How to Shoot a Dramatic One-Light Portrait

One of the best things a portrait photographer can do is learn how to master a single off-camera light. Most photo shoots don’t allow enough time to set up multiple lights, and when shooting on location, carrying more than one light can be too cumbersome to manage. In this video, we see a very useful way to use one off-camera flash with some simple modifiers to create a dramatic portrait.

The first thing Aaron Anderson does is set up his Elinchrom studio light with a 53-inch octabox. In order to control the light and create a shadow across the camera right side of the subject's face, Anderson uses a black flag. Because the light is close to the subject, we have a very nice and soft light, but we also get a very quick light falloff. To combat this, Anderson uses a white card to camera left to reflect some of the light and fill in some of the shadows. The closer the white card is to the subject, the more filled in the shadows will be. 

As an added bonus, Anderson also shares his step-by-step post-processing for this image in the video below. 

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4 Comments

aaronbratkovics's picture

Thanks for the share =]

Seth Lowe's picture

Great advice.. subtractive light is not widely taught or encouraged in photography, but it makes such a huge difference. Thanks for sharing!

Dave McDermott's picture

I'm a big fan of dramatic portraits and I found this to be very useful, especially the photoshop tutorial.

Teresa Carnuccio's picture

Thank you so much for this article. I had never seen a flag used that way and I think it's really key to achieving that look. I'll try this setup soon :)