All you need is to create one-light dramatic portraits is a single flash or constant light source. It’s not complicated. In fact, it’s incredibly easy and can help open the door to more creative portraiture. I’ll show you how to do it using examples from a recent photoshoot. Any simple flash or constant light will work.
*Note: In the standing, B&W shots in this video, the light was positioned to the model’s front right for the shots shown.
One-Light vs Multiple Light Setups
All of the examples from this photoshoot were shot in about an hour. Considering there are approximately five different looks and lighting setups, you might wonder how something like this is possible. It’s not that hard, really. A combination of experience, very simple (but effective lighting) and a good model definitely helps. But for me, I think those elements are just what we use to express the most important thing: the story. And for this kind of story, a one light dramatic portrait look was appropriate.
Controlled and well-crafted lighting and posing are sometimes necessary for a portrait. This is especially true for portraits with a particular purpose, like corporate headshots or publicity photos, or anytime a specific look is required. In those cases, a good use of traditional cross-lighting or three-point lighting is the way to go. But when the images are less about a standardized look, and more about conveying emotion, a single light and free-flowing posing will likely result in more interesting pictures.
In the video, you’ll see how a single, cheap flash unit positioned for dramatic effect, helped me create several one-light dramatic portraits. Basically, I placed the light and the model, and let things flow. If something wasn’t working (shadows falling in the wrong place, hot spots, etc.) I just made a quick adjustment. And this usually involved moving the light slightly or asking the model to turn her head or body.