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CREATE DRAMATIC PORTRAITS WITH ONE LIGHT



THE AIM - to create an image that pops out at the viewer, an image with rich black shadows and hard light, something….dramatic. All the photos above where created using just one light, a ‘simple one light portrait setup’, that is what I googled to see how others do it, but they didn't always say what equipment they were using. So I'm going to go ahead and tell you exactly what I used. Note:I bought all of the lighting related kit on Amazon or ebay.


Light modifier: A 40cm beauty dish, bowens mount, with a honeycomb grid. Using this helps to create a harder light. The honeycomb grid helps to direct the light straight ahead and prevent gradual light falloff, this is particularly handy when you don't want the light illuminating anything other than your subject/model. In my case a living room.

Note - there are many light modifiers available to get all kinds of different 'looks' but today I will concentrate on what I used and why.

Strobe Light: Godox AD200 triggered remotely by using a Godox X1TS wireless trigger (the S stands for Sony) you can buy one for Canon etc too. I like this setup as it's completely wireless and great value for money. Also to be more Pro, use a light meter to calculate the correct settings, I didn't on this shoot but its something to consider.

Light holder: Godox Pro multifunctional S-type Bracket bowens mount holder.

Light stand: A stainless steel C-Stand with a hold arm and grip. This is to hold your light and modifier. You don't necessarily need one, you could get a friend to hold the light up in the position you want.

Camera and Lens: Sony Alpha A7rii with a 50mm f1.8.

Background: Storm Grey Colorama paper background. You also don't need one of these either. As long as your background is fairly dark. For the first 2 shots (above) I wanted the background not to be seen at all.


Now that's out of the way....What is a beauty dish? Well it's a shallow parabolic reflector that you mount onto your flash/strobe. It has a plate that reflects the light back towards the dish then out of the front. Some are silver some are white. Most photographers use a small beauty dish (like my one) to light up a models face, you can get larger ones for wider shots. The quality of light is semi hard, you can get additional items to change the quality of light such as a honeycomb grid, and a diffuser sometimes referred to as a sock. This was a perfect light modifier for my shoot, and the use of the honeycomb grid helped to direct the light straight ahead and get a more abrupt light fall off, I didn't use the sock. Also it is particularly handy when you don't want the light illuminating anything other than your subject/model. In my case I shot in a living room, a very small space compared to some studios.

In the first and second photo above - I positioned the light about 2 feet taller than the model and about 3 feet away to her front left, and tilted it down towards her face about 45 Degrees or more, making sure the light also illuminated her body. Pointing it down this way helped to create the dark shadows, you can see the light catching her fedora hat and casting a shadow over half her face. That created a bit of mystery as the view wouldn't be able to see her eyes. Notice also because we are using just one light, the other half of her body is not illuminated, so it looks as if she is popping out of the dark. I mentioned earlier I used a mid grey backdrop, I use this because you can get multiple looks from that one colour, white, black and all the shades of grey. It all depends on how much light is cast on the background. For me I wanted it to be black. So I simply moved farther away from the backdrop (about 4 to 5 feet) and ensured no light would hit it. Thats where the honeycomb grid came into play, as it gives more control over the direction of light. If I wanted the background to show up grey, myself and the model would either move closer to it, change the direction of the light, or take off the grid from the beauty dish. I wont go into the settings I used as its all personal preference, but just remember to keep your iso on your camera low, I used iso 100.


On the third photo I moved the light almost directly in front of the model. So as the photographer it was above my shoulder but I kept the same height as before. I also tilted the light up slightly. You can see that the model is now completely illuminated, whilst still retaining the shadows from the fedora, but now we can see the grey background. Due to the small size of the beauty dish, the illuminated background now has a rounded appearance. Also the height and downward tilt of the light has ensured no shadow is cast onto the background from her body.


Have fun playing with light

Dramatic! I'll give you dramatic!


The beauty of using one light on your shoots is that it's so easy to move around and play with different looks. In the shot below I place the light on the right so it almost completely hides the right side of her face, its got that contrasted look with hard shadows, mission complete.



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