One Light Portraits

Lighting is often misunderstood for a complicated monster but it doesn’t need to be. Yes, there is more technical knowledge involved in order to pull of a good shot but the more you practice the better you get as with everything else. There is an amazing amount of information out there for indoor shooting and how many ways you can make magic in your studio. But to start with I would always recommend one light shooting, and honestly this is my favorite method as well. The results are beautiful and to me it feels like one light photography captures the soul of your subject,

You can always use one light as two by adding a reflector to fill but honestly my favorite way is to shoot without a reflector. One light photography often results in dramatic moody shots.If you’re using a strobe I would recommend trial and error vs buying a meter.

Here are the two technical terms you need to understand so online tutorials make more sense

Key Light

Your key light is the main source of light you are using to illuminate your subject. It could be a strobe, ocf or continuous light.

Fill Light

A fill light could be a second light or it could be a reflector which needs to be place opposite to where your key light is placed. This reduces the shadows and contrast while making the subject more flattering.

Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them”

Elliot Erwitt

The biggest issue I faced while learning one light photography was where to place my light. I usually shoot with one strobe and a giant octabox which makes the light softer and more flattering. The light is most often placed at a 45 degree angle from the subject and usually about 4 to 5 feet away. This helps with catchlights and an even distribution of light all over the face. When I started out I referred to a lot of diagrams available on pinterest to study the direction of the light. Eventually I just settled on a few favorites but most of them really helps me understand how to manipulate light to get the best result possible. (most of these pins can be accessed on our pinterest board for reference)

The above diagram is one of my favorite ways to shoot where I place the light a good 4 ft away from my subject and use a reflector (silver or white) either around the waist pointing up or sometimes not at all. My position while shooting is never static, I like to move around and find the angle that captures the essence of my subject. Along with lighting it is also very crucial to find the right angle that works with the kind of mood you are trying to create. When shooting dramatic portraits I end up with a profile or shoot at an angle almost always. I can’t seem to shake that off but that just might be my style and there’s a hundred different ways you can do it as pinned on our board.

Lastly, don’t be scared to experiment. Play with your settings and play with the light to see the multiple results you can get from one simple set up. There is a lot of education out there on one light set ups but my favorite course is by Joel Grimes One Light Masterclass who not only shows you how to shoot but also how to style in accordance with the mood you are trying to depict. There is so much education out there but here I would like to recommend the best I’ve purchased and believe me when I say I’ve purchased a LOT of courses over the years.

So be fearless and go for that shot, experiment with static subjects before using humans! I’m here to answer any questions and I will be posting another in depth article with settings, angles,videos and diagrams so stay tuned.

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