One-Light Portrait Lighting Tips
Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash
You know the lighting configurations for various portrait lighting techniques already if you’ve been following our article for a while. Let’s now go over some helpful one-light portrait lighting tips and best practices, along with some information you can apply in general.
One-light portrait lighting can actually be done with multiple light “sources” such as a light and a reflector, a light and window light, or as a fill or main source outdoors in direct or indirect sunlight.
Get a Versatile Light
Learning how to light a portrait with one light is incredibly simple when your one light is a multi-purpose light. One of the best new multipurpose lights I’ve enjoyed using the last few months is the Hakutatz Pocket Size LED light.
What I like about this light is its portability coupled with high quality and good features. It’s not enough to have a portable light to use for your portraits, that portable light also needs to be usable and durable.
The Hakutatz has a lot of versatile features that you can use in your portrait work. Being small and portable means to me that it can be used anywhere.
Eye Level or Higher
photo by CarlosDavid.org via iStock
Light position for one-light portrait lighting is very important, too high or too low of the light placement can make the portrait either look a little bit odd or it can totally ruin what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you look at diagrams of how to light a portrait with one light, you’ll often see the angle of the light relative to the camera and subject, but it might not be completely obvious how high to put it. A little bit above eye level to about 45 degrees up seems to work best with many portrait lighting techniques.
photo by Space_Cat via iStock
When looking at portrait lighting tips, we do well to think about reflectors. With reflectors, we can essentially double our lights. We use reflectors all the time to tame and redirect sunlight, those same properties are usable with one-light portrait lighting configurations.
Especially consider reflectors to provide that eye catch light that works so well with many portrait lighting techniques. A reflector can often open the shadows caused by the position of our single light.
Supplement Sunlight or Window Light
photo by gawrav via iStock
Sometimes, our single light takes on the role of the secondary light, such as when shooting environmental portraits with strong window light or when outside in sunlight.
In this situation, position the light where we may have been thinking of putting a reflector. Using the light instead, we can adjust the brightness level and even vary the color to make it appear very natural.
Further Away Is Harder
photo by chee gin tan via iStock
One of the things that makes a light source hard or soft is how far away it is. The closer a light is, the softer the light and the further it is, the harder. Which is why direct sunlight is a hard light because the Sun is a point light source.
If you have a bright portable light that you’re using as your single light source, vary the placement of it to change it from a hard light to a softer light. Some portrait subjects look better with hard light and very defined shadows.
Spot Metering Is Your Friend
photo by perkmeup via iStock
When playing around with one-light portrait lighting, light and shadow and contrast ranges are often at the top of our thoughts. The metering required for proper exposure is important to get right, so I like to use the spot metering capabilities of the camera I’m using.
Averaging and matrix or evaluative metering patterns can’t always cope with the scenes lit by a single light, at least not completely. Spot metering takes care of that problem. Some cameras allow you to take several spot readings and add them together for an accurate exposure.
Tone Down Background Highlights
photo by digitalskillet via iStock
Since you’re using your spot meter, take note of the hot spots in the background behind the portrait subject. If they are too bright or too defined, these hot spots could be distracting. A simple approach to fix this issue is to move your camera position in order to remove them from view.
Another option is to turn up the brightness of your single light. Doesn’t always work out if the background spots are extremely bright, though. Another option is to dodge and burn in post processing.
Barn Doors and Lens Hoods
photo by neilkendallvia iStock
Using one-light portrait lighting may cause lens flare depending on where the light needs to be placed for our lighting technique. Barn doors on the light or a lens hood on the lens can help eliminate light spillage which causes flare.
Even if you don’t see the flare, it can still affect the image by lowering contrast in the image. Barn doors control light from the lamp, lens hoods block light coming at it from the side angles.
If your one-light portrait lighting lamp has the capability to adjust color temperature, use that feature to balance out when using it to mix with sunlight window light or for balancing out your image.
The Hakutatz LED light can be adjusted in color temp and brightness level from your smartphone, so you can get what you want to have happen from the camera position without physically touching the light, useful for when you have the light mounted out of arm’s reach.
One-Light Portrait Lighting Tips
photo by primipil via iStock
These tips should help you fine tune your own techniques and skills, resulting in great looking portraits that you are completely in control of, from start to finish. Grab your favorite light and start shooting.