Umbrellas 104 for Beginners: Flagging and Feathering

Umbrellas 104 for Beginners: Flagging and Feathering

You may have noticed during our studies of umbrellas and technique that we have been lighting everything in a very direct manner, illustrating some very basic techniques for you to test out with your own photos.

Those techniques will serve you well, and can be used to create beautiful photos. But it’s time to try something a bit advanced, something that will give you the ability to better control your umbrella light and impart your own style into the photo.

Let’s move onto some advanced techniques known flagging and feathering, two techniques that can help you really take your photos to a different level.

Flagging

A flag, when used in light rigging, is a piece of material placed to keep light away from an area of the photo. It could be a large v-flat, or a card attached to the side of a small flash. Ultimately, the flag will help you control the placement of your shadow by blocking light.

If you recall back to our experiments with the 60-inch white umbrella, we photographed our subject with the umbrella in both shoot thru and reflective positions. Well, our 60-inch umbrella has a very useful third position and technique that can be created by manipulating the black back of the umbrella.

The common way to use this particular umbrella, or any umbrella with a removable black back, is to keep the cover on and shoot in reflective position. Maybe after that you decided to try shoot thru position, but you removed the black back to do so. But what would happen if you left half of the black back on the umbrella then went about creating your light? Well, you’d have flagged your umbrella. It’s a great trick that can produce really interesting light on your subject while blocking the light from other areas of your image. In these examples, we’re going to use the black cover to flag the umbrella, keeping the light away from our background paper.

Obviously the first step to this setup involves removing your 60-inch umbrella from the plastic sleeve. Then, you’ll want to remove half of the black back. Keep the other half attached to the white part of the umbrella. Now, you’re going to fold the black cover back and tuck that under, creating what amounts to a “half shoot thru.”

We can now use this lighting contraption in any of the various places we’ve discussed in the previous Umbrella 100 articles! Just keep in mind that the side covered with our black cover (the flagged part of the umbrella) will not produce light. Here are a few examples to illustrate the quality of light you can create using this technique.

On the left, the full umbrella without the flag. On the right, the flagged umbrella. Notice that the flag allows us to keep light from hitting the background paper, but still provides a nice light on the subject.

Feathering

Flagging is a great technique to help control our light from the umbrella. However, it’s not a subtle change at all. If you are looking to make subtle adjustments to your umbrella light, you should consider a technique know as feathering.

Feathering means that you aren’t going to aim the center of your umbrella directly at the subject. Instead, you’ll turn the center of the light away from the subject and use the light produced by the edge of your umbrella. Some people may refer to this as the penumbra.

On the left, an example without feathering. On the right, an example with a feathering technique. Notice that you are utilizing the edge of the light produced by the umbrella. To achieve this, try turning the center of the light away from the subject.

I’d try this technique with your umbrella in reflective position, as a shoot thru isn’t very effective with this technique. The reflective position will allow you to rotate the umbrella away from the subject, while retaining an edge to the modifier. 

Direct umbrella light on the left, and feathered light on the right. Though the change is subtle, compare the quality of the highlights and shadows.

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3 Comments

Matt Owen's picture

I like the half-flagged umbrella. Sort of a semi-circular strip light.

Feathering is also great for getting even light on larger groups.

Helene Titsch's picture

Great info! First time I've heard of feathering. A must-try. Thank you!