Simple Lighting Techniques - Part 1

Last week I had the opportunity to take some portrait shots for the web site. I was lucky enough to work with a really nice local model, Sam Godden-Wood who has worked for some famous photographers and clients. I used my friend Chris Reeve’s studio, well equipped with Bowen’s lights and accessories. I also used some of my own bits and pieces. My aim was to produce a series of shots, showing how they were taken, using basic accessories with no more than two lights.

I thought this would be a good idea, as I get such a lot of questions about how to take certain shots or what can be done with just a soft box and brolly. So over the next few weeks I will show you how you can take head and shoulders or even full length portrait shots with just two heads.

As you probably know, the ‘high key’ style of photography is very popular at the moment, you know, everything shot against a bleached out white background.

Most photographers shooting this style would use perhaps three or even four lights, two to ‘white out’ the background and maybe another two for the subject. I thought that I would start this series of pictures by showing you an easy way to do this using just two lights, one with a brolly and one with a small 60x60cm soft box, basic accessories you get in Bowens kits and most other lighting kits on the market these days.

To take this shot, set up one light with the 60x 60cm soft box or similar size and stand or sit your subject in front of it, it’s just big enough for one adult or a child. Next, set up the second light with the brolly, this will be our main light. Adjust this light so that it is above the subject and a little to one side, I’ve done a simple diagram for you to follow. As for the exposure it will depend on the hair colour of the subject. So with the soft box turned off, just adjust the main light with the brolly so that you can shoot at around f8 to f11, then turn on the soft box and adjust it to between 1 to 11/2 stops less. Take some test shots and either increase or decrease the power of the soft box, until you get a nice clean high key portrait.

Lighting Set-up

Lighting Set-up


Here are some examples that I shot.

You can’t really get this one wrong can you? It’s such an easy portrait shot to take and ideal for kids. The brolly works well here as a main light because of its soft diffused output and wide coverage, giving a very natural ambient light. You will also notice it gives lovely round catch lights in the eyes. The soft box can be controlled to give more or less light, so you can easily experiment by turning up the power and ‘blowing’ out the background slightly burning out the edges of the subject. Taking pictures of people with light coloured hair works really well for that type of shot.

The nice thing about this shot is that it can be taken with most lighting kits on the market today. I used two Bowens Esprit Gemini 500’s, one with the 60x60cm soft box and the other head with a standard brolly, but you could get the same result with 250’s or even 125’s.

I hope that you try out this simple method of shooting high key. I know it’s only for one person, but I will be moving on to taking other head and shoulder shots, full length and group shots later in the series. Why not drop me an email and let me know how you got on, or to ask me any questions you have about lighting.

Good Luck,


My thanks to Chris at ReeveBanks photography for his help and coffee making skills and to Sam Gooden-Wood for putting up with me for a day and also to Chris’s assistant Mark, for all his help.