One light setups

One light setups

So how many lights do you really need when shooting portraits or beauty?

This isn’t really a controversial topic but you will still no doubt have many views and opinions around how many lights you need to take a good portrait or beauty shot.

The aim of this post is to prove to you that you don’t need a truck load of lights to get amazing shots when shooting portrait or beauty.

This is not to say that using one light is better than using a group of lights, but more to show that it is still possible to get creative with just one light.

So I did say one light but you will definitely need to also get your hands on a silver reflector “or two”

You can pick these up really cheap on amazon or ebay.

The first setup is the most simple, just one light with a modifier of your choice “or not if you like to shoot with hard light”

For myself, I am a fan of either a beauty dish or deep parabolic umbrella.

A soft box is of course fine but if you are on a budget a shoot through or bounce back umbrella will also do the trick for most of these setups.

In the first example there is just one light used and it is placed on the camera right.

If the left hand image there is no reflector used, notice the shadow on the models right “your left” side of the face.

In the right hand image a reflector is added on the left hand side “model right”, notice the shadow is gone and we are only left with a slight shadow under the chin.

Both of these are viable one light options, how much shadow you want is purely a creative decision which is easily achieved by simply adding a reflector.


A slight variation of the above setup and an extremely popular setup for beauty shooting is to simply move the reflector to the chest of the model and move your key light in and above the model, just out of view of the camera.

Notice in the image below how the shadow under the chin and the shadow on the side of the face is no longer visible.

That is what makes this one light setup so popular for beauty shots.

If you look at the catch lights in the models eyes you can notice the reflector in the bottom part of the eye and the key light in the top half of the eyes.

Now for something a little more creative!

In the below example the key light is placed behind the model and pointing down towards the back of the models head.

I have cut out the centre of one of my reflectors so that I can place the camera in the hold and get a really even light.

It’s not necessary to do this, you can just have your reflector above the camera if you don’t want to cut up a reflector, however for perfect light reflection this is the way to go.

As you can see in the below real life image this creates a really great effect.

I also added a CTO gel to the light “CTO = colour temperature orange, in other words an orange colour piece of plastic”

The reason for adding the CTO gel is to give it a warmer look to simulate a sunset.


Another look using the silver reflector is to place a large soft-box “if you have one” directly behind the model.

This will give you a really high key and clean look.

I had to stand really close for this to work, if you stand further back the light being reflected loses power and you don’t get as good an image.



The last setup is the easiest one to pull off and just requires one speed-light.

I’m sure you have all heard of a gobo by now, if not a gobo is simply a cut out shape that you shoot your light through. Think of a gobo as a light stencil. You can get really great looking shapes and shadows by shooting through one of these but the draw back is actually cutting it out of something and then getting the right distance between the light, gobo, subject and background.

In other words it’s quite fiddly on a good day.

So instead of using a gobo I got lazy and just stuck a cardboard box on the end of a speed light which is more of a snoot than a gobo but it actually ends up looking more like a gobo ..

I added a colour gel to the flash for some effect and below is the result.

The gels that you can add to your speed-lights are really cheap on eBay and Amazon, if you after some just search “colour gel for speed light”

Love to hear any other interesting or cool one light setups or hacks any of you have tried!

If you have anything to share, please put it into the comments ..

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