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Group portrait using bare bulb

Bare bulb photo studio portrait (Profoto 250 Air)

This is the result of a portrait studio session I had a couple of weeks ago with a duo writing and illustrating a book about aliens and UFOs. My main goal was to produce some images with a lot of crazy colours and for that I tried a four light setup (test image here). More on those photos later.

I have found that most clients (in this case a publishing house) likes to get portraits in a couple of different styles if possible, so they can use one type on their web site, another on the blog or Facebook etc.

And why not? To create this simple group portrait, I just had to turn off all the lights except one which I removed the reflector from, and switch from a black background to a white.

One light bare bulb portrait diagram


The setup doesn’t really need much explanation, the main and only light comes from camera right, high up on a stand and it is pointed towards the group.

As the studio is quite small, and the walls are white, I added a bookend camera left just outside the frame to make the shadow side just a little bit deeper and darker.

I mostly use some sort of light modifier when I shoot portraits, but looking at ther results, I think this kind of bare bulb lighting is very easy to work with and is easy to understand for the eye. Just one light source to adjust and only one angle that you need to get right.


As they liked being in front of the camera, I tried some more shots but this time with a Profoto Magnum reflector. I don’t remember exactly how far zoomed in the reflector was on the Profoto D1, but it was closer to the more focused light (looking at the falloff and more intense center of light).

Much of the look comes from the contrasty processing in Lightroom, but it is clear that a bare bulb creates more open shadows and softer contrast. The small room with its white walls helps spreading the light a bit of course, compared to the directional light from a reflector. If I would try this outside or in a large room, the effect would be quite different I think.

Here is a link to a blog with more examples of how you can work with a bare bulb and get various results from it.

But, it is a simple way of quickly getting two completely different portraits (or three, and a happier client) going from one complex multi-light setup to a single light, just turn everything else off.

And change the background.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Ho kimfa September 10, 2011, 12:33

    Have you tried studio group photo shooting of say 20 children? What would you suggest about the positioning the lights etc.
    I appreciate your sharing.

    Yr sincerely

    • Stefan Tell September 11, 2011, 08:32

      Hi, I’m not that good at large group photos. Maybe because it often gets squeezed into the schedule and has to be done with minimal time for preparation (maybe just my bad experience of it?).

      When I need to light group photos, I usually keep it as simple as possible to get everyone in the picture properly lit. Put one light on either side of group, that is often the easiest way.

      And again, I’m not the best person to ask about group lighting.

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