Get stunning portraits with just one light

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
Creative indoor portrait ideas

Part two: Neon photography (opens in new tab)
Part three: Slit lighting effect
(opens in new tab)Part four: Direct flash
(opens in new tab)Part five: Shutter drag (opens in new tab)

Portrait photography hasn't been easy for most of this year. Lockdowns and restrictions on meeting others outside of your bubble can make it tricky to find suitable subjects to shoot.

However, here's five portrait ideas from pro photographer Tom Calton (opens in new tab) that you can easily try out for yourself within the comfort and warmth of your own home. All you need to follow along is your camera and a simple off-camera flash setup.

“But who will I photograph?” I hear you ask. These techniques are so simple that you don’t need the help of a professional model to capture great-looking results. Your roommates, parents, children, wife, husband, partner – anyone who is currently living with you is the perfect subject for you to shoot. 

And if you can’t convince anyone to get in front of the camera, or live alone, then there’s always yourself! Simply set up your camera on a tripod and use the self-timer setting (or a shutter-release cable (opens in new tab)) to snap stunning self-portraits.

One-light male portraits

Keep it nice and simple with these beginner-friendly one-light setups. Aside from your camera and flash, you’ll need a wireless trigger (opens in new tab) to link your camera to your flash, so that when you press the shutter button everything fires together. 

Some flashguns are able to connect without any additional equipment, so always check your user manual first. Once you’re connected, you’ll also need a light stand to hold your flash in place.

Using a light modifier (opens in new tab) isn't necessary for these setups, but using some sort of softbox or beauty dish will help to diffuse (soften) the light created by your flash for a much more flattering result. 

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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1. Butterfly lighting

So-called because of the butterfly-shaped shadow that it creates under the model’s nose, for this setup you’ll need to position the light directly in front and raised above your model, angling the light downwards onto their face. The result is an even light that’s suitable for any subject.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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2. Loop lighting

For this setup the flash is raised above the model, with the flash head pointing down onto their face. The light should then be positioned 45 degrees to either side of them, causing the far side of their face to fall into shadow for a more moody look.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
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3. Split lighting

This setup effectively splits the model’s face into two distinctive areas of light and shadow. Start by placing the light 90 degrees from your model, and raise it up so that the light is flat on and only illuminating one side of the face.

Read more: 

Best studio lighting kits
(opens in new tab)Best 85mm lenses for portraits (opens in new tab)
Portrait photographers to follow this year (opens in new tab)
Home photography ideas (opens in new tab)

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