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2-light beauty portrait setup

Simple beauty portrait, half length, of photo model using two lights, one beautydish and one Profoto softbox Octa

Usually I take portraits of people with no or very little experience in front of the camera, the times I have a “real” model in the studio are easily counted. Very very.

This time I was asked to photograph a woman with a lot of experience in modeling in her earlier career as a model, now she works at an ad agency. She and her business partner wanted promotional photos and came to my studio for some portraits and group shots.

Big and flat and soft light

I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t impress her with big lights or complex setups, so I went the simple way instead. A two-light setup with both lights on-axis with the camera, one big and soft, the other to add some contrast. Just a little bit.

Portrait Lighting Setup Diagram - Clamshell with Beautydish, Profoto Octa and a reflector

Lighting setup diagram for beauty shot

I had her standing in front of a medium grey background, maybe a meter and a half from it. Directly behind me and the camera was a large 5 foot Profoto Softbox Octa (150 cm) as some kind of fill, and the key light was a white Profoto Softlight Reflector on a boom stand hanging above a large reflector (1 x 2 meter).

detail_catchlights-eyeTogether they created a light similar to a classic clamshell lighting, but with two lights coming from the same direction. Next time, though, I might switch the beauty dish for a harder light source to get a little harder shadows under the nose and chin.

The catchlight in her eyes shows that the much smaller beauty dish appears to be the same size as the three times larger (in diameter) octagonal softbox, I think that the effect settings on the two lights were about the same, but as the beautydish is so much closer it is also that much brighter. You could easily play around with the ratios to get completely different portraits with the exact same setup.

A very easy setup to use

The main goal with this photo session was to get good portraits of the two women together, I wanted a light that would be easy to use, and not having to care about if they were standing in the right spot or were turned right.

portraits-two-womenAlmost the same idea I used for the group portraits of the three comedians. But with a slightly softer light this time.

Having the light coming from just one direction makes it easy, and if it comes from the same axis as the camera sees the picture, it is even easier.

Sure, with the models standing so close to the background, there will be shadows if you light it like this, but I think that it adds to the simplicity of the picture. Just two people standing in front of some background, the focus will be on their expressions, not the stuff around them or anything else.

A final note on the reflector

The choice of clothing in these photos were deliberately all black, they work in the advertising business after all, and we wanted to make something that felt like classic agency portraits. Grey background, black clothes and of course, in black and white.

behind-the-scenes-portrait-reflector-studioIf you shoot a photo like this on white background, a lot of light bounces up from the white floor/background paper. But with black clothes and a medium grey background we needed a little light from below so we could have some detail left.

The big light from behind me, the Profoto Octa I was standing in front of, was too high up to help, and I didn’t want it lower as it would make the shadows under the nose and chin too light.

The solution was a large white reflector I placed flat on some furniture, without it I don’t think there would be any details left in their pants or in the lower parts of their jackets as well.

For the top photo, the one with just one of them, I raised the reflector so it was right outside the frame of that picture. Just to get a little more light into her eyes and eye sockets.

Here is a closer headshot from the same session.

Equipment used this time

One Nikon D700 with a 24-70/2.8 lens. Two Profoto Compacts, one with a Profoto Softlight Reflector (white) and the other with a large 5 foot Profoto Softbox Octa. And a grey paper background. And a large reflector.

That’s all. But next time, I think I will try with a Magnum or something similar, to get a little more contrast in the shadows.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Ruben June 18, 2011, 19:32


    Thanks for sharing the details on this and all your other shots. Very helpful.
    Please do continue. I think there is quite a few people that check your site, but fail to drop you a comment.
    I found you through the profoto blog.

    Regards, Ruben.

  • Ronald September 27, 2011, 13:38

    Hi Stefan,

    I stumbled across your site and I must compliment you on your nice clean style. I have a question though, the 2 light portrait – http://www.stefantell.se/blog/2010/11/2-light-beauty-portrait-setup/

    Is the large octa directly behind you, in other words, if you are standing in front of it, did you not obscure the light and cause a shadow?

    • Stefan Tell September 27, 2011, 14:12

      And you are right, look at the detail photo a little bit down on the page, if you look closely, you can see me covering the lower part of the Octa.

      It still has a lot of area that acts as fill, and most of the light passes over me. One day I will buy a Profoto Giant, you have to be quite big to cover that.

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