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Tips & Tricks

Changing The Look Of a Portrait With One Light In Different Positions | Joel Grimes

By Chris Nachtwey on October 21st 2014

When it comes to lighting a portrait, the techniques you can apply seem limitless. Personally, I’m a minimalist and like using one light whenever I can. The problem with using one light is a lot of times you are left with areas of shadows. Now, if that’s the look you’re going for, have at it, but if you need a clean well-lit beauty portrait, using one light can seem challenging at first. But with the help of a reflector and changing the position of your main light, you can create a few different looks quickly and easily.


In the Westcott sponsored video below, Joel Grimes shows us how to use one light (disregard the light he uses for the background, it has nothing to do with the portrait lighting) and a reflector to create a simple, yet beautiful portrait. He also explains how changing the location of your light up or down can have a huge impact on the final look of your image.




When it comes to basic lighting, the technique Joel shows us is an essential one to have in your bag of tricks. Clamshell lighting, as some like to call it, is actually simple and affordable for anyone in a small studio or out in the field. I like how Joel walks us through the difference between using the light alone and then with a white reflector. The reflector is great because it will help to fill in the shadows under the models chin and eyes and give your image the look of having a fill light, when all you really used was a reflector as you can see in the comparison below.


As Joel shows us in the video, the position of your light either up or down in relation to your subject can have a big effect on how your final portrait looks as well. Personally, I like Joel’s choice of having the softbox right on top of his camera, but any of the positions can make for a great portrait.



Final Images



As I said, this is a simple-to-do lighting set up that is essential to learn. It comes in handy ,not only beauty portraits, but you could use it for headshots, seniors, or any portrait really. I really enjoyed Joel showing us how the height of the light can greatly affect the outcome, and thought it was a great video showing you what you can do with one light in almost any space. Remember you don’t always need a ton of gear to create great portraits!

Via: Westcott YouTube Page

Images captured via screen grab. 

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jason Bodden

    One of my favourite tutorials. Joel is so down to earth as well as an amazing photographer.

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    This is a simple but an amazing small lighting course on how simple techniques can improve your portrait work. I love to download his videos and watch them at night for increasing my learning curve!

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    Nice tutorial Joel its always worth learning from you

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  4. Mircea Blanaru

    Great tips! I liked a lot the article!!!

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  5. Gjergji Bullari

    Actually Joel is using two lights. One in the octa and the other for the background. The title its a little misleading.

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    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      He did explain why, he only needed it for the glow in the background but the tutorial was the effect the front light had on the models face.

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  6. Brian Stalter

    Joel is one of my favorites to listen to. I feel like I can connect with him quite easily – and he got me to think of myself more as an artist, not just a photographer.

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  7. Steven Pellegrino

    I love watching and learning from Joel Grimes. He’s obviously passionate about his work and not afraid to try new things. He makes lighting so much easier to learn and a lot less intimidating!

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