Monday, February 1, 2010

One Light Wonders

Ever wonder, what is possible with just one light, along with a few light modifiers? Well, you will be surprised at the possibilities. Some of the most dramatic shots we've taken are with just a single studio light, maybe adding in a reflector for fill, both indoors and on location. Also at the end of this post are videos form legends using just one light.

It is very important how to see, use and control a single light. For those starting out with just one light, and those who already started out with a basic kit of 2-3 light with whatever modifier it came with, this post is to help you to grasp the basics. Sorry, but there won't be any light setups here, but for a good reason. We would like you to identify where the light was placed by identifying the shadows. When you practice enough, you will see and identify light and also quality of the light from the shadows. Also, take a look at a similar post to identify the light from catch light in the eyes.

Okay, so let the games begin. First up is the title shot. For full length(or full body) we used a large beauty dish on top of the model(see how to multiply models here) and put a flag/cutter in front so that the stray light won't hit the white backdrop. Hence the gray shade! See how to light a white seamless here. The shot below is for a designer shot again on a white seamless. We used one light through a medium sized beauty dish placed in front and just above the models head. Since we were aiming for a mid-length shot, we used the smaller dish.

In this second shot, our model is close to the background and the small beauty dish and it's lighting angle is the same, just moved slightly to the right of camera. Note how the background becomes white and slight shadows on background. There is selective toning, sharpening and blur effect added in post.

Now, lets move the light way on the right side of the camera at the same height above the head of the model, who is still close to the background. This side lighting is also very popular in fashion photography for the shadow it creates. Notice how the shadow from the background disappears.

Now lets go back to the first lighting where the small dish is placed in front and top of the model. Here we just add a wall paper background against which the model is standing.

 When on an interior location, you have the chance of being extra creative as you can use elements around you to bounce or shoot through the light from. For example, we liked the interiors of this lift/elavator during one of our shoots in some hotel. The metallic walls were a perfect background, and many use those material for making sets in studios. Anyway, we didn't have enough space to light the model when she was standing. So we made her sit on a long metallic cylindrical ashtray(the kind in hotel lobby), and bounce the light from the ceiling inside(you can see the glow above her head). The silver metallic walls act as perfect reflectors to fill the shadows.

This last shot is an example of the side lighting but on location and against the sun. We used the same small beauty dish on right of the camera. To see how to create the star effect from the sun, see our post here and how to balance the strobe with ambient light here.

All our examples were about shooting mid length with a small/medium beauty dish with a diffuser on it. You can easily substitute it with a shoot through umbrella or small softbox. For full lengths, you can use a large beauty dish, big softbox, jumbo umbrellas and Octabox. Using a huge Paraboloic reflector though will make the shadows almost dissapear and the image has overall less contrast.

Take a look at Patrick Demarchelier shooting with his fav Octabox for this portrait of Maria Sharapova below.

Here is a video where Patrick is shooting supermodel Giselle, again with his trusty Octabox. Thats all he uses as his main light in every studio shoot you can find on you tube, be it full length fashion spreads or portraits of celebrities. Its the way he controls the light is what counts, and what this post is about!

Now watch this video of Richard Avedon shooting Stephanie Seymour where he just uses one light with a beauty dish, an octabox and a honeycomb grid all against a white cyc/cove wall. Although the video is very small, it is very educational and shows the power of a single light source and the magic it creates.


  1. Thank you! Quite informative post!

  2. Hi. Someone else is using your images.