How to Use V-Flats with Strobes

How to Use V-Flats with Strobes | Mastin Labs

If you aren't familiar with them, a V-flat is two pieces of 4' x 8' board, usually made of foam, that is taped together on the long edges to create a hinge. Ideally, the boards are white on one side and black on the other.

Today, I am showing you a few great ways to use V-flats with your next shoot with strobes! I've also written about how to use V-flats with natural light if you are looking to use them that way. 

V-Flats with Strobes Set Up #1

In this example, since I'm only using one light, I chose a smaller white seamless to use as my backdrop. My primary goal with this setup is to get a beautiful, clean, white background behind my subject. The smaller surface area allows you to light the background more evenly with one strobe. Using a more substantial area would most likely require additional lighting to avoid creating a harsh gradient.

Using v-flats and 1 light to create a white background. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset

After you have your white backdrop in place, position each V-flat around it with the white side facing toward the background. Leave about a 4-foot gap between the V-flats so that when you're looking at it from camera position, you can still easily see the background through them.

Position your lighting (strobe or speed-light) in one of the V-flat corners with the bulb facing toward the V-flat. This will bounce the light back and onto the backdrop and opposite V-flat.

(see the lighting diagram below)

Strobe light in positioned to bounce off of v-flat.

As seen in the diagram, place your subject outside of the V-flats. This keeps the light from the background off of the subject and allows you to expose them separately. For lighting the subject, use available ambient light or additional strobe lighting.

A note on lens choice: Unless you plan on being very close to your subject I would recommend using a lens with a focal length no wider than 50mm. Anything more will make it difficult to avoid getting the edges of the V-flats in the frame.

By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Portra 160 preset

Behind the scenes.

V-Flats with Strobes Set Up #2

The most significant difference in this setup versus the first is that you will place your subject within the V-flats instead of outside them. I would recommend opening them up further than the 90º angle shown in Set #1, and perhaps moving them a bit further apart, allowing light to bounce around a bit more.

(see the lighting diagram below)

Behind the scenes

By Chris Daniels, Edited with Mastin Labs Fujicolor 160NS +1 preset

V-Flats with Strobes Set Up #3

If you're moving from Set #2, then this will also be a fast variation. All you do is flip the V-flat without the strobe around to its opposite, black side. Using the black side of the V-flat means that instead of bouncing light, it will now absorb it. This creates a lot more contrast on our subject and lighting reminiscent of "Rembrandt lighting." You still place the subject within the V-flat walls.

(see the lighting diagram below)

By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Portra 160 +1 preset

V-Flats with Strobes Set Up #4

And now, we have come full circle. For Set #4, we will be making use of the black side of both V-flats. I love this set for portraits. I like how the setup brings the light and the attention to the center of the subject.

Position each of the boards so that your subject sits between them and so that you can see the background behind them. Your strobe now moves outside of the V-flats and can be placed anywhere you wish to light the subject.

For this, I used a parabolic reflector to diffuse the strobe light and position it, similar to a paramount lighting style, about 45º overhead of the subject and about 3 feet away. Lighting the subject in this way is just one of many options. Light them however you wish. One of the easiest and cheapest light modifiers is the trusty ol' umbrella.

(see the lighting diagram below)

Behind the scenes

By Chris Daniels, Edited with Mastin Labs Fujicolor 160NS +1 preset

V-Flats with Strobes Set Up #5

Here's one more just for kicks! This one creates a super dark backdrop, but it's shallow, so you have to be careful with the lighting so that you don't expose much more than the subject.

Make 90º angles with two V-flats, with the black side facing in. Slide two of the panels together so that you create a little "black closet," which is where you will place your subject.

(see the lighting diagram below)

By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Ilford PanF preset

I hope this serves as a great starting point for playing with light. Once you learn that you can harness light, it opens up all kinds of doors! V-flats are an excellent way to explore that and are endlessly useful. What we've done here are just a few examples.

I'll leave you with some general reminders about shaping light:

The closer the source of light is to the subject, the softer it will be. In the case of V-flats, if you're bouncing strobe lighting and want it to be ultra soft, place the white side of the V-flat as close to the subject as you can. 

Black absorbs. Use the black side of the V-flat when you want to create contrast. 

Play, have fun, and show me what you come up with! As always, if you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. If you're a member of our Facebook group (and you should be), you can tag me there! (@ Chris Daniels) Otherwise, you can reach out to me personally.