How to Use Accent Lights in Photography

Complex lighting rigs don’t need to be complicated. In this easy-to-follow video tutorial, Joe McNally details how he uses three light sources to accent different parts of a photo, from the foreground to the background, to emphasize an athlete’s myriad Olympic medals:

What His Lighting Rig Looks Like

McNally first establishes a C-stand with an Ezybox hotshoe soft box handing above and slightly to the right of his camera. That’s his main light, and he uses it to focus on his subject’s face.

Between his subject and the camera, he uses a Nikon SB910 TTL AF Speedlight Flash to accent the bevy of gold and bronze medals. To bring out the warm tones, McNally throws in a half-cut of CTO, and lowers the strength of the flash, because of how near it is to the subject.


When positioning your lights, symmetry is essential.

Finally, to light up the ornate doorway behind his subject, McNally adds one more warm-gelled flash and places it on the floor. He cleverly balances it on a Manfrotto 175F1 Spring Grip Justin Clamp with a cold shoe and sets it right on the ground, pointing upwards. Symmetry is fundamental, and framing his subject right between the doorway works to create a look of real heroism.


The Final Image

“By lighting or not lighting something, you are speaking to the person you’ll never meet who is viewing your photograph.” – Joe McNally

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