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One-Light Portrait Photography

Lesson 7 of 10

Shoot: Create an Everyday Portrait Look

Dan Brouillette

One-Light Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

7. Shoot: Create an Everyday Portrait Look


Lesson Info

Shoot: Create an Everyday Portrait Look

So, for the everyday portraits, these are going to be totally different. What I want to do here is almost create a nice soft north-facing window light, so it's the exact opposite of what we just did with the small sources and the specular sources. This is just going to show the full range of what you can do with one light. They're softer, more flattering light. In this case, we'll be using either a white beauty dish, or a big profoto umbrella. So, we're gonna do both of those, 'cause they're white sources, they're not silver, and we're gonna show how you can control light with the grid. But first off, we're gonna show just the biggest, softest source we have which is, I don't know, that's about a 60 ... 60-some inch umbrella. 65-inch umbrella. 65-inch umbrella with white diffusion, so nothing about it screams hard light. It's just basically creating nice soft window light. So again, to create these lights, you're gonna want large light sources. And another thing to consider ... I'l...

l get people that email me, and they'll say, "Oh, I just lit this portrait "with a six-foot soft box. "However, it still is really hard light." And I say, "Well, how close was the light?" And a lot of times they were in a big room like this and they're lighting me, but the light's over by that camera. Well essentially, once you figure in that distance, that soft box is not that big anymore. If you really think about it, the sun is like a gajillion miles in diameter so shouldn't that be like the softest light? No, because it's so far away, so you have to keep that distance in mind because just because you're using a large light source does not mean it's actually a soft source. Keeping your large light source close to your subject is key to really using it to its true potential. So what we're gonna do next is we're gonna, the background we're not gonna worry about so much. Just gonna go kind of soft gray. We're gonna feather the light the exact same in front of Joe. You can take one step forward, and I'm gonna have you take one step this way slightly. I want this light to really wrap around and be soft so again, we're gonna feather the back of this about even with the front of his face. You can see with an umbrella where your light's pointing to know that when it's pointing directly at someone or not. Clearly this is pointed almost at you guys. So we are not getting any direct light on him. It's all wrap. We're gonna keep shooting at F8, so we can; let me look at one thing here. I think I have one more slide, sorry. Oh, and a white reflector for bounce, so we're gonna throw that back in there 'cause that's another way to really soften that up. This is one more shot of just one light with a white reflector in studio on a white background, believe it or not. So she was just really far away from that background and we'll do something like this here as well. All right, so let's meter. Already on; oh, look at that. All right. We're gonna use the white background here, and this will look totally different than the last shot, so. One, two, three. (camera clicks) All right. So we're bringing that in. Now you can just see how much softer the gradation is from the highlight to shadow. If we wanna get real crazy, I'm gonna get in close. So just looking right into camera, nose this way ever so slightly. A little less. One, two, three. (camera clicks) All right, so you'll be able to really see how soft that light is. Again, one light, we metered properly, it's positioned properly at that near 35 degree angle. Feathered in front of him. So we're getting that nice soft light. I'm gonna have you move even closer to the light. So the closer he gets; go almost 'til you're touching, yep. We're gonna have to meter again though John, 'cause he just cut the distance by about half. 11. 11. So we gotta go down one full stop. Nine. Nine. We'll call this good. All right, so right there. So I'm gonna be in real close and you'll just see how soft this light can get just by distance alone. One, two, three. (camera clicks) You know, and also look, we moved the light closer to him, look what happened. Background. So you have that nice soft light. You can see a little bit of it in there. But then if you want to do the opposite, you can just move that. I'm gonna have you stay right there. John, grab that white reflector. We're gonna make, this would be an image that would be flattering on anybody, so this is something I would use for just about any type of portrait situation that required nice soft light. The background's still gonna be gray. (camera clicks) But by shooting with both, the umbrella and that, look at the difference. Ready? The shadow, all we did was throw in that reflector and look at that; you can't get much softer light than that, so again, one light, one profoto head just using a different modifier and a reflector, and you can get something that looks like he's standing next to a north-facing window. I like doing things like that as well, just because they give a little different result and again you don't need to over-complicate things by adding a second light. Just checking my notes here. So you can take a step back real quick. I want to do one more thing with this. I'm actually gonna move this quite a ways away, I'm gonna have you about three feet from the background. We're gonna move this way out here. What I wanna do now is get ... It'll still be somewhat soft light, but I want to show you guys how we can make that white background again. How we can use this large source and light somewhat evenly by still feathering the light and using something like this. Yep, there you go. John's on it. Seven ... One more, we're almost there. That fancy light meter there. Yeah, and if any of you guys get a light meter, just to show you this one's the touchscreen one. Awesome in theory, but if you've ever butt-dialed someone with your iPhone. I have butt-dialed the ISO on this thing to like 40,000 and then light metered and couldn't figure out what was wrong, so be sure to turn it off before you put it in your pocket. It's one of the not so great perks of that light. All right so what we have here, we're back at F8, our light is now ... Before we were like, literally 10 inches away from him with that light. Now we're closer to like seven feet. So the falloff's gonna be a lot less, we're gonna light from head to toe, the background should get quite a bit brighter. (camera clicks) We're still at F8. You can see, so even though we're using the exact same; this is the same light source. Boom, boom. A lot different style of light, just because of distance but look how white the background is. John, I'm gonna have you throw that white reflector just outside of frame. In fact just for kicks, throw the silver side and we're gonna try to almost flatlight him with one light. All right one, two, three. (camera clicks) So you know we went from, from this, to this. I mean mostly from this to this just by throwing a reflector. So again, a lot of people would probably guess this was two lights or something like that, especially with a white background. I'm gonna do one more, go with the white side of it real quick, and do a little bit closer up. All right. You're in frame just a little bit. Yeah, perfect. One, two, three. (camera clicks) All right great, so this will be more of a white backdrop, one light. I'm gonna do this one more time without a reflector. Looking right here, same crop; one, two, three. (camera clicks) Just to show you guys the difference. So again, just that white background and a little bit of difference in, you know the more you move the reflector closer or further away, the more it's gonna change. It works out either way. We'll turn this guy off. The thing about the beauty dish, the main part I wanna talk about is using grids with one light so. While all we've been doing this whole time was spilling light all over the room, grids can really help you control the spread of your light. So this is a beauty dish, which is our white reflector. It actually has a 25 degree grid, so if you ever wanna know where a grid spread is, anywhere that you can see me. So you guys can see me right in the middle. Tell me when you can't see me anymore through the grid. Okay, so that right there is the spread of my light. So anytime you're looking into the light you can tell where the spread's gonna hit if you can see the light through the grid. I mean, not literally the light but the inside of the beauty dish. So it's a good way to be able to know. The lower the number, the tighter the grid, so I have grids all the way down to seven and a half degrees, which is a narrow beam, and up to about 40 degrees. So we're gonna use the beauty dish here. To really show you, we're gonna make this background just completely black. So we're gonna step this way. Joe, you can come forward quite a bit. The thing about a beauty dish. I enjoy using beauty dishes from pretty close to the subject because despite their name, they're not necessarily the most beautiful light. They are a good quality light, but they don't work on everybody. They'll work well for this, so I'm actually gonna broad light Joe. Looking off towards the W in week, so even turn your chin more that way. Keep going with the shoulders, too. Right in there, that's perfect. We're gonna try and minimize all light spills, so I'm still gonna feather the beauty dish downwards a little bit. We're a little low on my height, so we're gonna raise that up to maintain that proper lighting angle. With this grid and this beauty dish, we should be able to kill all spill and just make this background. Three point two. Three point two, well that'll do it, too. So we gotta go way up. Try it again. Five, six. Five, six, and a grid also kills a lot of light, because it's that black grid. Six, three. Eight. Eight. Just for reference, this thing is at 8.8 power and we're measuring eight, eight. That's directly pointed at him through a grid. If you wanna lower that, I'll grab this part. Teamwork here. All right, just for reference. This is a balance umbrella with a huge source, and that was only four tenths of a stop brighter to get the same, so a grid really eats a lot of light. We'll turn that off just in case. So what I wanna do now is make this backdrop go black by controlling the light. We're gonna have pretty dramatic light here. One, two, three. (camera clicks) Look at that. So, we're using the exact same room, exact same everything. But our background is pretty well black and the only thing we did different was throw a grid on that light to control it, but look at the quality of light because we metered. I'm actually gonna have you do the same thing but looking with your; I love the facial position this way. But eyes almost to camera. Yep, right there. So one, two, three. (camera clicks) There we go. Just get a little more eye contact. So just to see the catch light and everything like that. Now what I'm gonna do is show you how you can use a little bit of an accent light by just using a reflector.

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.