Studio Portrait Lighting with a Single Softbox, Flash and Reflector

Starting out as a professional photographer you always have to decide your priorities. Should I get a new lens? Should I invest in an extra light or get that light meter that I always wanted? One thing is for sure. There is no limit to what you can buy and money unfortunately is only finite. Before you start getting $5,000 wedding contracts and call ups from automobile companies you need to start humble and squeeze the most out of every penny. It also has its advantages. When you have mastered the art of working with bare minimum equipment, you can really excel with top of the line equipment.

Working with flash and studio strobes

The greatest disadvantage of using a flash, which we are doing in this setup, is that it’s not continuous. So, you don’t really know how much light is hitting the subject’s face unless you meter for the incident light. Plus, as there is no continuous light, you don’t have the light necessary to lock focus on. In a studio environment it can be a problem. To work around that problem, you can turn on the AF-assist lamp on your external flash. When you press down the shutter button, a small beam of light will light up the subject and produce just enough contrast so that the camera can lock focus.

Continuous lights thus have a slight edge when it comes to using in a studio environment. It’s the reason why photographers say, with continuous lights you get what you see. Flashes and strobes are slightly different to work with. Having said that a flash is a more powerful source of light one that gives you a very high quantity of quality light to illuminate a subject. Additionally, as you can adjust the brightness by stopping it down and shaping it with a wide variety of light shaping accessories, you have a better creative option in your hands.

Softer light

Portrait with a single softbox

A studio strobe or flash used with a diffusing device like a softbox works as a soft lighting source. A soft light is one that is more uniform and thus wraps around the subject’s face to create a flattering illumination. If you fire the flash without the softbox, however, the light becomes hard. Hard light creates higher dynamic range in your photos, meaning there would be more pronounced shadows and blown out highlights with deeper saturated colors. With a softer light the illumination would be more uniform. Alternatively, you can set the light closer to the subject for a slightly better result.

You can also use the softbox in a way so that it forms the background of your photos. Alternatively you can adjust its position to ensure that more of the background is illuminated versus very little in other photos, depending of course on the exact look that you want.

Lighting setups using a single softbox

Portrait with a single softbox

There are scores of other ways in which you can illuminate your model with just one light. Rembrandt lighting, split lighting, loop lighting and butterfly lighting are just a few examples of great lighting setups using just a single light. By changing the positon of the softbox you can change the lighting pattern and create a distinct look. For example in butterfly lighting, the light is placed round about 90 degrees above the face of the subject. Adjust the positioning of the light till you can see a small butterfly shaped shadow just below the nose.

Throwing a reflector in the mix

Using reflector in photographyA reflector is one that is used to reflect back some light on to the model. It’s one of the key constituents of a one light portrait setup. Normally it is used to fill-in the shadows when the light is setup at an angle to the subject’s face. Reflectors come in silver, golden, plain white and other colors. The choice of reflector that you use depends on what you have envisioned as the final image. Just remember, this is not an exact science and much of it is actually subjective.

The reflector can also work as your catchlight. Placing the reflector just below the model’s eyes will allow them to catch the reflection. The result is a bright white catchlight that adds dimension to the portrait images. Not to mention that the reflected light will also fill in the shadows below the model’s chin. The light in this case will be placed right above the model’s head (above the camera) and together with the reflector will create what is known as clamshell lighting.

This entry was posted by Sergey L.

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