How to Create Simple but Dramatic Light in a Portrait on Location

Dramatic lighting is a popular way to grab a viewer's attention and stop people scrolling. It's also often popular with clients which is far more important!

When I get the freedom to light a scene how I like, I often opt for more dramatic setups. That is, I like high-contrast lighting that guides the eye and adds to the story of the image. This way of setting up lighting is simultaneously easy and difficult. In many situations, dramatic lighting is easy: don't use many lights, and keep the ones you do use, narrow.

The thing is, that only gets you so far and it can also produce rather underwhelming results. Now, when I decide I want dramatic lighting, I walk a far different path and replicate cinematography where possible. I will typically start with a key light and then from there, I start layering in other lights, particularly practicals which completely change a scene. Finally, I will add some reflectors or blackout fabric to control the light further.

Even in my most complex lighting setups, I will always start with a simple foundation and this video by Jiggie Alejandrino is a great example of that sort of starting point. If you're looking at adding some different lighting styles to your arsenal, try this!

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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