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Applications and Variations


This lighting can be used for a variety of subjects.  As fairly exact positioning is needed when using a feathered parabolic, this is not a lighting for action or little ones who won't stay still.   This lighting can accentuate skin texture, so you may want to select something different for older subjects concerned about wrinkles and lines.  The kicker light should be removed if the subject has prominent ears.   You can substitute a hair light for the kicker or remove it altogether for a good three-light setup. 


Many portrait reflectors are designed to be feathered.   To feather a light, you generally move the brighter central portion of the light beam in front of the subject  and use the softer surrounding area to light the subject.   You can vary the specularity of the light by blocking most or all of the direct light from the flash tube.  For this portrait, tthe side barn door closest to the subject was pulled in to block some of the flash tube light.  This also helped to reduce light falling on the subject's left ear.  The upper barn door was pulled down to reduce light on top of the head.

 Some Notes on Parabolic Sources

Before umbrella and softbox modifiers became the standard for portrait lighting, photographers often used parabolic reflectors for their main lighting sources.  These efficient sources produced great results for those who knew how to use them--and lousy results for those who didn't.  Unlike umbrellas and softboxes,  the parabolic requires precise placement  and works best when adjusted for each sitter.  If you are just starting out in studio lighting, you may want to pass on this kind of lighting. 

There are many views on the need for feathering parabolic sources and whether or not barn doors destroy the quality of the light.   To a significant extent, the degree of feathering will be depend on your specific equipment.   Parabolic sources in the past were often equipped with large frosted tungsten bulbs or long frosted flash tubes, some of which could be moved within the reflector to modify the spread and evenness of the light.  Many of these earlier sources  produced a soft, and fairly even light that was less dependent on feathering.  The smaller, clear flash tubes on modern strobes may not pair as favorably with large parabolic reflectors.   I use a  frosted tube in conjunction with my 16" reflector.  The standard clear tube produces an excessively hot-centered light that is difficult to control.


Lighting Diagram 4.1b (side view)

Lighting Diagram 4.1a (top view)

Example Portrait 4.1

Here is lighting style that has fallen out of favor.  To my taste it's classic; others would surely call it trite or dated.  This four-light setup uses a 16" parabolic portrait reflector for the main light, a light bounced off the wall  behind the camera as fill, a rim light fitted with a grid, and a background light with a snoot.  


The Lighting Setup

The  lighting apparatus used for this portrait is shown in diagram 4.1a (top view) and  4.1b (side view) below.  The main lighting consisted of a monolight fitted with a frosted flash tube,  a 16" portrait reflector fitted with 4-way barn doors, and  neutral density gels placed over the front of the reflector to reduce output by 2 f-stops.  The main light was adjusted and feathered in the manner described in the  section below.   The fill lighting was created by bouncing light off the white wall behind the camera.  The fill lighting was approximately  1.5 f-stops less intense than the main lighting.  A kicker light fitted with a medium-coarse grid grazed the shadow side of the subject's head and was also about 1.5 f-stops less intense than the main light.  The background light was fitted with a long, homemade snoot (tube) formed from a piece of Rosco Cinefoil.  The snoot limited the spread of the light, much like a grid, but with a less gradual fall-off at the light's edge.  This background lighting was raked across a sweep of dark gray (Savage Charcoal) seamless paper.  The reflected reading of the lighted section of the background below the subject's shoulders measured 1/2 f-stop brighter than the main light.