A Step-by-Step Lighting Guide to Shooting Creative Portraits

It’s one thing to shoot a portrait—prime lens, nice bokeh, diffused light—but it’s a whole other ordeal to shoot a portrait the way Jake Hicks does. His style of fashion-forward photography is aimed specifically to make his models stand out from a crowd. In the tutorial video below, he shows viewers his unique setup to create those shots:

Hicks is using four lights: a 21″ Beauty Dish, a 60x80cm Softbox, and two Maxilite Reflectors saddled with grids and gels.

He shows us what each light adds, beginning with the basic one—the beauty dish—which he diffuses and positions just over and in front of his model, in order to define her jawline and softly lighten her face.

fashion photography

Next he positions the softbox on the ground and aims it at her torso, rather than her face, so the light feathers nicely upward and lightens some of her top as well. You can really see the difference beneath her eyes and around her shoulders.

softbox lighting tutorial

Now he adds the reflector lights behind her to create definition for her hair—it gently stands out against the black background. Her arms also now have a light halo effect.


For many photographers, that would be enough. But this is where Hicks begins to take his images a step further, adding gels and blurring effects to distinguish his style.

Here, he adds blue and orange gels to the reflectors to make her hair stand out. It’s best to use complementing colors, he notes—they’ll create a more pleasing image to the eye.


That’s all for the lights. Now he tweaks the image with a diffusion filter for his lens, which fills in the black space with the colors he’s set up. You can see the effect in the top corners.


In the last step, he adds two more pieces: a wind machine to get her hair moving and a Lensbaby Composer Pro to blur out the bottom part of the image, forcing the eye to look at her face, which is what he wants.


Considering the image itself—no crazy outfits, no spectacular backdrop—this is an effective, if complex, way to turn a fashion portrait into something wildly more interesting.

You shouldn’t mimic Hicks’s style outright, but hopefully this gives you some ideas to create your own innovative images.

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One response to “A Step-by-Step Lighting Guide to Shooting Creative Portraits”

  1. Reggie says:

    Very nice and concise tutorial!

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