Thursday, May 9, 2013

Five Classic Lighting Recipes

As much as I like to experiment when it comes to lighting, there are times I need the sure thing.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Five Classic Lighting Recipes


If someone asked me what lighting technique I use the most, I'd reply cross lighting. This lighting technique uses two light sources opposite one another with your subject in the middle. One light will be illuminating your subject's front, while the second light will be an accent light illuminating his shoulder, hair or backside. Any combination of softboxes, reflectors and umbrellas can be used.

My typical cross light setup uses a large softbox as my main light on my subject's face, and a standard head or speedlight as my accent light. I often use a 30-degree grid on my accent light to keep the light focused on my subject's hair and shoulders.

With a speedlight I zoom the head to 200mm, which is similar to using a grid on a studio strobe. At 200mm the speedlight shoots out a narrow beam of light. I generally have my accent light one stop brighter than my main light.

Cross Lighting
Cross Lighting

Cross lighting is popular because it creates nicely lit portraits that have separation from the background. You can increase the separation from the background by underexposing the ambient light in your shot.

Experiment with different lights. Try using one large softbox as your main light, and a smaller softbox as your accent light. I also like using a beauty dish as my main light and a gridded strobe for my accent light.

Lighting can seem daunting to photographers just starting out. I have friends who photograph wildlife and landscape and they think of lighting as "a necessary evil," but a lot of this resistantance is because they think lighting is difficult. Try out one of these five lighting recipes. You might be surprised at how easy it is, and how great your subject looks.

To see more of Tom Bol's photography, visit

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