Skip to main content

One-Light Portrait Photography

Lesson 6 of 10

Shoot: Use Soft Light to Create an Flattering 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

6. Shoot: Use Soft Light to Create an Flattering Look


Lesson Info

Shoot: Use Soft Light to Create an Flattering Look

So what we're going to do next is, you can relax for a second, we're going to switch from this type of small reflector source and we're actually going to go to a larger source which is the silver umbrella. So we're going to stay in the same family of having nice specular light, but we're going to have a much larger source, so we'll have more room to work with, the light will have a little less falloff and I guess I don't need to take that off 'cause we're using a different light. So we'll wheel this guy out of here. Alright so now we have the Profoto deep silver medium umbrella so this is probably somewhere around a 42 inch umbrella I'm just guessing just by looks. Raise that up a little bit. And you know it's a bounce umbrella, silver, definitely have a little bit of texture so this is going to throw off a lot of light it's going to be hard, it's not going to be soft light by any means but it is a much larger source. So what we're going to do now is we're going to, actually what I'm g...

oing to do is I'm going to have you turn this so we can put the light closer to him without having this is the shot, so if you just want to flip the arm one way or the other or even flip the head around, actually do that, flip the head around and then what we're going to do is we're going to put the light really close to him and then slowly move it away so you can see the difference in specularity and how the quality of light changes. Yeah, that's just about... We'll lean it out just a little bit more, going to lean it towards you. And then if you want to adjust it up that way 'cause what I want to do is I want to keep that same height, that 35 degree angle but I want to feather that light downwards and we really want to keep the hotspot of the light off of our subject. Step up this way once, actually we'll go way out here we'll just get away from the background. I never light anybody by just full on blasting them with the center of the umbrella, or a soft box especially because that gives you that horrible hotspot you know you look at a phot of someone and they have this shiny spot on their forehead, nose, or cheek. A lot of times you can minimize that by feathering your light properly. So this light's hard because it's so harsh but what we can do is I like to feather my light, meaning I like to have the brunt of my light aimed at the front of the subject, especially with that big white umbrella which you'll see in a little bit. So I'll put the back edge of the umbrella roughly at Joe's ear and let all the light in front wrap around. So we're going to do a shot like this the background should be fairly dark, we'll hope for F8 it's going to be way too bright, yep. And we'll pop another one, I'm guessing hopefully close. So this is, it's about medium distance, so we'll do this so you can actually stand, I'm going to have you turn towards the light a little bit, there you go. And just looking almost straight ahead towards the K at photo week down there, yep. So I'm going to be about here low angle we're going to get just underneath the hands propped up, the light's in the shot but that's okay. So you could see here, this is just a different quality of light, it's because it has a little more wrap it's not getting as much on the background, so again, I didn't buy gray seamless, we can just make this go really dark and in fact if we wanted to go darker we could feather this even more. I'm going to have you step up a tiny bit towards me. Same thing, not much of a change as far as exposure. One, two, three, and you'll see the background will go even darker. So look at that, you can see the light in the shot but you know we didn't change anything here other than the angle and the distance we are. So the light's close to our subject, the subject's far from the background that makes the background go darker. So it's just another way to work with your white background. Now the thing I want to do is I want to move this light around more frontal because what you'll see is this light will cast a similar shadow, take one step back. We'll flip this guy around if you want to grab that knob I'll grab the light and we're just going to turn it because I'm going to shoot from directly under it. And we'll raise it up just a little bit. How we looking there? Pretty good. So I'm going to try and minimize the shadow that's on his cheek and so right now this is aimed right at his face, I want to feather it downward more so I'm just going to go ahead aim it down. So we can minimize that hotspot 'cause this umbrella will definitely cause a hotspot. We want a meter one two three, nine alright, perfect. So this will change a little bit of our background obviously get brighter because we changed the light angle. One two three. There we go. So we didn't change a whole lot other than the angle of the light but you can just see how much, it's all personal preference at this point but starting with a solid foundation, a proper light height, I mean I'd be pretty happy with a shot like this. In fact I want to do one more in my notes like that so what we're going to do is create essentially the same shot but what I want to do is show you how a lot of people would say oh there's just a little too much shadow and you can definitely minimize that. I'm going to have you take one big step forward. You can definitely minimize that by just simply adding white reflectors. If you want to grab that reflector John. We're going to go similar angle we're feathered down, going to bring the light down just a little bit so we can maintain that height. We're going to feather nicely in front of him. We will meter without the reflector, it doesn't really matter 'cause (mumbles). Nine, alright one more. Alright so let's take one shot without the reflector so we're going to have no reflector here, we're going to have a nice dark background good dramatic shadow, one two three. Perfect, there we go nice clean light. Now you don't need a second light if you don't like the shadow, I'm going to have you take a tiny step back right there perfect. We're going to keep that distance, so the only thing we're changing is reflector, no lights, and you can see if you just look at his arm and the side of his face, he doesn't even have a left ear in this photo, but doing something so simple as a white reflector where a lot of people think they need to add in a second light. The reason why I try and not add a second light when possible is because it just adds another level of confusion. Even though you might be using two Profoto B1 heads and they have the same numbers on the back, this one says 57 a lot of people think and they're totally wrong, that if you put a second light here, with another umbrella. Okay this one's 57 so if this one's 47 it's a stop down. No because look at this one's three feet from him, this one's six feet. That one might have a silver umbrella, this one might have a white umbrella. All of those things factor in, so you need to meter then for two lights and you start talking about lighting ratios and all that, if you can just throw in a white foam core, reflector, B flat, anything like that, you can get a lot of shadow filled in and we can move definitely closer, that was on a three quarter length shot so you could do a lot with one light and a white reflector. So alright so that's embracing shadow and contrast, kind of going over everything that we could do from one light, she is fully backed up, leaning against that wall. So that's why the shadow's so tight. Can't do that on seamless. But that's just what I do to control background lighting, control shadow and things like that using two fairly hard light sources that most people would avoid. I mean I don't know about you guys but this was that bare walled flash or basically bare wall flash if not more harsh with that silver reflector. And I think the light quality's still there because if you place your light properly, if you meter and if you control it and know how you want to control your background, you can do great things with just one light. I think we had that shot and then we moved it further away so if you look at where his hands are, dark, light, and that was just by moving the light just a little bit away. So you can control a lot if you understand fundamentals and the conceptual level of lighting and how it effects. Again that was the same light as something like this but all we change is the angle and the position. You can alter a lot, you can make your white background go gray. And that's another shot, that was with the same silver umbrella, she was leaning against a white wall, there's obviously been a little bit more editing here than what we're doing with this raw files. But that was just a white wall in my studio, one umbrella the silver one you can see it's the same shadow. Same idea, one light.

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.