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Big, Beautiful, Wrapping Light

Here’s a simple one-light setup using a 54x72" shallow softbox made by F.J. Westcott. As big as it is, it’s only $350 and it creates some gorgeous light. Have your subject face forward, then put the light directly beside them and the light will literally wrap around them. Here, I had her face the light to really light up her hair, but they can face mostly toward the camera. In the studio, I usually choose f/11 because, for portraits, it’s an f-stop that keeps everything perfectly in focus from front to back. But, I actually shot this at f/10 and that one f-stop doesn’t make that big a difference. At f/11, I thought the lighting looked a little too dark. I could have cranked up the power on the light, but it was just easier (lazier) to lower the f-stop one stop and then the light looked much brighter. I was using my go-to lens: the 70–200mm f/2.8, and I was zoomed in to 100mm. My shutter speed was 1/100 of a second (I probably accidentally moved the dial during the shoot—it would normally be at 1/125 of a second). My ISO was 100. If I could tell you one hands-down, killer secret to getting really beautiful light, it would be to buy a really, really big softbox. The bigger the softbox, the more beautiful and wrapping the light, One posing tip: to help the light wrap around your subject, have them “play” a little toward the light (in other words, don’t have them position their body so they are facing away from it—face them either straight ahead or aimed a little bit in the direction of the light). Also remember, whatever is closest to the softbox will be brightest (notice her arm on the left here). Just your standard portrait retouching stuff: removing minor blemishes, spots, or specks on her clothes, and brightening the existing highlights in her hair using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom’s Develop module (or Camera Raw). If you want really soft, creamy, luxurious, beautiful, wrapping light, get your hands on a really huge softbox, and the rest will take care of itself. Couple the size (bigger means softer) with getting your subject very close to the softbox (which makes it even softer), and you’ve got a tough combination to beat.

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