Using rimlighting

Flat lighting, softbox in front

How NOT to light it!

Rimlighting is a technique used by a lot of creative studio photographers. In the first part of this video, I used it in its ‘pure’ form, with the light directly at the side of my model, and skimming across her body to emphasise her muscle tone. And, later in the video, I brought her forward a bit and angled the lights forward too, so that the lights mainly lit just the edges of her body – more of that later.

Before we get really started, the shot on the left was taken to illustrate how NOT to light in a way that shows muscle definition and texture – the light here was a large softbox, placed directly in front of the model, and the flat frontal lighting has destroyed her muscle definition and shape, instead of enhancing it!

Rimlighting in the classical position, square to the subject, creates emphasis to the texture or shape – in this case muscle definition, but it would work equally well if we were trying to show the texture of clothes, or anything else.

With this large subject, I used first one and then two of  our Profold strip softboxes, each fitted with a honeycomb grid. The honeycomb grid is almost essential, to control the spread of light. A lot of the cheap softboxes are supplied with very badly designed honeycombs that simply don’t work, the ‘holes’ are far too large and the depth is far too little, if you need a honeycomb then you need one that actually controls the spread of light properly… it can however also be done using a black flag to control the light from each softbox, but that does take longer to set up.

For small still life subjects, control is everything and I normally use a 10 degree honeycomb fitted to a standard reflector, rather than a honeycomb fitted to a softbox.

And a small but very important detail – the flash head with softbox needs to be square to the subject, tilting it just won’t do because the lighting will be very uneven. This means that it needs a low level lighting stand that will allow it to be placed square to the subject.

Single softbox with reflector

Single softbox with reflector

In a perfect world, the most dramatic results come from using just a single light, on one side – and this does work on some subjects but not on this one, because just a single light would leave half of her body in darkness. Here, on the right, is a compromise shot. I used a single strip softbox to left of camera, and compromised by using a reflector on the right hand side.  You can see the strong shadow on the floor on her right, with a reduced shadow, caused by the reflector, on her left. Notice too how dark the background is, it’s a white background that is totally unlit, so it has photographed as almost black. This will change later, when we add a fill light.

You can see from the video that I placed the softboxes quite a long way away from Keira, my model. I did this so that she could move around, adopting different poses, without affecting the lighting effect too much. I could have moved the softboxes closer, and would have done so if I wanted to produce softer lighting.

muscle_04I then added the second softbox, on the right – actually it was there all the time but it was switched off, so was just acting as a reflector – and as you can see, despite the fact that the two lights are, to some extent, creating shadows that cancel each other out, this lighting really is creating emphasis where it’s wanted.

But, we can turn the game up by moving the lights back a bit, so that they are slightly behind our model and aiming forwards a bit.  This serves to light the edges of the subject but to leave the rest of it unlit. This is a pretty useful technique for artistic nude photography and is also very widely used in fashion photography and similar.

Lighting is really all about creating the effects we want, despite any problems caused by this – in this case the almost unlit front of our subject – and then, if necessary, adding extra lighting to deal with any problems. With fill light addedAnd in the final shot, I’ve added a fill light, which is a large softbox. As you can see in the video, this softbox has been placed immediately behind the camera so that it is lighting all parts of the subject that are visible to the camera.

As always, I start off without any fill light, and then add one if needed. I start off at the lowest possible power, and then adjust the power up slightly, taking a test shot each time, until I’m satisfied with the amount of fill.

You’ll have noticed that the unlit white background is no longer completely black, this is due to some of the light from the fill light reaching the background.