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Author headshot using only 2 lights

Studio Lighting Setup for Headshot Portrait of Swedish Author against black background

When digging through my archives looking for a file that a client asked for, I found this portrait taken a couple of years ago, of Swedish illustrator Mati Lepp. It was shot during the same day I had a portrait session with Swedish fantastic illustrator Stina Wirsén (portrait and studio lighting diagram here).

During this day I shot around ten different Swedish writers and illustrators for a publisher, and used the same simple two-light setup for almost all of the portraits. A black background was wanted so they could use it for copyspace in their catalog (I don´t know if it is the correct term, or just something iStockphoto made up?). Anyway, it was easy to get the same look and feel to the portraits that way.

2-Light Portrait Studio Setup

Click here for more studio lighting setup diagrams

I must use this setup again

As I have learned more and more on portraiture and lighting for portraits during my years as a photographer, I have also complicated things more and more. Maybe that is a natural thing to do, not thinking that a simple setup is enough anymore (when I have many more lights and much more studio equipment tp throw in the mix).

But looking at this portrait, and the one of Stina Wirsén, I would love to go back more to the simpler setups. One main light from above, and maybe one from behind if I need some hair light or just for separation.

I need more calm, I-like-to-stare-directly-into-the-camera type clients/models. Must start looking for them right away.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • marc May 12, 2010, 20:40

    Simple lightning but super result!
    I like it! Sometimes less is more!!
    Greetings Marc

  • Boo July 9, 2010, 13:07

    I’m new to studio lighting but the back light is that coming from above? What height is the back light set at?

    • Stefan Tell August 10, 2010, 23:48

      Not high up at all, if I remember correctly. The black paper background stops just outside the frame, so the flash head is just above, maybe 20-30 centimeters up from his head.

  • Mark Nolan August 17, 2010, 17:26

    This is a great shot and definitely one of my favourites. I’ve just started getting into off-camera flash and I’ve put this diagram up on my wall as a reminder not to over complicate the set-ups.

  • Stefan Tell August 17, 2010, 23:27

    Glad to hear, I should do the same really.
    It´s easy to use more light and modifiers than you need, just because you can (or have the stuff lying around).

  • Edd Carlile August 21, 2010, 10:56

    I love the light in this.
    (for my upcoming shoot I thought I had decided on simple Rembrandt lighting but the more I look at your images and the great shots you have with softboxes on the same axis as the camera, I am starting to think that I may go with another lighting set-up. As my shoot is on the 9th of September I still have plenty of time to decide what I want to do)
    Superb portrait.

  • Stefan Tell August 25, 2010, 00:05

    Thanks Edd,
    I haven’t used this setup for a while, maybe because I thought it was too simple, but I like this portrait a lot. The problem might be that it creates a lot of shadow in and under the eyes, so adding a reflector underneath to turn it into some sort of clamshell lighting could be a way of making it more flexible?

  • Picture Zealot August 27, 2010, 04:49

    After looking at a few pages, this is my favorite so far. The main light is small enough to bring out masculine features but not so hard so that it isn’t flattering. The hairlight is a great idea. Very nice.

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