Single Light Portraits – Yes You Can!

Since I launched the Blackbelt Lighting Products the most common question I get asked is “How many lights do I need?”. The problem is there is no simple answer to that, except that I always tell people that they should always master a single light before adding more lights to your setup.

With even just a single light you can create really nice portraits. All of the examples here were created with just a single light with the only change being the position of the subject’s face in relation to the light.

For some people, the shadows may be too harsh in which case adding a reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows will help brighten up the shadow side of the face.

With the light shooting through an umbrella and the umbrella positioned just above the subject’s head and angled down to point right at her eye, we get some nice directional lighting which is quite flattering.

In the second we turned the subject’s body away from the light and had her look almost directly into the light.  This gave us a little more light wrapping around her face while still giving a little directional light.

Because of the size of the light source and the closeness of it to the subject we still get plenty of light on her body while the directional light brings out the detail in the dress.

Because the light is higher than the subject’s head, we also get the advantage of lighting up the hair nicely.

In the next example, we look at the same scene with and without the use of a reflector.

Without Reflector

Gold Reflector to Camera Left

As you can see, even if you are on a budget and can’t afford a multiple light setup yet, you can still create great images with just a single flash and a adding a reflector greatly increases your versatility.

Start off with a simple setup and learn to use it to it’s full advantage before trying to complicate things with multiple light sources. You also don’t need a big studio either, all of these shots were shot in the exact same location which was no more than ten feet wide and deep.

To wrap this up, here are a couple more shots that were also done with just a single light.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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4 Responses

  1. Paul Scubapauly Simister says:

    It's funny I started with 2 studio strobes and now only really every use a speedlight and softbox 🙂

  2. lvacs says:

    These are beautiful with only single light shots.

  3. Yes, amazing things are possible with very little kit. I find bouncing the light off a white reflector gives a much softer effect if using only one light. A large piece of card or white sheet will do the job !!

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