Placing A Softbox

Today's post comes from the book Off-Camera Flash: Techniques for Digital Photographers by Neil van Niekerk. It is available from and other fine retailers.

A softbox is generally placed at about a 45 to 60 degree angle to the camera’s left or right. The light is typically about 30 degrees above the subject’s head. This puts enough light in the eyes of the subject and directs it at an angle that makes visual sense (with the light coming from higher than the subject’s view). Essentially, you want to make sure that the cone of light coming from the softbox hits your subject’s head and shoulders.

Fortunately, a softbox is a forgiving light source. You have a fair amount of play when it comes to the height and angle. In fact, the larger your light source is, the more forgiving it is in terms of placement. In comparison, if you use direct off-camera flashguns without diffusion you will need to be more precise in your placement of the flash.

The lighting here was a flashgun in a softbox, held aloft on a monopod. (1/250 second at f/8 and 200 iso; ttl flash at –0.3 eV)

A pull-back shot showing the setup for first image.

Let’s look at an example. During a photo session with Christina and David (above), I needed to match the bright sunlight, so I worked at the maximum fash sync speed to get the most power from my flash. The light was so bright that it was getting to the edge of what the flashgun was capable of when diffused with a softbox. I used wireless TTL fash, with the master flashgun on my camera and aimed at the slave fashgun mounted on the softbox. In the second image, you can see the placement of the softbox, held aloft on a monopod by an assistant. To shoot the final image, I was standing right next to the bicycle. (Note: The final image had some editing done to remove distracting background elements such as the motorbike.)

When combining a single off-camera light source (such as the softbox and flashgun combination used in the images below) with ambient lighting, it also becomes necessary to position the model (here, Camille) in such a way that the light from the fash strikes the subject from a sensible angle. Generally, what I look for is that the light opens her features that are in shade. I also want some light on the model’s eyes, without a heavy shadow under the brow.

LEFT, with ambient light only, shows the direction of the existing light (from camera left). RIGHT, a softbox was added to camera left to blend with the natural light while opening up the shadows.

The setup for the final image.

Feathering the Light
In the previous example, I positioned the light with the central “sweet spot” from the softbox pointed at my subject’s features. Sometimes, though, we need to control the position of our softbox more precisely—and control the spread of light from the softbox. The following image sequences show situations where I feathered the light from my softbox.

In the next images, I wanted to prevent a hot-spot of glare from appearing on the metallic door in the background. Positioning the softbox as I normally would resulted in the light from the softbox being directly reflected toward the camera.

Glare from the flash is evident on the metallic wall.

By angling the softbox away to a fair extent (images above), I made sure that most of the light reaching the model was from the light from the edge of the softbox’s spill—and that the glare-causing light did not strike the door. (Note: A minor problem now is that we do see the shadow of the softbox being cast.)

Feathering the flash eliminated the glare. (1/200 second at f/4 and 400 iso; ttl flash at +0.7 eV)

In the second example (below), I feathered the light from my softbox to avoid too much light spilling on the top part of the wooden structure. The idea was to accentuate the model, Stacy, by having the light more concentrated on her. This technique should be apparent from the photos. I simply rotated the softbox away from the wall, making sure I still got enough light on our model.

LEFT, here is the scene with the flash disabled. RIGHT, directing the flash at the model as I normally would spilled too much light onto the building above her

A pull-back shot showing the placement of the softbox for the final image.

Feathering the light kept the emphasis on the model and created a pleasing lighting pattern on her face. (1/125 second at f/5.6 and 200 iso; ttl fash at –0.7 eV)


Posing for Pregnancy Photography

Today's post comes from the book The Art of Pregnancy Photography by Jennifer George. It is available from and other fine retailers.

In photographic print competition, posing is one element that jumps out at the judges. An awkward pose will destroy any chance an image has of earning a high score.

Poor posing is also readily evident to the general public.When the subject’s pose appears unnatural, the viewer will feel uncomfortable, even if they are not sure what it is that is technically wrong with the image. Conversely, when a photographer is able to capture a natural-looking pose, the viewer will be drawn into the portrait and will feel a connection to the subject.

Posing is an art in and of itself. Some people are born with the innate ability to position their subjects and immediately see comfort and grace in the pose. Then there are those of us who need to study, practice, and experiment in order to portray our clients in a way that looks natural and unposed. There are many steps to learning good posing techniques, and the sections that follow will outline a variety of techniques you can use to improve that aspect of your portraiture.

Nestling the mother and father together created a feeling of security, love, and anticipation between the couple. Their tender interaction helped to tell their story.

From the beginning of time, people have created artistic representations of the human form. From cave drawings, to Renaissance painters, humans are fascinated with depicting one another. That fascination continues for photographers and their clients today.

In the early days of photography, excruciatingly long exposure times meant that portrait subjects had to hold a pose to ensure the success of the image. Today, advances in technology and a host of automated features allow us to easily capture an image in the blink of an eye! Posing, however, is one aspect of portraiture that still requires the photographer’s attention and direction—and always will.

Body language is a form of communication, and you want your image to communicate the right message! When we think of a pregnant woman, we have thoughts of motherhood, love, affection, protection, nurturing, warmth, and tenderness. Today, with mothers taking care of their bodies and our in-creasing societal appreciation of the beauty of the pregnant female form, we also see motherhood as a time of beauty. You might wish to convey any of these moods or feelings in your portrait. This time in a woman’s life is fleeting and very different from any other stage, and it is a privilege to record it. Make it your goal to capture genuine emotion during the shoot.

A good pose is one that is flattering to the subject and provocative to the viewer. There are many poses—sitting, standing, or lying—that can easily meet this goal.

Photographers always seem to first tackle photographing a pregnant woman by having her stand upright. The assumption is that if she sits, the viewer will not fully see the developed midriff. While a standing pose can be a good place to start your session, you may find that the design and flow of the image is most difficult with a single standing subject than with multiple clients or a seated or lying pose.

Many photographers prefer to begin the portrait session with a standing pose, and the technique illustrated here is a good option. The image was created using a single light and a reflector. The mom was asked to turn her body toward the main light and place her left had at the upper area of her tummy and her right had at the lower area. Her chin was angled toward her near shoulder. The intimate feel of this image is due in part to the fact that the subject’s gaze is not directed at the viewer; creating a profile of the face or having the subject look at the camera would produce a different look.

An image of the mother alone will be more dynamic if you take the time to consider the best-possible placement of the hands, arms, and face.

You can easily create a nurturing mood in the image by having mom place her hand on tummy, holding and loving the expected baby. In this image, the mother held the flowers lower and to the side so that the view of her tummy is free of obstruction.

In the image above, the mother’s arms wrap around and hold her tummy, and she looks away with a thoughtful expression on her face. Note the serenity and poise that is conveyed by the subject’s stance. The portrait shows the subject’s strength and contentment. To create this mood, the subject’s body was turned a few degrees away from the camera. She then turned her upper body toward the camera and turned her face toward the light. The position of her hands implies a sense of protection. By turning her body slightly away from the direction of her feet, a slimming effect was produced. Additionally, turning her face away from the direction of her body produced the desired S curve in the image.

Laying. The mother-to-be must be portrayed in the most relaxed, beautiful manner possible. When the mother is relaxed and surround by props like soft pillows and beautiful fabrics, you can capture something that transcends conventional pregnancy photos. In the past, many pregnancy portraits were taken with the mother-to-be in a standing position with the focus primarily on her midriff. However, that isn’t necessarily the most comfortable or aesthetically pleasing position for the subject. One of the most beautiful ways to photograph the mother is with her lying down in such a position that the woman becomes more relaxed and serene. From a technical viewpoint, her body is more elongated and appears thinner.

When posing the subjects, directing the gaze of your subjects can help tell the story. Here themother and the older sibling are looking off together, as if they are looking to the future as a loving and supportive family.

Create your scene with beautiful fabrics in colors that complement the subject. Then have her lie down in the middle of a bed or on the floor (note that it will be easier for your late-pregnancy clients to get up from the bed than from the floor). Place her legs in a slight bend, with her arms relaxed and her hands focused on her pregnancy.

Good posing of the hands is critical, as the hands express emotion. How and where you pose the hands can make an immense difference in the overall quality of the pose and the message you are trying to convey in the image.

Having the hands posed around the baby-to-be conveys a sense of protection and nurturing. In an image of the hands and tummy, an interesting contrast is formed between the mature adult hands and the anticipation of new life.

When posing the subjects, directing the gaze of your subjects can help tell the story. Here the mother and the older sibling are looking off together, as if they are looking to the future as a loving and supportive family.

The hands can speak volumes about the love the mother has for the baby, and hands touching between a couple tell about their shared love and anticipation. Additionally, the position of the hands, or the leading lines formed when a couple joins hands, can create the needed compositional elements that add polish, guide the viewer’s gaze through the image, and create a dynamic feel in the image.

Making the posing of the hands look natural can be difficult for some subjects and photographers. One easy method is to have the hands gently holding on to something. The mother can gently grasp the edge of the fabric she is draped in, or hold a bouquet of flowers, or simply rest them on her tummy. Make sure her hands are not positioned in the center of her tummy area but are placed side to side or top to bottom. If the mom’s hands look unnatural, ask her to take her hands off of her tummy or let go of the object she is holding for a few seconds, then place the hands back. Many times this will result in a more natural look. There will be times, however, when you will have to demonstrate with your own hands the position you want with the fingers in and the placement you are seeking.

Keep in mind that a flattering hand pose is one in which the fingers are spread slightly apart and bent away from the camera. Avoid having the back of the hand squarely pointed at the camera. Also note that the palm should never be faced toward the camera. If a hand is held away from the body, have the middle finger bent slightly more than the other fingers. This position is used by ballet dancers when the hand is held away from the body, and it produces a graceful look.

You can capture the image with the camera positioned by the feet or the head; either perspective can result in a breathtaking presentation.

Seated. By having your seated subject posed with her back straightened, you can present a full view of the mature pregnancy. In the image below, the mother is beautifully portrayed as she sits with her legs bent and to the side.

A standing pose is not your only option for posing your pregnant subject. As shown here, aseated pose can be elegant—and it may actually provide your client some relief from an aching back or knees.

The carefully designed lighting setup cast more illumination on the mother’s left side, leaving part of her form in shadow. This allows for a slim, smooth presentation of the body. Turning the subject’s head to the side brought her striking profile into view. With her eyes closed, a sense of calm and serenity was achieved.

This image of a couple has a unusual feel as the point of view is from above traveling down the embracing couple.

Location Lighting

Today's post comes from the book Wes Kroninger's Lighting: Design Techniques for Digital Photographers by Wes Kroninger. For this post we are featuring two of his many lighting designs from the book. In this book Kroninger showcases a number of his remarkable images and breaks them down into how they were setup and what equipment was used to achieve the final result, often times including valuable tips about that shot. Each shot is accompanied by multiple diagrams. This book is available from and other fine retailers.

The Scoop
Photographing high school seniors outdoors often creates a grueling schedule. When we want to get many poses in a short amount of time, it is often impossible to use any kind of strobes or electronic flash units. Fortunately, a simple reflector used properly can create beautiful light that seems as if it were created using studio equipment.

For this image, the model was positioned in the shade of a building. A 3x4-foot reflector was positioned in the direct sun, throwing light back into the open shade. This created a beautifully soft yet crisp light. The simplicity of lighting with a reflector makes it a good choice for photographing high-school seniors and children outdoors.

I chose to create this image with extremely horizontal formatting—and also selected an aperture setting that would result in a shallow depth of field. Doing this can effectively drop the foreground and background out of focus, drawing the eye to the part of the frame that is in focus, which contains my subject.

The Scoop
The image below was taken in direct overhead sunlight. This is generally best to avoid—but sometimes there are limited options as to when a session can take place.

To eliminate the unflattering shadows associated with the overhead sunlight, I used a four-foot square scrim that was just barely large enough to create shade for my model (you can see the area of shade created on the ground below her). A 3x4-foot silver reflector was used from her right to add a directional main light to the image.

Notice that this pose, while also looking relaxed, creates a triangular composition that leads the viewer’s eyes back to my subject’s face.