How to Create Soft Directional Light for Your Portraits

Portrait photographers have always craved the know-how to create soft directional light for their work. Wait a minute! Soft directional light? Sounds kind of like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. And in this video, photographer Joe McNally shows exactly how to create it:

You’d think that directional light would be harsh, more edgy, and certainly more shadowy. But soft directional light does opens up a plethora of photographic possibilities.

The Trick Behind Creating Soft Directional Light

Traditionally, light modifiers for small speedlights tend to use silver interiors. That makes the light, which is already punchy because of the small source, snappier. To make the light a lot more forgiving and certainly flattering, replace the silver interior with a white one.

soft directional light portrait

Portrait with Soft Directional Light

The two photographs that McNally used to demonstrate what his new light modifier, the Lastolite Ezybox can do clearly drive home the point. The light certainly has a richer tone to it and thereby more flattering. Being a smallish light source it naturally falls off along the body, which is clear in the second photo (shown above). However, due to the white interior, it is not as contrasty as it would normally be when a silver interior is used.

The setup was simple: a single light, a light stand, a modifier, a camera and a lens. McNally prefers to use an Avenger C stand for and a Nikon SB-910 speedlight as his main light. He uses a Nikon D800E and a 24-70mm f/2.8G Nikkor lens. The speedlight is controlled using a hot-shoe commander flash and SB-910 is set to TTL. The C stand with the SB-910 and the modifier goes to the camera right. The camera angle changed frequently. McNally goes low for a full-body shot and then wide for a portrait shot.

“…a white interior…has a direction, has some punch, but at the same time it’s very, kind of, wrapping and diffused for your subject.”

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One response to “How to Create Soft Directional Light for Your Portraits”

  1. Dan Richards says:

    I have used one for many years. It is from a different company, I bought it back in 2007. I love it, as it does great work!

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