Versatile Softlight for Portraits

Sometimes you need a simple, easy and quick way to create soft, pretty light for portraits – especially if there is a large group of portraits that are going to be presented in a similar fashion. Whether staff or employee photos, pageant and events, or simply a family individual set, this light is easy to create and can be recreated for a match at any time.


I use both studio strobes and speedlights to create this lighting. Essentially it is a large softlight to camera right and a hair light in a soft umbrella above the model and back enough to make sure the light doesn’t fall on the nose or forehead. I also use a V-Card to camera left that does double duty – grabbing a little light from the scrim and taking the spill over from the hairlight and opening up the shadow side of the face. This light works really well with hats and hoodies as it gets in and under the brims and hair coverings.

For this shoot (a dozen girls for an event catalog, I had small faces and grown faces, with the additional possibility of having to add another dozen faces at a second shoot. Using this light gives me a totally repeatable light setup for the next group. (Simply take a measurement and make a note or two in your notebook. Then set the lights in the same place for the next shoot.) I kept the talent far enough from the background that it went dark, but the texture still showed through a bit.

Lighting ratio is set to 1:1 – that means that the exposure of the hair light falling on the top of the head is the same as the light from the soft light to camera right. I then bring the fill card (V-Card) in quite close on the shadow side of the face. It catches a bit of the fall off from the hairlight as well as catching the softlight to camera right.

This also makes a very attractive catchlight in the eyes.

Eyes 1Eyes 2

This is the setup I use for large, studio lights.

Softbox is 4×6

This is the setup I use for speedlights. However, I usually use two speedlights behind the scrim so that I can get even coverage and faster recycle times.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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