Portrait lighting: keeping it simple!


© Ian Thraves

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking we need to utilise multiple flash heads to achieve professional lighting results but this is not always true. Much depends on the effect you are aiming to achieve and often there is a lot to be gained from keeping your lighting simple. After all, when shooting outdoors we normally only have one light source to deal with – the sun!

Prior to undertaking any assignment it’s a good idea to plan your lighting in advance. Your style may be influenced by the needs of the client or by your own creative vision, but the environment you plan to shoot in, along with any constraints, should be considered when planning your lighting set ups.

Recently, I was involved in photographing a number of actors on the set of a movie. I only had around 5 minutes with each actor, plus I was also faced with the challenge of shooting in a very tight space. There simply would have been no room to set up more than one studio flash head, especially with members of the film crew continually walking through the set. The images you see below were all created using one flash and a single small soft box. My additional light source used to fill in shadows was a pop up reflector. Photographers are often seen using a second flash and soft box to fill in shadows but generally, a reflector does the same job with less fuss.

© Ian Thraves

Actors: William Ash, Jessica Barden and Robert Beck from the movie, Habit (© Ian Thraves)

Sometimes we may want to back light a model to help ‘lift’ them from the background and create a more three dimensional effect. Using a backlight to illuminate hair is a common technique used in glamour photography. Below is an example of a photograph featuring actor/musician Martin Kemp that was taken using two Nikon Speedlights off camera. The key light illuminating Martin’s face was fired through a small soft box to diffuse the light, whilst the backlight was a ‘bare’ Nikon flash positioned to the rear right hand side of Martin’s head, just out of shot (see diagram).

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Martin Kemp, Actor/Musician (© Ian Thraves)







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Although two light sources were used here, I have created a similar effect in the case of the image below, which features actor Bruce Jones. The example below is an old image captured back in the days of black and white film. So how did I create the same kind of effect with only one light source? Simple, I positioned my single studio flash head to the rear right hand side of the actors head and used a reflector to bounce soft light back in to his face – similar to using a soft box.

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Bruce Jones, Actor (© Ian Thraves)








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To learn more about effective lighting using single and multiple light sources and modifiers, find out more about our studio lighting workshops by clicking this link.


All images are subject to copyright protection ©

Lighting diagram created using: Online Lighting Diagram Creator by QHphotography.com


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