You'll Be Amazed by the Photos You Can Create With Just One Light

If you look at the work of the best studio photographers, you'll probably notice most of them use multiple lights to achieve their final results. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, you might be amazed at what you can accomplish with just one light, and this great video will show you every step in the process. 

Coming to you from Michael Corsentino of Behind the Shutter, this excellent video shows the step-by-step process used to create these one-light headshots. When you're first starting out with lighting, I highly recommend you work with one light at a time, both because lights are expensive and because it's important to learn and understand the properties of artificial light before you start adding complicating factors. Corsentino​​​​​​'s tutorial can go a long way in helping you understand these, as his method is built around a strong ability to read the light and modify it to better achieve the result he's going for. Once you master working with these modifiers and shaping the light to match your vision, you'll be much more ready to tackle multi-light setups with ease and confidence. Check out the video above for the full rundown on the method. 

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Reflektors are light sources as well, so this is not really "just one light"

Alex Cooke's picture

A reflector doesn’t produce light; I wouldn’t call it a source.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Sure, but it's a bit misleading. "You only need one flash for this image... and also stack off reflectors and stands, and space."
An informative headline would be: "Creative ways of using reflectors together with a single flash" or something, I don't know. Move along...

Mike Leland's picture

OMG! So misleading! It says one light! Not one light, and some light stands, and a camera, and a bunch of other stuff that people use to make images!

I won't get any value out of this video because he modified the light with a beauty dish. I wouldn't have even clicked had I known that there were lighting modifiers involved. Let alone, a Mola Demi with the PAD and a front diffuser.

And space... I assumed he was able to do this in the trunk of a Mazda Miata... so that ruins it for me as well.

And don't get me started on the reflectors... my Miata trunk is fully lined with duvetyne coated in vantablack. There will be no light ever in my pictures except for the light coming directly from my single key light (unmodified of course).

Marius Pettersen's picture

Hold ya horses, mate! It was a simple rant against typical click-bait headlines. The video was decent in showing results from adding accessories to supplement the main light.
I love using just one light - with or without additional fill from reflectors or v-flats, but I think people would have learned more from practical setups with just one light.

Mike Leland's picture

Good ol Zack Arias has a pretty decent One light thing going on. I'm trying to bring things back around and simplify my lighting setups. I tend to overcomplicate...

Marius Pettersen's picture

I know the struggle! Experimenting with light is fun, but I have to strip down when traveling without a car, and when working alone.

Time to think of a different car if you are serious about traveling and studio lighting. Or you know, buy reflectors that fold down to just 12" flat. Same with stands, and modifiers that fold like an umbrella. You can have an entire kit in one bag.

Mike Leland's picture

I don't really have a Miata ;) Most of my lighting will fit in three peli 1650s I own a one ton grip package, and that fits in a van along with all of my bulky modifiers. My daily driver key has long been a Mola Setti which is super bulky. So I'm an SUV/Van guy :)

I did want a Miata in the early 1990s for a while. But never could bring myself to do it! I hear they're fun cars, though!

That is correct

So in this regard, moonlight isn't a source of light? I'm not here to bash anything but it is very misleading giving the headline. A light "source" doesn't have to produce it's own light. A better take on his would have been "How far can you take a one light setup?"

Mike Leland's picture

The moon is NOT a source of light. The moon is illuminated by the sun. It absorbs and scatters the sunlight and reflects a very small amount of it back to earth <8% on average. At night, we get most of our light by radiation from other stars, not from the moon.

Have you ever been in a situation where the sun is providing key light and the moon is providing fill? No. Never.

A light source is just that. A source. An origin. The name comes from the definition. A light source is something that light originates from. Something that emits light.

From a scientific standpoint, by definition, a light source HAS to produce it's own light.

Without a light SOURCE, a reflector does not produce light. It is a light modifier, not a light source.

Unless you have some special reflector that actually emits light. But then it wouldn't be a reflector...It would be a light source.

I'm linking to some flash cards that help with distinguishing between light sources and reflectors.

David Pavlich's picture

Where's the popcorn?

Jon Dize's picture

This reminds me of the joke... "Good morning, Susan is it? I'm Dr. Owens, please take off your clothes and hop up on the examination table and we will start your procedure immediately." Susan responds, "But Doctor Owens... Do all of your patients get undressed to have their teeth cleaned?" "Whose the Doctor here Susan, you are me?"

Jan Kruize's picture

Just one strobe with a bare beautydish......

Motti Bembaron's picture

Take one manual speedlight on a light stand (very light) with an umbrella -something just about any photographer has- that's for me is ONE LIGHT source. For me the idea is to keep it as simple as possible and on a budget.

Are you kidding me? See all you can do with just one light (... and a whole bunch of other light modifyers we won't talk about).

"When you're first starting out with lighting, I highly recommend you work with one light at a time, both because lights are expensive and because it's important to learn and understand the properties of artificial light before you start adding complicating factors."

Sorry, but I don't buy that using that many reflectors is less difficult than 2-3 lights. And I'd be willing to wager those reflectors cost a lot more than a few basic flashguns.

The video may be good, but this article is not. Might as well pass a natural light video as a "one light photography" after all, the sun is only one light source too.

Matt Owen's picture

Those particular reflectors are expensive, but I made 8x8 v-flats for about $30 each using insulation board, spray paint, and duct tape. The tri-flector I also built for about $20 using the linked plan. I substituted foam board and aluminum foil for the ripstop.
Also, I made a giant silver reflector from the box my water heater came in and more aluminum foil. All in it's about the price of one basic flash gun.

Not nearly as informative as

Vincent Alongi's picture

At first I thought the commentary was overkill. Now I'm thinking his setups are overkill. Nice work, but I think simpler gear would yield very similar results.

Anthony Saleh's picture

Reflectors count as light sources!

Felix Wu's picture

So are buildings, concrete floors, white walls, ceilings, trees...

Mike Leland's picture

Anthony, I posted this link above, but it appears you could use these flash cards as well. They're rated for PreK-2nd grade, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot on the subject that isn't meant for young children.

I suppose they think people ought to have the ability to distinguish between light sources and reflectors before graduating to the intermediate wing at school with big jungle gym. And no naps! I miss naps...

Gary Smith's picture

It's an interesting setup, but a bit too bulky to be practical in my (extremely small) apartment studio. There's a local studio I like to use when I can (where I can use their spense ProFoto gear), but I'll occasionally shoot basic portraits in my apartment against a paper backdrop. Lately I've been using just one constant light with a white umbrella elevated and 45 degrees to the right, which gives a somewhat low key look that I'm fond of: