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Easy two-light studio portrait

Studio portrait of curly haired woman standing in front of black paper background lit with two Profoto Compact lights

While giving my online portfolio a well deserved make-over I found some old studio portraits that I almost had forgotten. This is a portrait of a very talented Swedish illustrator and artist that I shot for a book publisher some years ago with a Nikon D2x and a Nikkor 17-55/2.8 using the only lights I had at the time.

Two Profoto Compact 300 + black background

This was what I had to work with, and the same small room I always use, with a relatively low ceiling that always annoys me (but makes me work hard to make the most of it). The client wanted a really dark black background for their catalog layout, so I used a black paper background behind the model for this.

Studio lighting setup diagram for portrait using two Profoto lights, one umbrella and one softbox

Click here for more studio lighting setup diagrams

One main light + one hair light

That’s the setup in so many words. I used what I had, and I only owned two Profoto Compacts, one black background, one umbrella and one medium softbox. The softbox were in front and above me, camera right, creating a soft but distinct light in her face with a small shadow under her nose.

To make her stand out a little from the black background, and to give a little light to the blackness of it, I placed the other light on a stand behind the background. To get the light to reach her hair, I lowered the background stands a bit so the light could be positioned above it, pointing down on her shoulders and hair.

Black on black needs separation

Taking a shot like this with a model all dressed in black and so close to the background might not sound like a good idea. But her curly hair and nice face saved it. I think. And the belt.

The publisher wanted really dark photos for their layout, so it worked out just fine. If I had done this today, I would probably have used more than two lights, just to separate her better from the background. Maybe a gridded strip light from the side, or slightly from behind. And probably used more fill light to give a little structure to the body.

It would be a good exercise to try to make more of less, it is easy to always use the same setup and a lot of equipment, just because you can.

Shot with a Nikon D2x and a Nikkor 17-55/2.8 @f/10.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sissel March 27, 2010, 02:19

    så himla schysst att du lägger upp ljusscheman! tack!!

  • Kevin December 14, 2012, 16:20

    Hei Stefan,
    Den bagerste flash skyder den “op” i paraplyen som sÃ¥ kaster lyset ned over modellen? altsÃ¥ med flashen stÃ¥ende bag ved din papirrulle ?

  • Stefan Tell December 21, 2012, 15:20

    Ja, jag tror att det var så jag gjorde, blixten stod bakom bakgrunden. Minns inte riktigt, det var många år sedan.

    Det var inte högt i tak, annars hade jag höjt stativet och siktat rakt ner istället.

  • Alanna July 28, 2019, 21:10

    Thank you – thank you for existing, and for making this blog.
    I’ve always been more of an intuitive shooter than a technical one – but I feel like I’m going to college here reading your blog. It’s so hard to find real life tips online that are both helpful AND beautiful. I can’t wait to try some light setups learned here. Thank you for diving into some of your problem solving on set and for such simple yet detailed explanations – keep it up 🙂

    • Stefan Tell August 5, 2019, 23:56

      Thank you for a very warming comment, I will do my best to add some more posts here on my English blog.

      If you want more and can decipher content translated by Google, please visit my blog in Swedish: https://www.stefantell.se/blogg/