How to Modify a One Light Portrait Setup to Get the Look You Want

There are millions of ways to light a portrait, ranging from Rembrandt style to incredibly complex setups that involve multiple lights, reflectors, and gels. Joel Grimes shows a pretty simple one light setup and how you can adjust the light to get the results you want in the following video:

For this set of portraits, Grimes placed a 36″ Rapid Box softbox over the camera and used a reflector to bounce some light back up under the model’s chin. Grimes likes using a  light gray background, so he puts his subject close to the background—but not too close. Keep in mind that this exact setup can work for low key portraiture. All you need to do is to move your subject further from the background.

using reflector as fill light

Even though one light setups are fairly simple to set up and use, it’s still necessary to understand light in order to control the look of your images.

Hard vs. Soft Light

“Pro Tip: The bigger the source in relation to your subject, the softer the light.”

The light source becomes bigger when it’s closer to your model and smaller as you pull it back. By adjusting the distance to your subject, you can control the harshness or softness of the light.

Controlling Shadows

After taking a shot without a reflector, Grimes holds a reflector in a tabletop position just below the model’s face to fill in shadows. As you can see, this results in two very different portraits:

fill in shadows with a reflector

Raising and lowering the light in relation to your subject is another way to change the appearance of shadows on the face. For example, as you raise the light above your subject, you’ll see more shadows under her chin. The specific height is up to your creative preference.

light position comparison

With just a reflector and one large softbox you can create multiple looks. Test out light and reflector positions until you find the look you want.

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