Kill the Spill: 3 Light Shapers for Maximum Control

Written by: Erik Valind

Soft and simple, or controlled and contrasty. Those were the lighting decisions that I had to make recently on this sneaker photoshoot. When you’re just lighting something to sell on Craigslist or Ebay, the simplest way is to pull out a quick sweep of seamless paper and light the object from above with something large like a softbox. But if you want to make a more compelling image, something to make your product really pop off the page, you’ll need to apply a little more control to your lighting. This control allows for selective highlights and shadows – contrast – which the makes photo come to life in a 3D way. Look at how huge that difference can be, comparing this soft flat photo to the final hero shot. Lets break down how this shot was made, playing to the strengths of three different lighting modifiers that excel at maximizing control by killing light spill… Barndoors, Snoots, and Grids.

I knew I wanted to light this image in layers, which means I needed to be able to light each part of the shoe individually as well as the background. I was working with a Broncolor Move 1200L pack and began my setup with a MobiLED light overhead as the main light. I swapped out the 2’ x 2’ Softbox for a P70 Reflector, which focused the spread of light to 70 Degrees. This wasn’t quite focused enough though, as the light is still illuminating the pink backdrop and spilling onto the front of the shoe. I needed something to flag or block the light from hitting the background so I added a 4 Leaf Barndoor Set to the front of P70 reflector. The barn doors conveniently rotate so I could position one side to shield the backdrop from unwanted light, causing it to fall to black. Then the other side to create a hard cut to the light, limiting it to just the top of the shoe. That’s a lot of control in a single modifier and it perfectly cut out our subject.

The next step was to light the side of the shoe and showcase the branding. To do this I needed another modifier with precise control. After working to remove spill light from the background I didn’t want to risk reintroducing it by too broad of a modifier. I needed something precise, that concentrated the light onto a smaller area and had quick fall off. A snoot is the perfect tool for this! A snoot focuses the light neat and compactly which allowed me to simply point it at the side of the shoe and then vary the direction of the beam until I had just the right amount of light. The edges of the light fell off perfectly at the base of the the shoe and at the top where our barndoors were already doing the work. Here you can see the fine tuning of the snoot and the how our shoe is shaping up when we turn on both the the barndoor and snooted lights.

Finally, I needed to shed some light on the pink background again, but without letting it visually overpower the shot. To do this I placed a Siros 800 S, with a Standard L40 Reflector, under the table and aimed it towards the background. I knew I didn’t want a solid wall of pink back there and the L40 aimed upwards gave the background a nice gradient effect. This was a good start, but I wanted something a little tighter to really highlight the shoe and make it the main focus. I decided to go for a halo effect which needed to further focus a round beam of light onto the background.  Another set of barndoors could have focused the light but cant produce a round shape, so here is where a set of grids comes in handy. They gives you control and some creative freedom too. I was able to fit the L40 reflector with grids of multiple sizes (Fine, Medium and Coarse) which further narrowed the beam of light to different degrees. I was able to pick my favorite and finish up the shot! If I had used a snoot for the background light I would have gotten a similar narrow round light spread, but I would have been locked in to a specific size, where as the grids gave me options to tighten to expand the halo as I saw fit.

Anyway you go about it, the more control you have over your light, the more contrast and creativity you can add to your final image. And the Barndoors, Snoots, and Grids are three great tools to do just that!

Broncolor ambassador Erik Valind is a freelance photographer, born and raised on the Florida beaches, now living in New York City. Specializing in commercial lifestyle photography and environmental portraiture – airy and energetic imagery defines the style and vision of this top pro photographer. You can see more of his work at erikvalind.com and follow him on Instagram as @erikvphoto.