Friday, November 9, 2012

One-Light Portraits

In portraiture, there's a temptation for some photographers to use several lights, with the goal of creating a dramatic portrait.
Text & Photography By Rick Sammon Published in Shooting
One-Light Portraits

5. Here's another example of lighting the background.

I used a white background and placed a red Honl gel over the speedlight. For the shot of the man with a hat, I placed a blue Honl gel over the speedlight.

6. Of course, you can take less dramatic, but still attractive portraits with a basic one-light setup, as illustrated by this photograph.

Yes, the background looks as though it's illuminated. That's because it's a brightly painted background, painted to look like a sunset.

For this photo, a reflector is being held opposite the softbox to fill in some of the shadows caused by the one-light setup. So, in reality, there are two light sources—but still only one main light. In this photograph, you can easily see the recessed diffuser panel in the softbox.

7. Here's another one-light portrait.

It's soft because the softbox is placed near the subject and because the light is what's called "feathered." When you "feather" the light, you don't aim the light directly at the subject. Rather, you aim it slightly in front of the subject.

8. Here's a cool technique for "lighting up" a black background.

Try using the Lens Flare filter in Photoshop. That's what I did here to create an image in which the girl looks as though she was photographed on a stage.

9. Here's yet another shot using my one-light setup.

When shooting with a speedlight outdoors, use the shutter speed to control the brightness of the background: The higher the shutter speed, the darker the background, and vice versa. Adjust the output from your speedlight with the +/- control on your speedlight or in your camera. Using this technique, you can control the subject brightness and background brightness independently. How cool is that?

10. One final thought: Experiment and have fun with the light!

Move the light around and move around to see how changing position by a few feet, and even sometimes a few inches, can change the shadows in your photograph.

Our friend Rick Sammon has been writing for this magazine for more than a decade. Visit with him at

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