One-light portrait photography is the key to all lighting setups. Every good portrait starts with one light — one single light — and that’s the most important light in your lighting setup.
One-Light Portrait Photography
When you’re doing portraiture, it’s that one light that’s going to visually define the subject for the viewer of the portrait. And there are a lot of ways to use a single light to achieve a variety of effects and get different looks for your subject. These different looks all depend on things like:
- The turn of your subject’s head
- The type of lighting modifier that you’re using
- The distance between the light and the subject, which is related to the size of the light against your subject
- The distance between your subject and the background
So, there are lots of factors that go into the look that you’re going to get out of your images with the one light but these are things that you learn as you go along. That key light is the most important light in your one-light portrait photography setup, and all the other lights serve supporting roles, like the fill light for example. The fill light is there to fill-in shadows and reduce contrast.
The fill light will help you get the appearance of softer lighting because what you’re doing with that light is getting a wider transition from light to shadow whereas with hard light those bright areas and those dark areas are right up against each other which gives you a harder look (harsh lighting).
You can have other lights striking your subject to highlight hair and the contours and this will help to define the outline of your subject and separate them from the background. And of course you can have light striking the background, and you can use the environment (ambient light, reflected light).
They’re really all sorts of creative ways to use your lighting but once again it’s that key light that is the single most important light. Once you really understand how to use it, everything else is going to fall into place.