Studio Lighting for Photographing Athletes

How do you make an athlete look his or her best? Michael Corsentino from Behind the Shutter demonstrates how to create dynamic lighting setups to illuminate and flatter athletes in a studio environment. There are a lot of takeaways from this informative 16 minute video. Here are a few highlights:

Cross Lighting

As the diagram below demonstrates, a cross lighting pattern uses two lights on either side of the subject. In this case the light on the camera right is the key light and the one on the camera left is the accent light.

cross lighting for photographing athletes

Cross Lighting

As is evident from the image above, cross lighting works really well for athletic portraits, because it helps sculpt the physique of the model. The beauty of this arrangement is the flexibility that comes with it. By changing the position of the model you can turn your key light into an accent light and vice versa.

Strip Boxes

strip boxes, high contrast lighting, studio lighting, cross lighting

Strip Boxes

Corsentino used two different sizes of strip boxes for the shoot. Both are Elinchrom Rotalux. The smaller size was used on camera right and served as the key light. The longer one was set up on camera left and served as the accent light.


V-flats are 4 foot by 8 foot piece of flat foam core, which are available as reversible black on one side and white on the other. These can be taped together and used as black or white backgrounds or to block light.

Flags and Cutters

These are used mainly for blocking light. In the first lighting arrangement two of these used on either side of the camera to block flares being generated by the two lights on the lens. In the second arrangement (detailed below) one was used on camera left to cut down flare and another one was used behind the key light (camera right) to help block light spilling onto the background.

Cortesino also used Profoto 7A 2400 WS battery packs, Profoto ProHead, Pocket Wizard Plus III and Sekonic L-758DR.

While this setup is not complicated, it’s definitely an art. The right placement of the lights really emphasizes a model’s form.

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