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How to create dramatic portraits with one light.

How to create dramatic portraits with one light.

By Stephen West @stevewest

Until a couple of years ago I just shot natural light pictures, usually of motorcycles, the coffee shop and on occasion, people. When I got hit up to shoot some people modeling some clothes for a barbershop, I knew natural light wasn’t going to cut it.


They were needing to be shot on white seamless and studio lighting was called for. I used to teach graphic design and went to the photo dept head who gave me a crash course on what I needed to do. After the shoot was done, I was hooked on studio lighting.

From then on I started getting some gear here and there as I went along. One of the challenges was understanding light and how to use it. I started going thru online videos and some photography friends were happy to come explain the mechanics to me.


I started with a couple flashes and picked up some modifiers. As time went on I would have people come over for me to shoot and practice on. One of the best pieces I got was a 7’ parabolic umbrella with a diffuser. I’ve gotten comfortable with it and it’s always within reach in the studio or on location.

These are a few images I did using the 7’ parabolic umbrella and diffuser with a Profoto B2. As I was shooting I decided to try out placing it behind and above my subject. I did this to see what kind of light wrap I would get and how it would also hit my background. I knew it would wrap nice but I was smitten with how much as well as how it affected my backdrop.

On a couple I kept the bounce light out by blocking off my subject with an 8’ piece of black foam core attached to my c-stand opposite the light. These were shot with Sony A7Sii and Sony 50/1.4 as well as Zeiss Batis 85mm.

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