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One Light Portrait

One light portrait

This is in my opinion the easiest way of doing a studio portrait with only one light, add a reflector below if you feel that a little reflected fill light might improve it. Silver if you want more fill and contrast, white if you just want diffused light.

You can use it in the studio or on location, the only thing you need is a studio light (or speedlight), a softbox and a boom stand. Adjust the light on the model and/or background by moving the light/model if you want different looking photos. In this case, I shot against a white paper background which turned out light grey.

One Light Portrait in photo studio using a softbox on a boom stand.

For this portrait session I used a boom stand, a medium sized Profoto softbox (2 x 3 feet/60 x 90 cm) and a Profoto D1 250 Air monobloc.

The distance from the model’s head to the softbox was 2-3 feet and placed little in front of the head (closer to the camera, that is). Angled almost straight down, but a little towards the face.


It takes some testing to get the distance, position and angle right. Too close and the light on the forehead might be to bright for skin without make-up. The shadows under the nose and in the eye socket might not be too flattering as well.

Or, you can place the light source on one side and add a reflector to the other side, here is the result of another one light setup.

Moving the model or light away just a little bit can make a big difference. It all depends on what type of portrait you want. The funny thing with this sort of lighting setup is how much a white shirt acts as a reflector under the chin (compare the first photo to the three test photos of angry me).


I shot all the studio portraits with the same shutter speed and aperture (1/200 and f/2.8) and had the Profoto D1 250 Air on it’s lowest setting (4 it says on the display, why they have 4 as the lowest setting I don’t really know?).

There are two problems you might encounter using this setup, the first is having a light source so close to the face. The smallest change in distance between the light and the model can result in wrong exposure. A simple way of avoiding this is to place the light further away from the model, and maybe use a bigger light source (which can be relatively the same size).

The other problem is if you are to shoot more than one person with the same setup, the difference in height will result in different distance to the light if you don’t set it up for the tallest guy and let all the rest stand on phone books.

Not a very popular solution for the shorter guys, I have tried it 🙂

Or you can change the softbox to a beauty dish and get this portrait.

More one light portrait studio setups here.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Tony LUJIEN November 3, 2011, 22:54

    I would like to thank you for sharing your setups experiences and advices it’s really helpful and not so ordinary -_-

    If ever I cant do something in return feel free to ask, you never know.

    Once again thank you

    • Stefan Tell November 3, 2011, 23:23

      Hi, glad you like it, and many thanks for writing a comment.

  • Photofan November 6, 2011, 21:43

    Agreed! You’re doing a fantastic job, and it’s so kind of you to share your “secrets”. Your site is my best source of inspiration 😉
    Many thanks!

  • Stefan Tell November 11, 2011, 01:20

    Thanks, if you have any specific question, don’t hesitate to ask. I will answer as good as I can.

  • Olivier December 2, 2011, 04:06

    I think I took a look to all of your posts in the last few months and never took time to write a comment. The job you’re doing is impressive, and the way you present and explain your setups is admirable.

    Thank you for sharing your word with simplicity and modesty !

  • Lesli February 1, 2012, 15:37

    What is the brand and the type of the boom?

    • Stefan Tell February 2, 2012, 13:51

      Good question, I think it is a Manfrotto boom stand. Will try to check it out next time I am in the studio.

  • Tony LUJIEN February 2, 2012, 13:55

    hmmm I would say Manfrotto 420B, is that right ?

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