Using Just One Light for Dramatic Portraits

If you’re looking for a way to spice up your portrait photography, this easy, one-light set up from photographer Aaron Anderson just might be for you. It’s simple, elegant, and produces a dramatic effect that is sure to catch the eye. Check it out:

Anderson’s setup is deceptively simple: just a 53-inch Octabox with some black flagging, a piece of white card as a reflector, and a gray background.

dramatic portrait lighting

Gear for a One Light Portrait

  • Elinchrom BX 500 Ri Monolight 53” Rotalux Octabox
  • Black flagging
  • Large piece of white card hanging from a stand (used as a reflector)
  • Thunder Gray background on a rack
  • Elinchrom skyport transmitter
  • Nikon 105 mm f2.8 (usually used at around an f9)
  • DX Nikon Camera (although he usually uses a full frame)

There’s not really much more to it. The black flag sculpts and direct the light on the model’s left side, and the white card creates more fill on the right.

When asked why he uses an Octabox, Anderson explains in the comments that he prefers it because of the soft fall off and lighter shadow. With such a huge light source that close to the subject, the light comes out very soft and even acts as its own fill light.

Easy One Light setup

You might also notice that Anderson is shooting at f/9—a fairly narrow aperture for portraits. Anderson says it fits his look and style because “it keeps all the facial features sharp but just starts to soften towards the back of the head.”

portrait lighting tutorial

The nice thing about this setup is that it’s simple, clean, and it can go just about anywhere.

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