A One Light, One Reflector Portrait Setup

How do you light a model with a beautiful golden skin tone, long black hair and wearing an earthly tone dress? If you think this is too specific, you’re right. But photography does make you a bit specific at times, especially when you have unique problems to tackle. A unique problem like Mark Wallace has here as he tries to photograph a model in Mexico City:

Wallace demonstrates how you can create a beautiful portrait of a model, even in an environment that isn’t the best. In Wallace’s case, the studio had almost pure white walls, devoid of any colors to contrast with the model’s skin tone or the dress that she wore.

Darkening the Background

The problem was compounded by the fact that Wallace had only one light, a Profoto B2 strobe head inside a softbox mounted with a grid. The grid ensured that the light did not spill onto areas that Wallace didn’t intend it to—specifically the white wall in the background. The idea is simple. Wallace wanted to create a contrasting background—something that would complement the model—by reducing the amount of light falling on the background and essentially turning it into something gray.

To ensure that the results would be as expected, Wallace metered for the model, which came to f/11 and then the wall which came to about f/1.6.

Profile photography lighting tips

Test shot without a reflector

Adding a Silver Reflector

While the first test image image looks nice at first glimpse, if you look closely, there is almost nothing going on behind model. There is almost no detail on her hair. The image lacks shadow detail.

In comes the silver reflector. Remember, this was a one light setup, so no hair light. Wallace strategically placed the silver reflector at the back of the model’s hair. The idea was to reflect back some light when the flash fired.

Using a silver reflector for studio portrait session

Silver Reflector

How to use a silver reflector in studio portrait session

Portrait with Silver Reflector Added

See the difference just the reflector makes?

Portrait Lighting Setup

This lighting technique will work only when you’re shooting a profile shot. For a normal full-on portrait shot, the lighting will probably be too harsh:

single light and reflector lighting setup

A more traditional portrait shot doesn’t work as well with this lighting setup.

One side of the model’s face is properly exposed with the softbox. But the other side, even with the reflector, is very much in the shadow. You have to be careful when using this lighting setup. Check the angle at which your light is set up and the model’s pose before pressing the shutter.

This is yet another example of how you can create beautiful, professional looking portraits without a huge amount of gear.

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