One Light for Portraits: You Can Do It!

When you’re shooting people on location, you have to be able to work fast and move quickly. I work without an assistant and that means that I need to be able to do everything myself. This almost forces me to use a single light for most of my sessions so I’m not spending all of my time running around and positioning lights, adjusting them, and so on.

As the King of OneLight shooting Mr. Zack Arias has proven so well, you can make excellent photographs with just one light. Execution is far more important than size and power, so that’s why I shoot with hot shoe flashes (speedlights) instead of an AC powered moonlight like the Alien Bees B800.

I prefer speedlights over moonlights for a couple of reasons. Their lighter, require less gear, and I can still get a lot of light out of them without having to lug around a heavy light and an even heavier power pack.

So how do I do it? It’s pretty easy actually. My current favorite light modifier combo for lighting my environment and shooting large groups is my Westcott 60” reversible umbrella and my Lastolite TriFlash. I put three hot shoe flashes on the TriFlash and shoot them through the umbrella. I can get quite a bit of light and fast recycle times without having to wait until nearly sunset to do so.

For the shot above, I shot at f 5.6, 1/200th of a second, and ISO 100 with my D90. I had my SB800 and (2) SB80DX flashes all set at ½ power. I also left the diffusion domes on the flashes to further soften the light. I use the umbrella as a shoot-through because it gives a nice falloff of light without casting a shadow, as it would do when using it reflectively. I placed the light on camera right, slightly above my subjects. Another trick when shooting groups is point the center of the umbrella toward the far end of your group. This will feather the light a bit and your group will be lit more evenly.

So there’s a quick, easy lesson in how to light a large group of people with only one light, and pull it off! I would much rather haul around a few speedlights and a heavy moonlight and power pack, so this really works to my advantage. Remember, if you execute well, it doesn’t matter what kind of gear you’re using.

Have a great week!

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