Parabolic main light, before any of you get freaked out about this term, a parabolic is simply a dish-reflector type lighting (aka Beauty dish, 20-24 inch silver or white reflector, etc. etc.)  All light manufactures make them for whatever brand of lights you use.  I think the word parabolic was often used to confuse students and make instructors sound smarter than they really were.  It’s is kind-of-like the term “Quality of Light”  Light has no quality, it has quantity and characteristics.  Every lighting attachment from a grid spot to an umbrella can produce a quality light source for different styles of portraits/lighting.  The mystique behind lighting is one that sells a great deal of lights and light modifiers, but it is mostly smoke and mirrors and trying to complicate that which isn’t.

Parabolic lighting was used by the great photographers like Don Blair and Marty Richert, who believed you should control your light and only place light where you want the viewers eye’s to see.  Marty Richert not only worked with barn doors on his main light dish, but had special gobo’s  (something to hold or block light from hitting the subject) made to isolate the main light even further for the ultimate control over where his main light struck the subject.  There was no Photoshop back then, so a fair skinned, bare shoulder close to the main light either glowed or you feathered the light off of it.

Parabolic lighting isn’t going to replace traditional lighting styles we use today, but it is another lighting style to learn to help set yourself apart from the under-trained masses that haven’t mastered traditional lighting yet!  This type of lighting is about control.  Many photographers over the years have gotten lazy when it comes to lighting. The theories of lighting being taught the most require a huge soft box.  The idea behind these mega-boxes is that you don’t have to be very good to produce a somewhat professional looking portrait and the companies that sell light boxes make a great deal more money on a 4×6 ft. box than a normal sized one.

Think of a parabolic main light as a cross between a soft-box and spot light.  The light from the reflector  can be softened with an internal diffuser or a baffle over the end of the reflector itself, so the light can produce a beautiful softer characteristic, but the smaller size and barn doors allow you to control the viewer’s eye by holding light back on the parts of the body that are best left in shadow, like a spot light.  This is the idea behind corrective lighting and my book by the same name.

Because of my frugal nature, I use Alien Bee Lights.  I need many lights and I have many people handling them that are not always as gentle on my equipment as I am.  Alien Bee does offer reflectors in these sizes.  It comes with a diffusers that kind-of looks like a diaper for your light, but it works.  Alien Bee did not offer barn doors (at least when I purchased mine) so I ordered a set of Norman barn-door in the same size and they work fine.

This style of lighting not only offers control to your lighting but has an “Old Hollywood” look to it that is really cool.  It is more contrasty that using a soft-box, so you must test your lighting.  I go over how to test all of your lighting, as well as using different light styles like Parabolic, ring lights, butterfly lighting and spot lights in my New DVD STUDIO PORTRAIT LIGHTING.  View a Free Sample

In our profession today, you have to stand out and set yourself apart from all the other less knowledgeable photographers.  Mastering traditional/standard portrait light is a starting place.  Mastering many lighting styles, even from the past gives your work a look that consumers can’t get elsewhere.


~ by jeffsmithbooks on October 13, 2010.

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