Studio Lighting – Creating diverse headshots with 1 light
Studio lighting can seem a little daunting to some people when they are starting out. But, flash doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t even need to use lots of lights to create a range of looks. With just one flash light you can produce various headshots, just by moving the light to play with the shadows and contrast. For this tutorial I have used an Elinchrom Octabox modifier on my Quadra studio light. You could use a softbox, or even an umbrella (although umbrellas don’t tend to be quite as directional with their light as softboxes or octaboxes). If you don’t have a studio light, you can get modifiers for speedlights and adapters to help you mount them on light stands. These principles will also work for continuous lights as well as flash.
Set up your light and modifier on the stand so that it is higher than your model, angled at about 45 degrees downwards towards their face. In order to check that you have the right power setting, it is very helpful to use a light meter. Ask the model to hold the light meter just in front of their nose and press the button while you do a test shot. The reading on the light meter will help you to see if your studio lighting is too strong or weak. If you don’t know how to use a light meter or don’t have one, simply look at a preview of the image on your camera’s rear screen. Adjust the light until you achieve a good exposure with no burnt out highlights.
The video shows you the different angles at which to position your lights to get the different effects. You will see sample images as well as lighting diagrams and recorded footage of me shooting the images with the model.
In order to make it even easier for you to see the effects of repositioning your flash, I’ve put copies of the 5 images seen in the video below. As you can see, it is possible to create very different looks with just 1 light. You can go from very contrasty and moody to a pleasant beauty lighting just by moving the light stand! So, even if you are completely new to studio lighting, you can quickly start to experiment with different moods in your images. Don’t just plonk the light stand down without thought. Don’t forget that they do move! You can learn so much in just a few minutes of playing around with one light. Then, as your confidence and understanding grows, start adding in one or more lights to create more complex lighting setups.
I would encourage you to try your hand at learning to use studio flash and/or continuous lights even if you don’t plan to work in a studio very much. This is for the simple reason that it increases your appreciation of light. You will have a better grasp of how to modify light and how to read the light around you. Most of my work is done on location – I rarely work in a studio. But, the principles of studio lighting are valuable to me to help me use lights together with ambient light on location.
© Joe Lenton, November 2015