1 Light Beauty Portrait Setup

I have a lot of respect for photographers who solely focus on beauty imagery. It’s definitely a skillset that I’ve been honing over the past few years, but ultimately one that I’ve come to develop an appreciation for. However, beauty photography does not have to be terribly difficult. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create beautiful beauty lighting with a single studio strobe and a reflector.

Anyone who knows me, or my body of work, can tell you that I love simplicity. I don’t like lugging around a ton of gear. I try to minimize the amount of lights used to light my images – usually, I’ll opt for a single light. I actually don’t mind, not having an assistant on set. It strips away portrait, fashion and beauty photography to its core essence, which is working with your subject to capture the imagery you envision.

When it comes to beauty photography, I’ve never really seen a good concrete definition that I was content with, so I’m going to try to make up my own. To me, beauty photography is:

A portrait that primarily focuses on emphasizing a women’s beauty in the most alluring way possible to showcase said beauty.

When you think of beauty photography, your brain should automatically recall the images that you see in Sephora, MAC, or behind the Macy’s beauty counter. That doesn’t mean that your subject needs a ton of makeup in order to showcase her beauty! She could just be showcasing her natural beauty.

For this setup, Westcott was kind enough to let me try their new Rapid Box Beauty Dish. It literally just hit the market, so I was really excited to put it to use. It’s a collapsible 24” 16-Panel white beauty dish that fits in a small tote bag. What’s not to like? I’ve mounted that modifier onto a Profoto D1 500w, placed 45-degrees above my subject.

Below my subject's face, I’m using a Rogue Super Soft Silver Reflector, to bounce light back into my subject’s face in order to lighten any shadows the BD does not fill in. And that’s about it!

I’ve opted to open up my aperture to it’s widest value, in this case, that’s f/2.8, since I’m using the Tamron 90mm f/2.8. This allows me to focus in on the eyes and blur the edges of the face in a beautiful manner.

Prior to filming this tutorial, I used this same setup to shoot an editorial for a large publication, which conveniently rhymes with Yell. I’ll be sure to post those images below, once they’re released in the magazine.

All in all, this makes for a really easy replicable lighting setup you can easily create at home.


Canon 5D Mark III w/ Tamron 90mm f/2.8

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Maybe this is just semantics and maybe not, but since you are introducing light- not just natural light, but specifically aimed and specular light through a modifier that is amplifying it, i.e. a silver bounce- would your one light set up really be considered "one light"? I personally see it as a 2 light setup. (And in the video, you have a profoto aimed at the background, so this would be a 3 light set up, no?)

Valid points.

That said, this is a standard "butterfly lighting" setup w/o a hairlight and with an added bg light.

Typically, I'd chalk things up to semantics... But there's a single "light source" on set. Without that light source, the reflector could not reflect light and therefore shouldn't be considered a light source.

A reflector reflects light and is considered a modifier of light, which is why when you are purchasing one, they're listed under "modifiers and reflectors" and not under studio lights.

So, no.... This is a one light setup.

Later in the video, I do mention using the second light with a gel to turn it into a 2 light setup. :)

While you are using a primary light source (the strobe), another source (the modifier) is taking that light and creating a secondary auxiliary light source at a location opposite the main (As a silver reflector, it's not only taking that light, and amplifying it into another light that's more specular than the original)

So technically, shouldn't this be considered a two-light setup using a single key light source? (Case in point: Does a wind turbine generate energy, or does the wind generate it? Or do they both create energy in tandem?)

The only reason i brought anything up was because the title seemed just a teeny bit misleading to me, because i thought it was going to explain how to shoot with one singular light source, when in effect, it's more than one source. A great article, like all your other articles on FS, but the title threw me a little.

I'd say that's a bad example. If you have a wind machine... that's your studio strobe. Why? Because it's converting a resource into a usable energy. In this case, that example is light. The studio strobe is converting energy into light. The modifier isn't.

I get your point... A better analogy would have been:

"JEFF ROJAS TRAVELED WITH 12 PEOPLE WITH ONE CAR!" and then you see a video of my car pulling a trailer filled with 7 other people..... Regardless of your disposition and semantics... There is ONLY one car pulling the trailer of all 12 people.

Is it wrong? Not technically.
Did you read the article? Absolutely.
Did I do my job as a writer? Yep.

You read my article, interacted with it..... and now you and I are best friends. :D


p.s. "1-LIGHT, A REFLECTOR, AND AN OPTIONAL SECOND LIGHT." wouldn't have made a very compelling title. :P

It's still one light source. How you manipulate and bounce that light is a different story. And knowing how to mold one light source to your needs is a sign of experience and expertise. I know when I shoot weddings and only have one light source (a window usually) I want to be able to utilize it for lots of different looks and knowing how is key.

The background light was an after-thought to the instruction. :)

Short, Sharp, to the point. Thanks for the article!

Thanks for reading / watching! :)

Wow what a thinly veiled advertisement.

Did you learn anything?

Jeff, well done. You always share helpful stuff. Going to check out that super soft Rogue reflector.

Thanks for watching! :D

How far back did you have to get from the model to get f2.8? Whenever I use my Tamron 90mm, I can't get less than f3ish because f2.8 only seems to be at infinity focus.

Great question... I'm usually back around 3ft for most portraits. Any closer than that and I feel like I'm invading someone's personal space. lol