Skip to main content

One-Light Portrait Photography

Lesson 3 of 10

Shoot: Create a Dramatic Look

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

3. Shoot: Create a Dramatic Look


Lesson Info

Shoot: Create a Dramatic Look

So this is kind of the more dramatic looks. This was actually shot with one light. This was the magnum reflector. I had someone handholding it, just off the side of the camera. You could do a light stand. That would be a little easier if you don't have an assistant. But it's just again, purposefully knowing where the shadow's going to be cast. So it was one light. We'll talk about falloff, I'd lit this once and her hands went dark, and we'll talk about how to position your light, how falloff works using the inverse square law and all that fun stuff, to really control your light and the falloff. And you know, dramatic looks are usually created with this directional hard light. I love, you know a lot of people look at hard light, and they cringe but I think that's just because they're using the wrong light for the wrong subjects. There's a lot of different ways to light anything. It's just as long, you know, this is a girl in a pretty dress, up against a blue wall. You would normally thi...

nk, "Ooh I want nice soft light." But for some reason, she just had this edge to her, and I wanted to really saturate that blue and have that shadow. So placing her against the wall and using that hard light, was a way to really bring out the blues. Her face could handle the specularity and harshness of the light. So while normally I would think, Oh, girl in a dress in this situation would use the big Profoto umbrella, no, I went the other way and used the silver reflector and I really liked the results. It was just something different, trying things. I'm all about experimenting with different lighting. I'll take specific days for myself. It doesn't have to be the most creative shoot in the world, but anytime I go into a shoot, something is bound to go wrong. Whether the talent is not so great, whether the location is less than what they told you, maybe a light breaks or something happens, the ceiling is six foot tall, who knows? There's a lot of different things that happen in shoots where I like to go over those scenarios in my own studio, play with lighting, so that way, when I'm on a job with a client, and something happens that's not ideal, I don't have a panic attack. It's like okay, well we practiced this. It's kind of like doing a tornado drill. You never think the tornado's gonna happen, and unfortunately on photo shoots, you get a lot of tornadoes. So something always comes up and I have to jump into the bag of tricks. And being comfortable with these different situations and playing with lights in my own time helps out when things aren't going ideal. Embrace the shadow and contrast. I have a lot of people, especially, a couple of photographers who have seen images like this and they say, "Yeah, but what about the shadow?" and I say, "Well you tell me, what about the shadow? "Why does that bother you?" And it might not be the traditional look that they're expecting from this, but it evoked some sort of a reaction from them and it's a technically solid image, so I don't mind that there's a shadow. It's just another element to this. It adds, you know, we have this stark blue wall, this girl in a cream-colored dress with blue, the little blue flowers, which pull from the blue, and then having that graphic element there of the shadow to bring in the right third of the frame, to me it just completes the picture. So shadow or not, I'm all for trying different things, and that's what we're gonna do here. We're gonna show how I'll do a different type of shadow, whether it's up, down, left or right, with Joe on the white seamless here. If Joe's ready, we could bring him in. Oh, he is ready, 'cause he's already in here. (audience member laughs) All right, sweet. All right, here's Joe guys, he's here. He's our model. (class members applaud) All right, so we're gonna be shooting, sorry, I cut off Joe's applause. (class members chuckle) We're gonna be shooting in studio, tethered, So you guys will be able to see the images. I'm gonna do one test shot. We're gonna do a lot of metering and technical stuff. I'll talk through everything from camera settings to light settings to modifiers. Probably talk so much, you'll be ready for me to stop talking when this is over. So let's get started. The first thing I wanna talk about is the hard light with just the bare bulb type of look. So this is just a standard reflector on there. It's seven inch reflector. I'm gonna leave that on to control a little bit of the light spill. It's silver, so it has a specular quality. So we're goin' with really hard light. I think it'll fit the look we're going for, kind of this edgy look. I'm actually gonna wheel the stand up, but I'm gonna handhold the head of this light. So Joe, if you wanna come right over here, and I'm gonna keep him fairly close to the seamless, so that way we can control the shadow. So don't lean back on it, 'cause it's not touching the wall. I was on a shoot with, I don't remember who it was, somebody famous, and they thought it was a wall. And they ended up through the backdrop. (class members laugh) And I was doing everything I could. They weren't hurt, but it was pretty funny. (class members laugh) And they didn't think it was as funny, but one of those things, so now I warn people, It's like, "This is not a wall." So if you just wanna be really close to it, almost like heels touching this. So that way your shadow stays pretty close. 'Cause the closer your subject is to the background, the closer the shadow's gonna be to them within it, 'cause there's just less space for that shadow to cast out. So we're gonna start up the tether machine here. And I have my light meter. This thing's always with me. It's just a little Sekonic light meter. What I'm gonna do is, we're gonna use the Profoto B2 to start. I know I showed you guys the B1s earlier. Oop, yep, wrong button. The reason I like using this for on-camera flash look, is because the lighthead on the B is only a pound and a half, so if you're using something like the B1, you can hold that up there for one shot and, I'm not planning on working out when I'm doing a photo shoot, so something like this that only weighs one to two pounds is a lot, a lot more manageable. So what I'm gonna do is, I'll give you the meter. Generally speaking, shooting in studio, I wanna be at ISO100. You're providing the light, your camera doesn't need the extra sensitivity, so ISO100. I don't want the ambient light to affect the shot. I wanna make it as dark as possible. So we can still work with all these lights on, but have them not affect the frame. Second thing is, maximum sync speed. I'm using a Nikon D810. We're gonna be shooting at a 200th of a second. So, that gives us two more variables. White balance, 5500 Kelvin. I always shoot in Kelvin on my white balance. Profoto lights are generally balanced at about 5500 or daylight. And then the last thing is your aperture. So that's the variable you get to choose. With that, I'm gonna just shoot at about F8. I like shooting in studio at F8. It gives me a good depth of field as far as getting everything in focus. If there's any movement or anything like that, it's gonna maintain sharpness. And it's a good enough aperture to also keep the ambient light out. So F8, a 200th of a second, ISO100 at 5500 Kelvin. So let's, we'll pop a flash here. I'm gonna get over into where I'll actually be shooting, because I'm actually gonna be holding my camera and the light at the same time. So we'll hope for F8. I have no, this might be really bright. Seven and a third. Seven and a third. So we need to go up a third of a stop. The other thing I like about Profoto lights is everything on the screen is in digital tenths of a stop so if we need to go up a third of a stop, we just go up three clicks, one, two, three. I'll get approximately where I was before. We should be at eight this time. If not, I don't know what happened. Nine. Nine. Seven, so you can see it's pretty finicky. So we're gonna call that close enough. Because I think we did it once and it was nine, the next time it was seven. It just depends on if I move, and chances are I'm gonna be moving. Gotta aim it too. Yeah, and that's the other thing to pay attention to when you're hand-holding this. The first time you do it, experiment, hold it like this, and slowly go down until you find the sweet spot that works for you. Everybody's a different height, so you'll see as I'm shooting, I'm gonna do one test shot. I generally like to aim it down, because I don't like to light up there. I want the falloff to hit him on the hands and light more of the body. So just stand about how you are. I'm not gonna do a whole lot of posing with this. We're just gonna kind of shoot and go from there. I'm gonna get about waist up. So we're gonna watch, this should just cast a shadow directly behind him. One, let me focus, one, two, three. (camera clicks) One more, something, there we go. One, two. (camera clicks) Okay. So we're just going for you know, that on-camera flash pop-y specular look. When I'm shooting in raw, the one thing I like to do is flatten out my images when I start working on them. Well, we can do it in curves too. We'll just bring down the highlights a little bit. Bring up the shadows and, and I like to start with a nice flat image, because when I'm doing any of my Photoshop work, I like to add my contrast in there through color toning and everything else so, starting with a flat image from the get-go helps me work in Photoshop later, 'cause it gives me a little more latitude with contrast, so I'm not blowing out highlights and shadows from the start. I can push the images a little bit further then. I wanna move his shadow now to one side or the other, like I showed you with the other images. So you're gonna stay in the exact same spot. The only difference is, I'm gonna keep my light tilted, so you'll be looking right here, but I'm gonna move it out. So we're just moving that radius I talked about earlier, to create a little more contrast. So you'll notice, he'll now have a nose shadow, rather than in this it's pretty flat. His shadow will cast out to the right. And we can create a little bit more dynamic image by just placing the light slightly off to one side. We could do the exact same thing to the other. I'm gonna get in a little closer, which means I'm just gonna stop up. So we'll go from F8 to 10, just because I moved in. I'm gonna have you, if you can lean back just a little bit, yeah, there you go. It's just from the chest up, so I just want to cast that shadow out even further. (camera clicks) There we go. And then we'll get back and we'll do the exact opposite. We'll make another flat one for comparison. So we're gonna stop back down to F8, and boom, so... (camera clicks) we have that nice flat image. Let me change the curve here just a little bit on it. And then what you can see is, obviously here, his face is much brighter. So this is where I say you can angle that light down. If you want your subject, or your background to be more evenly lit, for anybody not familiar with the inverse square law, basically the further you are from your subject, the brighter your background's gonna be. So why don't you step out real quick. This is a good time to talk about this. We'll meter real quick. I'm gonna meter for Joe's forehead to be properly exposed, all right? So we're not gonna change anything. Just gonna try for F8 so, throw that up there, boom. What are we at? Nine. Nine, so we'll go down, we'll go down a couple clicks here to get as close to eight as possible, because I think this is pretty important. And a lot of people ask me that. "I have a white background, "but I can't figure out how to make it white." And they only have one light. Seven. Seven, all right. Well, it's just bouncing between nine and seven, so we're gonna call it good. So I'm gonna shoot from right here, and you're gonna watch as the background goes gray compared to the previous shot. So the background is going gray. If I want it to get brighter, a lot of people think, "Oh, I need to move "the light closer to the backdrop." Well guess what? That's the opposite of what you need to do, because now I'm closer to his forehead, which means I need to up my exposure, or turn down the power of the light. So you'll watch, if I shoot this, we're still gonna shoot at F8. Every image is gonna be shot at F8, just so you guys notice. Meter that real quick, we're gonna shoot from about point blank here. Let me get a beat on this. It's gonna be bright, sorry Joe. It's all good. Sixteen. So you see, I need to go down a lot, so we need to go down-- Two stops. Two stops. Let's try (laughs) this. You wanna close your eyes? Testing, boom. Seven. Seven. So we're pretty darn close. So I mean we're talking about movements of inches here. So now you'll see how much grayer the background gets. See, I moved the light closer. Now the last thing I want to do is move way back. I already know the light's gonna have to go up, so we're gonna continue to shoot at F8. We'll give a test fire here, boom. Eight. Eight, perfect. So I'm gonna shoot from right here, and you're gonna watch, my background will get significantly lighter. And that's, see? Nothing else happened. That's the inverse square law at work. Basically saying, and that's actually my favorite shot of the whole works. So, we kind of found a sweet spot there between the light, the background and everything else. So I like to play this little experiment game, where you see where everything balances.

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.