How To Create Da Vinci Portrait Lighting With Only One Light Source

After studying Leonardo DaVinci a few years ago, photographer Tony Corbell was inspired by the artist’s attention to lighting in relation to painting portraits. Wanting to recreate the technique used by Da Vinci, Corbell took to his Texas studio ready to hone his lighting skills even further. Take a quick look at the video tutorial below to hear Corbell discuss his process and end result:

“Da Vinci said: ‘In order to produce the best depth in a painting, the shadow on the ground would be as long as the subject is tall.’ That’s his way of telling us to consider 45 degree lighting.”

Corbell stresses that it’s not necessary to have tons of expensive studio lights to create the look he was going for, making the lighting style easily accessible to anyone who doesn’t have an arsenal of gear. In fact, Corbell uses only one light, a Gemini 750 Pro, but he says the look can be pulled off with something as basic as a single umbrella—though the light may not be quite as soft as what Corbell had with his Gemini after he outfitted it with an octobox. Two large white panel reflectors were added to the mix to merely soften the shadows.

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Outline of Corbell’s equipment and lighting setup.

In his first attempt at creating Da Vinci lighting, Corbell set his light at 45 degrees up and at a 45 degree angle from the camera. This created an appealing wrap around of depth creating light on the model’s face.

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DaVinci light creates depth through shadows and also provides a flattering light.

Corbell also offers that the 45 degree angle always proves to be a great starting point but will sometimes need to be slightly adjusted to fit the needs of each specific photo shoot. For example, he finds that when his subject has deep set eyes, the light may need to be dropped slightly. Experimentation is the key to capturing the perfect portrait!

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