Using a One Light Setup in Your Photo Studio

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Studio Lighting, Studio Photography

Photography Lighting: Using One Light| Backdrop Express Photography Blog

Photography lighting can be a confusing and daunting prospect, especially for new photographers. However, even experienced photographers can find it a mystery; dealing with lighting, light stands, strobes and modifiers can have a way of sucking the life out of your studio photography if you let it.

So how can you keep photography lighting issues from taking all the fun out of your work? The short answer is “keep it simple,” and one of the best ways to do this is by using a one light set up.

Simplify: One Light Only

Using a single light in the studio offers many benefits. For the beginner, it is an excellent way to learn. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you only have to adjust one element. You can keep most of your attention on the subject and the objective of the shoot. You can pair the light with a big, diffusing light modifier like a 36″ or larger shoot-through umbrella to enhance and maximize the one-light effect. Use a large light source so you’ll be able to light both subject and backdrop at once. A diffused light source will soften the light and help you avoid a hot spot that’s too extreme.

Light and Shadow

A novice mistake in studio photography is focusing entirely on the light source with little awareness of the shadows being created by the light. The key thing to remember is that with studio lighting, it’s the transition of light to dark in your photos that provides the depth, interest, richness and beauty.

Photography Lighting: Using One Light| Backdrop Express Photography Blog

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s this transition-zone between light and shadow that should be your focus when learning about studio lighting. Do you see a soft, gradual melting of light into shadow, or is it a hard transition with distinct contrast between the two? Experiment with watching the interplay of light and dark change in different lighting scenarios; a big, soft diffused light close to the subject will have a different aesthetic than a more focused light placed further away. You should experiment liberally and understand the ins and outs of this relationship. Find out which lighting creates what types of effects.

Placement is Key

The closer you place the light source to your subject, the softer it will be. The result will be a lovely, gradual transition from light to dark in your images, giving your images richness and depth. The farther way your lighting source is from the subject, the harsher the effect will be. You’ll get a more abrupt transition from light to dark, giving shadows a hard-edged appearance.

Don’t be afraid to try both options to see how lighting placement changes the look of your subject and the overall effect of your photos. Note: Placing your light source three feet away from your subject (or closer) will result in a soft, diffuse lighting effect that will give you a flattering look for most subjects.

The Loop Light Shadow

As for lighting/shadow direction, the traditional loop lighting pattern (which refers to the shadow created by the subject’s nose on their cheek) is ideal. To achieve this, your light should be placed at about a 45-degree angle to the side and above the subject.

Depth of Field

If your goal for the shoot is a basic head shot, a wide open aperture of f/4.0 is ideal. However, if there are props and/or posers in the shot, use a smaller aperture and broader depth of field such as f/11. Set your ISO as low as possible in order to prevent noise. Shutter speed isn’t an issue with studio strobes since your flash will illuminate everything. You can set it below your sync speed (around 1/160.) Adjust the power of the strobe for proper exposure; use a light meter if desired.

Photography Lighting: Using One Light| Backdrop Express Photography Blog

Practice Makes Perfect

As with many elements of studio photography, the best way to learn is by doing. Spend time in the studio practicing with your one-light setup. Move it to the left for a few shots, then to the right. Move it close to the subject and then further away. Take notes and keep track of what positioning yielded the best results. Don’t worry about making mistakes. (That’s what the delete button is for!) Study your photos, learn from them, and keep improving. As you gain more experience with photography lighting, it will become less and less of a mystery.

What does your standard lighting setup consist of?

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in learning more about studio photography lighting? Check out How to Use Photo Umbrellas!

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