One Light Portraits: Examples and Discussion

One Light Portrait in Seattle

There is something about a one light portrait that gets to me. I don’t really know why, but I do love the look. Sure, I can use the sun as a second light, but that’s OK – I still let it be a single light portrait with a lot of backlight or sidelight or whatever. Heh. Sue me.

Recently in Project 52 we did a single light portrait assignment. I wanted to share a few of the students work with you. First, however, I will tell you about 6 of my single light portraits and how I shot them. We commence after the jump.

I want to share a few other things before we go to the portraits.

First, some important posts from around the net.

Kirk Tuck has a good post on “Why Take Photographs”. I think you will like what he has to say.

Chris Brogan, a social media expert, shares his vision of what Bloggers need to do to gain traction with this post entitled “Which Crowd?”. Sort of reminds me of this post I did recently.

If you aren’t familiar with Monaco Reps blog “Look Here” now is a good time to familiarize yourself. New posts everyday… and excellent imagery as well.

If you are currently or are planning on using video – or, you know, adding video to your arsenal, it may be a good idea to track the ways customers may want to use video. Make it better, package it up and sell it. Social Media Examiner has a nice list of ways our clients are using video. Hope it gives you some ideas.

A look at the way the new Getty rights managed stock contract is being received by photographers. APE has the info, but check out the comments for the real fire!

At dzineblog, “40 Minimalist Photographs” – worth taking a look.

OK. As you all know, I wrote a book. It was supposed to be out this month, but schedules got changed and now it comes out at the end of the year. You can see the cover on the right side of the blog. I will let all know when we get close to the ‘pre-order and save a bunch of dough’ period. I think that will be in August. the name is “Lighting Essentials: Subject Centric Lighting for the Digital Photographer” – catchy, eh?

Amherst is the publisher and I am proud to announce the contract for book two. I will have it in their hands by July 1, and expect to see it on the shelves a year from now. Very dang excited to share that with you all. I cannot wait to see my book in a bookstore. Heh.

So I have begun writing the second book and I must say it will very interesting. I am exploring the 5 areas of light that photographers must know to make better images – AND to understand how to create their own light on any subject. More later, but I did want to share.

I have gone gear mad in the last 2 weeks. Finally broke down and got some modifiers for the ProFotos that were missing from the arsenal. A beauty dish, 70″ deep parabolic umbrella that doubles as a softbox, two 80″x12″ strip lights, two 24″x24″ softboxes, matching reflectors and a bunch of C-Stands, stands and booms. It was time.

I have been shuffling between the Profoto and the Norman so much I tended to forget which system I was on. Now I have all the main modifiers for the Profotos that I used on my Norman. I could have gone on for a while longer with the two disparate systems, but doing the new book made the difference. the Normans are featured in the first book, but the second will be Profoto and Dynalite, as well as some LumoPro stuff from Midwest Photo Exchange.

I also got a new ‘road trip’ camera, and I expect that will be a lot different than my current road trip camera. I take lower end cameras with me on the workshops. I want EVERYONE to know it is not the camera, but the lighting and the photographer, that makes the image work. I have been traveling with a Rebel T1i and now I have a 60D for the trips.

I will say that the image quality of the 60D is pretty darn amazing (but then so was the Rebel in most cases) so it will be on its way to Omaha this weekend for a workshop. Back to Phoenix for 2 days and off to West Palm Beach for a workshop as well. Wowser… a long time away from home.

Well, let’s take a look at some One Light Portraiture:

Red Sweater in Seattle
I liked the sun lighting up the country side and the flowers from camera right. It was simple to add a single speedlight in a small softbox to camera left. The box is a bit higher than the model’s head, and aimed straight at her from a little bit downward angle. It is a Canon 580EX at 1/2 power. You can see that it doesn’t totally cover her all the way down. But I like that fall off look. I thing it adds drama.

Window light in Philly
This image was shot in Philadelphia and is only one source through an open door… the overcast day. I pulled away all the fill and let the shadows fall to dark. It seems to add interest to the face, and drama to the overall portrait. I am very careful to keep his face turned toward the lighting source… mitigating the distracting shadows from the nose and chin that would appear if he turned toward me a bit more.


Kim was lit with a small softbox (24×24) on a boom a little higher than her head but almost even with the face when she lifted her face toward it. I removed all fill and wanted the deep shadows that make her face almost glow. The image was shot on 4×5 Polaroid and this is a contact sheet of that Type 55PN negative.


I wanted the deep blue sky to be included so I needed to raise the exposure of Triketa up to match. One bare speedlight at zoom setting of 24 and right out of camera left view was all I needed. 580EX at 1/2 power. Aimed to keep her nose in direct axis of the light at all times. Light managed by VAL.


This shot was done in the old studio. One large 60″ umbrella to camera left and high. Fill cards to the right of camera to add some dimension and a wonderful model to add the life. I decided on one light because two lights seemed overkill and it also drowned the feeling of the image. Very natural feel to a strobe lit image, I think.

This shot was done on the beach in Mexico. The gentleman had just helped us with the waverunner shoot and I asked him for a picture. He smiled and grabbed the Dos Equis. I handheld a 430EZ with wireless trigger and made the shot. The 430 was on 1/2 power and is just out of range of the lens. Knowing the power/distance of your strobes make doing shots like this a breeze.

OK… so that is my little group of one light portraits. Let’s take a look at what the Project 52 folks did:

Hey, thanks for coming along. Follow me on Twitter, and find out more About.Me… Interested in a workshop? See the Learn to Light Workshop page for more information.

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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.