Skip to main content

One-Light Portrait Photography

Lesson 10 of 10

Concluding Thoughts

Dan Brouillette

One-Light Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

10. Concluding Thoughts


Lesson Info

Concluding Thoughts

This is just so... Since we just did it, this is actually a shot of one light with that exact Profoto Beauty Dish with the grid outside of this guy, his name was Luis, sitting on the stairs in New York City. So, just a one light shot balancing that with ambient. So, you can do a lot with one light. I always take it on location, so a lot of people ask me, and that's a whole other lesson, but I just wanted to give you guys a quick intro. So, what you can do is, anytime I'm shooting on location where I'm balancing ambient light, whether it's sunlight, whether it's in the lobby of a bank for a business portrait, anything like that, I like to just take one light because I don't like to confuse myself and add in those extra variables. You already have enough going on when you're shooting a... This kid was about 10 years old in a park. There's already enough stuff changing that if I just have one light to worry about, I don't have to deal with, you know, managing two lights, managing the wind...

with the different types of equipment. And that's another reason I like to take the Beauty Dish on location outside is if it's windy, that thing doesn't catch a lot of wind, where if I were to take that outside, it's like parasailing. So, you need a second assistant and a bunch of sandbags to control it. So, knowing how I can manipulate a Beauty Dish to control the light, you don't necessarily need to take out a big light if you can control the distance and things like that. So, it's knowing how to use that one light and put it to your advantage and make it work for you. That'll let you know what you can take outside, and the other cool thing about taking a light outside is you already have natural fill, you have ambient light from the sun, so similar to how we introduce that white reflector here, you always have that outside. It's just a matter of if you want to overpower it or not. So, the way you can open up more light is just lowering your shutter speed and things like that outside, which will let in more of that ambient, so you can fill shadows naturally. Or, you can take a white reflector outside and do the same thing. So, it's not as hard as it sounds. It is a whole other lesson, but any time... I've just had a lot of people ask me. Any time I shoot outside on location, 99 percent of the time, it's one light plus whatever already existed. So, I like to keep it simple and not confuse myself. Question? Can you talk about the difference or the pros and cons of a Speedlight versus a Profoto B1? Yeah, so the differences... For one, power. A Speedlight, you know, generally has a lot less power than a B1. A B1 is 500 watts. And here's another thing to mention about that. People have asked me, because I take my B2s on location a lot because I like how small it is, I like that I can almost use this as a little bit of a weight and use the head, which is so lightweight. The B2 is 250 watts. I don't know what a Speedlight is exactly, for wattage. Anybody know that? It's significantly less just based on the size of the flash. So, the B2 is 250 watts, that's 500. That's only one stop difference. Every time you double the power of your light, it's one stop. So, a lot of people think, "I have the B2s "or I have a Speedlight. "I can't overpower the sun." Well for one thing, you can use high speed sync with a lot of those things. Secondly, the difference between that light and that light might seem like it is 250 watts, but that's only one stop, cause you're doubling the power. So, you're talking about a difference of shooting at f56 versus f8, not that big of a deal. If you use a neutral density filter or if you can use high speed sync or anything like that, the power of the light doesn't matter. It's all about the modifier. So if, for your Speedlight, if you can put that into a softbox and get that same quality of light, you saw when we shot with the bare bulb flash, we still had great quality of light from a tiny light source. It's all about positioning it, so I think being able to practice where you're putting that Speedlight and how you're metering, you know, it probably works through TTL and other things too to get you close. I mean, I don't necessarily think it matters the light you have, it's how you use it and knowing that fundamental knowledge of, "Okay, I have the right height, I have the right angle." Cause that's half the battle. I see so many images doing critiques where the second you look at it, it's like, well, the light's in a horrible position. Had you had that fundamental knowledge where you were already off to a better start, there's still other things that we can tweak, but as far as lighting, I just think it's so important to start with that main light and know the fundamentals of where to put it and how that'll affect your shot because there wasn't any magic we did with shooting Joe. It was just taking our time, doing the technical part right, and understanding the fundamentals. So, that was a really long answer to a short question, but there you go. Any other questions about any of this? You've got some questions online... Yeah, let's hear 'em. Alright, do you use the same exposure for subjects of different skin tones? How do you handle that? Well, the exposure is just a reading on your meter, so if you're exposing for... Yeah, darker skin will absorb more light, but generally speaking, it's gonna be close enough that you're gonna expose the same. So, had I had somebody of much darker skin tone than Joe, I still would've been metering at f8. Okay. You can always up the shadows and things like that within your raw, you know, adjustments. But yeah, I always shoot at the same. Whatever my meter tells me, that's what my camera and lights are gonna be set for because I trust that guy cause he only has the one job and he's not wrong often. Yeah. On a real shoot, how much of a help or distraction is the tethered feedback for the model? So, it depends. That's a great question because sometimes when I shoot tethered and the model's over here, we're doing one of these. Yeah. Because they don't need to know... You know, if I know that they're looking great, I don't need them to worry about it. And generally speaking, it depends on the type of shoot. If it's a shoot where I'm dependent on client feedback and their approval, a lot of times I'll want them to look at the monitor often. It just really depends on the type of the shoot. I enjoy it personally because it gives me the feedback to know, okay I need to move this way. Looking at things like catchlights and all that type of stuff. I still have him on this monitor, so I'm looking back and he's not there. But you know, having catchlights and things like that, that's why I like looking at it. But it depends on the subject, who you're shooting and if you want them to see it or not because it ranges. There's no real answer to that question. So, whatever makes it easier. Whatever makes it easier and less of a distraction, and other people don't want to see it at all, so that's fine by me. I just like to see it to get the feedback and know that everything's syncing up how I want it and looking how I want it to look. Totally. How about if you were using one light to shoot a group of five or six people? All that's gonna come down to is lighting position and distance, you know? If you're trying to get some sort of shadow, so meaning you want your light off to one side, that light's gonna have to be really far away to light a group of six. If you're not so worried about shadow, and you want to more flat light it, now you're working on a flat plane of six people, you can have that light directly in front and you're gonna light everybody fairly evenly. So, it just depends. If I'm trying to light a group of five people with even light, put it directly over your camera or a little off to the side, get a decent distance away and shoot. But if you are wanting to add some sort of shadow, you're gonna have to get that light pretty far out so that way the falloff from the first person to the last person is not so great that, you know, you can't fix it later in Photoshop or in your raw processing because obviously, you noticed, I like to try and get clean images in camera so that way I don't have to sit at the computer all night. Any other questions? Yeah. Do you meter toward the light or toward the camera? I meter toward the light. Okay. Because that's where it's coming from. And then when I'm using two lights, I'll do the same thing. If I have one light here and then I'm filling, I'll meter on both sides of the person to get the shadow side versus the highlight side just for light ratios and things like that. But I'm always metering toward the light. Okay. Sort of a technical question. If you're shooting outdoors, backlit, at shallow depth of field, and your shutter speed is greater than the sync speed, does your light meter get an accurate reading with the strobe set at HSS? That was like some weird riddle. (audience laughing) Like I don't know, train A meet train B. Yeah. Actually, say that one more time. Yeah, totally. So, if you're shooting outdoors, backlit... Yep. Really using a really shallow depth of field... Uh huh. And your shutter speed is greater than the sync speed... Yep. Does your light meter get an accurate reading? Yeah, because your light meter... You set the sync speed. So, let's say you're using... I'm guessing they're using high speed sync. Right. You're still setting a shutter speed on your camera. Okay. So, let's say it's an 800th of a second. You just dial up at 800th of a second on your light meter. Otherwise, your light meter has no idea. It's just taking the info you put in and telling you an aperture or shutter speed based on that information. So, you just adjust your light meter accordingly to your camera settings and it'll always be accurate. (audience member mumbling) Yeah. So, what's happening with the high speed sync, the flash is... (snapping) Whoops, sorry about that... Clock down. Clock down. Flash is firing multiple times, so some meters won't read that. I knew the new Sekonic L850 or is designed to read the multiple flash. Alright, so this is why we have John. Yeah, so... So, yeah it might not work with most light meters cause the high speed sync is pulsing the flash. Alright. So... I didn't know, I don't use high speed sync. To be honest, I like to kind of do it the old fashioned way, where I'm still at a 200th of a second using my aperture and ISO to control it and shutter speed. So, even though my lights are capable and camera are capable of high speed sync, I just, I don't know, I like doing it the old fashioned way and doing that. But I do love some of that shallow depth of field you can get by being able to shoot 2- with flash outside, it's pretty cool. Any final thoughts for us? Just go back home, grab one light and a reflector and experiment... Yeah. Because you won't know how things change and you won't have a full understanding if you just try and picture it in your head. You need to actually do it because as you move lights around, you can have those aha moments where it's like, oh yeah, and knowing these fundamentals and going over some of the things we talked about will help you kind of get there a little bit more quickly without having to guess so much. So, I'm all about experimenting with lights and playing around until you really get it.

Class Description

It's amazing what you can create with just one studio strobe. Editorial and Award-Winning photographer Dan Brouillette shows how to get amazing and different lighting with the simplest of gear. Whether on-location, or in the studio, he'll use one-light in a variety of different ways to create everything from soft and pretty looks to hard, edgy portraits. While taking advantage of a number of different lighting modifiers, and utilizing just one strobe- you'll have a strong studio on the go for your portrait photography. 


Ryan Redmond

I have mixed feelings on this one. I would still recommend it because the theory and explanations are solid and he gave a wide array of examples that show you the incredibly broad spectrum of results you can get with a given light just by changing distance and position. Having that general understanding of the fundamentals will be very useful. I'm a little bummed that he's using thousands of dollars in lighting for something that felt like it was promoted as an introduction or fundamentals class. I am a hobbyist and I am using speedlight and small softbox or umbrella combos that cost under $100, not 500 watt strobes in 60" softboxes or $1500 strobe and beauty dish combos. It would have been nice to see some examples with more basic equipment. I know the concepts will scale with some practice though, so the class was certainly still valuable.

a Creativelive Student

Fantastic little course. I knew a lot of this stuff already but still learned a couple things, too. I love seeing how different photographers explain the same things and Dan was crystal clear and highly effective. Glad I bought this course.


Brilliant course for beginners. Would like to have seen some comparative examples with slightly cheaper gear, but that is for the individual to experiment. The inverse square law theory of light was a great help to me.