10 Different Lighting Effects Using Just One Softbox

When you start out as a photographer, you probably don’t have a lot of equipment or money, so you need to come up with unique ways of using what you do have to create professional, beautiful looking images that sell. The thing is, you can do amazing things with just one light if you understand how that light works. This video tutorial shows you how you can create 10 different, completely professional looking images using just one softbox:

1. The Perfect Lighting for Jewelry Photography

With one softbox, you can light your product and create a background at the same time.

You need:

  • a big, shiny surface (Corbell uses a black plexiglass table)
  • a shiny piece of jewelry
  • one softbox
  • one piece of white poster board

You need to establish what you’re exposure is going to be and where to put the main light. Corbell positions the main light over the product and just slightly back to throw the shadows forward a little to produce a higher impact, less flat image. Plus, with this angle, you can shoot down on the product to bring the background that’s reflected in the plexiglass to the front.

lighting jewelry photography

2. Use Your Softbox as a Rim Light to Create Depth

As Tony Corbell demonstrates, there are two options when you do a profile light: front profile and back profile. This is great for fashion photography, traditional portraiture, photographing children or brides—pretty much any model shoot.

Place the light at an angle behind or in front of the model to create a rim light, just lighting the model’s profile slightly.

softbox rim lighting

3. Creating a Contemporary Beauty Look

You only need one light and just a small white reflector to get this look.

This is a typical beauty shot, with the main light up high, directly in line with the model’s nose so as not to produce any shadows to the left or right of the nose. Place a reflector down below to catch the light and fill in the areas under the chin, nose, and eyes, bringing out more detail in the shadows.

If you have a plain white wall in the background, it will appear grey in the photo because you’re not lighting it. This is a great look that sells.

beauty look photography

4. Lighting a Face Like a Movie Poster

Using what they used to call “monster lighting” you can light from below with just one light source. Today, it’s becoming quite popular for movie posters to have this type of lighting, and if done right, it can bring out a beautiful angle of the face.

Just place the light down in front of your model and have them bend over it slightly to get the best effect.

monster lighting effect

5. Using Your Main Light as a Background

Use the softbox as your background to get a nice, high-impact silhouette of your model.

The setup is simple. Just place your model in front of the softbox and pose them however you like. Try different poses to see which one looks best later on. You need to make sure your exposure is rich enough and deep enough to get complete black in the silhouette and ensure you don’t lose detail in the hair and neckline.

silhouette photograph

6. Light Your Portrait Subjects and Backgrounds Together

You can get your subject beautifully lit, at the same time lighting up the background by just pivoting the softbox slightly. If you have a background that’s kind of dark and don’t have a second light, this is a simple way to light it.

Take one shot where the model is lit, while the background isn’t. Then rotate the light a little and take a shot with half the background lit and half the model lit.

light subjects and backgrounds

7. Designing a Window with Your Softbox

Bring the softbox back to give it a deep distance from the subject and place a translucent silk (Corbell uses 6 ft. x 6 ft.) about five or six feet in front of it, separating the light from the model.

This will change the light dramatically as it becomes a large source, similar to a bay window in your home. Everything in the shot gets a little bit brighter and looks clean.

increase light source

8. Bouncing the Softbox for Effect

You can also always increase the size of your light source by bouncing the light off a white wall.

Find a blank white wall—in your home, studio, wherever—or put up a roll of white seamless paper somewhere. Point the softbox at a 45 degree angle to the wall to triple—or even quadruple—the size of your light source. This will produce bounced, soft light and increase detail in the highlights on the model.

bounce light effect

9. Using Your Softbox as a Design Element

You can create beauty shots with one light. Here, Corbell uses a design element to light a wine bottle and glass. Understanding specular highlights and surface efficiency helps—in this case, he uses shiny, dark glass to capture perfect reflections. To add a design element to the highlight, he uses black tape over the softbox to create a window look that will be reflected in the wine bottle and wine glass.

Place a white reflector off to the side of the wine bottle to add a subtle highlight down the edge of the bottle and glass.

softbox design element

10. Evenly Light a Group of People

How do you light a group of people with only one light and keep the exposure be consistent from one end to the other? It is possible, even without moving the camera, moving the light, or changing the exposure.

Here’s the easy way to do it: turn the light source horizontal, then pivot it so it lights each person down the line, taking a photo each time. Composite them in post production to come up with the perfectly lit final image.

lighting a group photo

Softbox Tips

  • If you don’t have a silk diffuser, you can always use a plain white sheet and stretch it out a few feet in front of your softbox.
  • If you can only afford to buy one light, as far as light shaping goes, you should always buy the biggest light you can, because you can always make it smaller by blocking some of it off or by backing it up.

So much of photography is understanding control of highlights and shadows and if you can learn those—along with light quality and light quantity—then everything else is pretty easy.

You can make a living with one light and one reflector. Keep practicing these single lighting effects, and you’ll be able to capture amazing images that you can sell to clients, put on your website, and use to get more work.

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One Comment

  1. Daniel Lee says:

    Really great article and helpful tips!

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