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Using Flag To Control Shadow (And Light) In Portraiture

10/04/2017 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

Using Flag To Control Shadow (And Light) In Portraiture

Today we the pleasure to feature photographer Bruno Fujii  with his latest project 'Using Flag To Control Shadow (And Light) In Portraiture'. We hope you enjoy with his behind the scene look into flags,lights and portraits.

Since the beginning when I started learning photography I pushed myself to photograph; there is only so much one can learn by theory, real-world experiences are key to improving sensibility and assimilating what was previously learned. For this reason, I set up a test shoot for trying a lightning technique (more of a shaping light tool, actually) I hadn't had used before: flag.

More than a simple gimmick, flags are commonly used — yet underestimated — for controlling light and shadows in photography and cinematography. Unfortunately, I’ve been neglecting its use mostly because I couldn’t find any available in Brasil with their usual finishing. Flags, also known as cutters, are stretched thick-framed black fabric that can be mounted to tripods or simply handheld by assistants; the black cloth blocks the light and eliminates spills in differents forms by manipulating the position of the flag in relation to the light and the subject.

I have already used foamcores to subtract and reflect lights, and always have around with me the swiss knife army modifier to have: a 5-in-1 multipurpose collapsible reflector. In Brasil, I found a flag which resembles a lot a 5-in-1 standard reflector, but in a different form factor; I decided to buy for using it like the flag with fabric.

My good friend, and great fashion photographer Samuel K., kindly accepted modeling for me at this test. Actually, it’s not the first time he models for me as a test, and he has been really helping me on several other occasions (including this personal project at Festa do Divino in São Luiz do Paraiting).

The shooting:

Using Flag To Control Shadow (And Light) In Portraiture

We settled the shoot at this own place in the afternoon. Living at the Bom Retiro neighborhood, his apartment had a large balcony, but with a small recess we used as an improvised studio, which was a challenging by itself. Strangely, the day was nothing like spring with clear and pleasing temperature; it was actually cold (for the season) with rainy clouds appearing fast in the horizon — good surprise for a little more drama.

Broad light.

First thing was taking our time to have a coffee while setting up a pretty basic broad/short light shot and see how it compared to the flagged added. Of course that the basic simple light wasn’t simple just for the fact that was a windy day and the softbox modifier would not stay in one position — beside the fact it could really blow away I must confess I was a little nervous. Finally, I had it feathered away from the camera to give a little subtle contrast to the opposite side of the face. I used the builind behind him as a backdrop, with a relative low f/number and longer lens — f/4 and 85mm. It was time for adding the flag.

Flag with bounced light.

So the flag was added, and I suggested him changing his clothes because without the broad light his sweater fabric was getting lost. Bear in mind the wind didn’t stop all the sudden. Now two thing could blow away: the softbox and the flag. I barely could pay attention to the softbox, imagine the flag together. I asked Samuel K. to help me holding the flag while I watched the softbox. 30 minutes after (yes, 30 minutes!!!) the lightining/shadows just weren’t quite right. Samuel K., a photographer himself, noticed that the reflective side of the flag was bouncing the big great white wall behind me, filling all the shadows in the right side of his face.

Flag away.

After all the unpredictable struggles, it was getting darker so I raised my ISO 1⁄3 and I opened my aperture to f/2.8, framing the models face behind the rainy clouds. With the flag more close to the octabox softbox and away from the model, the transition from shadow to light was smoother giving a less cut light falloff.

Flag closer.

When the flag was positioned away from the light source and closer to the subject, the transition was clearly more noticeable. The result was a more dramatic overall felling.


Above is a more to the point comparison and makes easier to identify the difference between flag placement in relationship to the subject and the light. A great analysis to expand the range of photographic knowledge when in need for a specify look in portraiture photography.

The behind the scenes:

That’s a wrap! Nothing beats practicing! Although the scenario wasn’t really ideal (windy day, no assistants, tight space, uncontrolled ambient light and so on) I was pretty satified with the final portrait with a more dramatic flagged aesthetic.

I’m aware that using the “real” flag may be a total different game, but it was what I had available with me. The most important: I wanted to experiment. I hope in the future I will be able to try the fabric version and take my experience to the next level, making more and more use of this incredible tool.

Equipments used:

Camera: Nikon D800;
Lens: Nikon 85 1.8G;
Light Head: Paul C. Buff E640 with a Vagabond Mini;
Modifier: 47″ foldable octabox;
Flag: 35″ x 23″ Greika 5×1 (?).

About Bruno Fujii:

I’m Bruno Fujii, full-time photographer and visual storyteller living in São Paulo/Brasil. Chico Buarque fan. Film addicted. Passionate reader. Bike rider. Future writer. Graduated designer with visual communication skill (2002-2007), and incomplete lato sense degree in communication and semiotics (2011-2013). Self-taught photographer.  Let's Get Connected: 

This article and all the images were originally published on  and shared with his permission

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