Rooftop Portraits Using Two Lights

Taking photographs on a roof is a great way to get a sweeping, dramatic shot. In this video, commercial photographer and lighting expert Jay P. Morgan demonstrates how to use ambient light combined with two strobes for unique portraits:

Morgan’s task was to shoot professional portraits of three bank executives at East West Bank in Pasadena. For a compelling background, he took to the bank’s roof for its great views of the city’s downtown. At first, when the sun was higher in the sky, Morgan used one key light to soften the shadows on his subjects’ faces.¬†When the sun began to set, the photographer realized he could add more interest to the background by shooting into the setting sun.

rooftop two light portrait

One of the resulting portraits, using ambient light, one key light and one fill light.

Capturing a portrait like this on your own is relatively simple. Some guidelines:

  • Position your subject with their back to the sunset (or sunrise, if you like) and point your camera directly into it.
  • Place two strobes with softboxes at angles toward the subject– one on the left, one on the right. (In this shoot, the key light was on the right, the fill light on the left.)
  • Experiment with different perspectives– high, low and eye-level.
  • For the best representation of your subject, try to keep the background as out of focus as you can. An ND filter can make it possible to use a wide aperture setting without overexposing your shot.

“It’s really important to not just take whatever you’re given, but to make sure you find what you want.” – Jay P. Morgan

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