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Actor portraits using two lights


Recently I was asked by an actor to shoot some headshots for him that he could use to promote himself with. Good portraits are always a good start, and I started as usual with a much more complicated lighting setup but removed light after light until there only were two left.

We did a lot of different portraits that session, and I will probably show them later, this post is about this setup which can easily be modified in small steps to produce a good range of portraits, just by adjusting some angles and moving the main light a little bit. I always like to deliver variation.


Studio Lighting Setup Diagram

It is really nothing complicated about this setup. Just place the main light, in this case a Profoto D1 with a white Profoto Softlight Reflector (beauty dish) on one side of the model and a rim light on the other.

They are pointing slightly down but are on a straight line with the model in the middle. The exact height and angle is a matter of taste.


Turn your head, just a little bit

It is interesting how a tiny turn of the head can do a lot for a portrait. Always. Just ask your model to start with a full profile and the ask them to turn their head. After that you can move on and ask them to look into the camera.


I guess some of you might argue that without catchlights, there is no life in a portrait. But I don’t think so. You don’t always have to do everything like that, at least not when you are free to portrait someone so maybe a casting agency can see in detail how they look for real.

By the way, I have done a couple of photo sessions like this, and to show a natural portrait of someone trying to sell themselves as actors, I think most kinds of retouching is out of the picture.


Back to the lighting

All the portraits except this last one used the exact same lighting setup. One main light camera left (beautydish) and a strip softbox camera right.

For this I moved the main light closer to the camera at maybe a 45 degree angle and added a reflector just outside the picture camera right. A very standard portrait, but easy to do when I had the lights set up the way they were before.

Simplifying your lighting can make a session like this a lot more flexible. You can produce a lot of different portraits/headshots by just posing your model differently. And with only two angles to watch out for, moving around with your camera quite freely is easy to do.

And now, turn off the rim light.


One light portrait

Going back to the original setup with the beauty dish camera left, and turning off the rim light camera right, produced this result. Here I cheated just a little bit by evening out the background. Originally it was a strong gradient there from the beauty dish, but I thought that distracted my eyes from the shape in the middle.

As I said, I try to keep things simple, and how much I like the first portraits, reducing the lighting down to just one light and finding a good angle for him made this my favourite portrait, I think.

Instead of setting up the studio lights and just focus on the model, I like this way of working better. Trying to find the right light by experimenting as I go, but that comes of course after I am satisfied with my original plan, so I at least have some good pictures to show.

I often start with taking a test shots of myself, just to see how the lighting works, but as soon as the real model enters the studio (and he doesn’t look like me at all) you have to change the plan. A lot, or just a little.

That was all for this time, I will try to find time to show some other portraits from this session. Some using a ring light, and others with the Ice Light outside the studio.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ele December 2, 2018, 14:09

    Thank you for sharing your ideas !

    • Stefan Tell December 3, 2018, 00:47

      Thanks for commenting, hope you will find more useful posts here.