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Rugged studio portrait 4-light setup

Studio portrait of a rugged guy using a 4-light setup, Profoto

This was a test shot before taking studio portraits for a consulting company in Sweden. Having recently bought a Profoto AcuteB 600R I tried out a studio setup with four flashes. Usually, I use a reflector as fill, but having another flash head to work with, I wanted to see the difference in light and how it could be used to more flexibly lighten the shadows in my portraits in a better way.

Studio lighting diagram for portrait using 4 Profoto lights

Studio lighting setup in short

Having four different light sources is in many ways a very flexible setup, but at the same time, many variables that can create problems before you get it right. The good thing is of course that you can light your subject from four different angles and modify the light from every angle with a different light modifier. The problem is that it takes some time to troubleshoot if it doesn’t look good.

Big soft main light

For this portrait I wanted, as I usually do, start with a big, soft light as main. The biggest softbox in my arsenal is the Profoto Octa 5′ (150 cm), and I think it is the best softbox for half-length portraits in my studio. If I have to use a smaller softbox, that would mean that I place it closer to the subject, and that takes a way a bit of working space for the model. Not too many people are comfortable with being surrounded by flashes and softboxes, so giving them some space might be a good idea.

Flash fill instead of reflector

Usually I have a reflector from Photoflex as fill, but with my new Profoto AcuteB 600R I could place a flash there instead, and at the same time be able to control that light instead of just reflect some of the light from the main light (or the rim lights) to lift the shadows.

The rest of my light comes from Profoto Compacts, and they have a high light output, even on the lowest setting. The AcuteB can go a few steps lower, so I just had to set this on the lowest setting to work really well as fill.

I placed the fill light very low, with a semi-transparent shoot-through umbrella, on a small stand just 50 or 60 cm from the floor. So instead of having a reflector just bouncing back some of the light from the side, I could have fill coming from below.

For this purpose, a camera flash such as a Speedlight, would also be a good idea. Easy to place and easy to adjust the output setting on.

Two rim lights from behind

To give this portrait more depth, I added the remaining two flashes as rimlights. Mostly they highlight the sides of the model’s forehead, but also add a little sprinkle to the hair on the sides of his head. I like this effect as it better shows how the underlying bone structure is shaped. But, of course, if the model would have more hair, most of the light would hit the hair, but then it at least separates the model from the background a bit.

White paper background

Most of my portraits use a roll of paper as background. Sometimes a use a medium grey, but the white background is the most flexible as it can go from bright white to black depending on much light you allow to hit it.

To create a different portrait, I could have used anothed flash for the background to light it separately, either with a snoot or a gridded modifier to light parts of it, or a filter gel to tint it in any colour I want. But, that would require another flash which I don’t have. Not yet.

After the shot

When we where satisfied, I processed the chosen photo in Nikon Capture NX2. The program itself is a bit of a hassle and not as easy to work with as, for example, Lightroom. But sometimes it is worth the extra trouble.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Paul Mayes Photography November 25, 2012, 13:01

    The simple set-up is always the best solution as there is less to go wrong; well done!

  • Stefan Tell December 5, 2012, 01:37

    Thanks, I haven’t used this one in a while, but should try it again soon. It is easy to forget the old setups when you try so hard to figure out new ways to light.

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