enough for a 6-foot person and wide enough for an average person. The smaller 40″ x 80″ would have difficulty. I didn’t use the portable V-flat as a background on our shoot because of the lines caused by its ability to fold. These lines would appear in the photo and I would have to edit them out. Not a big deal for one image, but editing a series from a shoot would add extra time to my editing workflow.

For me, this isn’t a big deal. I would opt to use a normal background for a full length or 3/4 portrait and the portable V-flat just for a headshot.

Price: $195 ($379 for two) plus free shipping

If you’re new to V-flats or on a tight budget, just buy one and incorporate it into your workflow. Since V-Flat World offers free shipping you can buy the second at a later date without it costing too much more.

If you have a studio — especially a home studio — invest in two. If you would prefer to buy the flats and build a set on your own, check out “How to Construct the Most Versatile Studio Gear: V-flats.” They are simple to make, but I strongly suggest paying a little extra for quality and portability from V-Flat World. Either way, get a set of V-flats and start upping your lighting skills.

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