You might be surprised at how versatile a two-light setup can be. We teamed up with Lee Morris and Patrick Hall from Fstoppers to bring you quick and easy lighting techniques that you can start using right away. In this video, we’re going to walk you through three easy two-light setups that are wonderful for studio portraiture.

Watch the Video for 3 Easy 2-Light Setups Below

Portrait Lighting Style 1: Flat Lighting with Depth

You can change light direction as you see fit when working with flash and strobes, but having a general fill and adding light directly to your subject helps create a bit more depth in your scene, especially when you’re working in a studio. Flat Lighting is one of the most flattering light directions, adding in light to fill in shadows on the face and bringing an overall brightness to the image.

Step 1 – Position Your Lights

To create natural, pleasant shadows just under the nose and chin, simply place the light just to the side of your camera position and elevate your light source. If the light source is placed too low in relation to your subject, you can get shadows in unnatural places. Think “campfire scary” uplighting.

Step 2 – Minimize Light Spill

If you find that the light is falling all over the place, you can focus your light direction by adding a grid and zoom dish. For this image, we used a Profoto B10 with a zoom reflector and a 60-degree grid.

Step 3 – Adjust Your Flash Power Settings

After you’ve positioned your light source where you want it, take a few test shots to dial in your power settings.

Step 4 – Add Fill Light

While the main or key light will be used to chisel out your subject’s face, we’re going to add a second light source in a large soft box to fill in the shadows a bit and balance out the light that’s falling on our subject. I placed the second light source near the first light so that the light and shadows would fall in a similar fashion. The fill light should only add a touch of light to the scene and not add distracting new shadows and highlights.

portrait lighting style with two lights Pye before and after flat lighting
Single light source on the left image with a second light added for fill light in the right image.

[Related Reading: 5 Primary Light Patterns and Their Purposes]

Portrait Lighting Style 2: Seamless Beauty Dish Style Flat Light with Two Strip Boxes

This next setup uses two soft light sources with two Profoto strip boxes.

Step 1 – Position Your Lights

Patrick has placed both strip boxes close to the subject to minimize shadows and create a nice light fall off, leaving a nice highlight on the front of the face with a soft shadow gradient toward the back of the face.

Step 2 – Test Your First Light & Adjust Settings

Our first shot with a soft light just to the left of our subject creates a pleasant, soft-lit portrait, but adding the second light will really knock out the shadows for a soft, seamless portrait. The final result looks almost like we used a beauty light.

two light portrait lighting with two strip boxes for seamless flat lighting
Single light source used in the left image with a second light source added to the opposite side in the right image.

Step 3 – Add in Second Light Source & Adjust Settings

To achieve this look, the power ratio between the two light sources will typically be set 1:1 (assuming your using two light sources with the same power output).

Portrait Lighting Style 3: Standard Clamshell Lighting

Like the previous setup, this portrait lighting style will use two light sources side by side, but this time above one another in a clamshell setup.

Step 1 – Position Your Lights

While the previous light achieved uniformity and symmetry, this set up will look a bit different. Lee positioned two Profoto Softbox RFi 3′ Octas (reflective umbrellas) next to each other, or rather one over the other, and placed them close to the subject. Here’s what it looks like using just the top light.

clamshell lighting using only a single light source before shot
A single light source was placed above and just to the front of the subject

As you can see, using a single light overhead creates plenty of dark shadows. While the light direction looks okay, the detail beneath the subject’s chin has been lost in the darkness. By adding a second light below the original light source, we can fill in those shadows.

[Related Reading: Complete Guide to Lighting Modifiers & When to Use Them]

Step 2 – Vary the power output between the two light sources

If the power is set to the same level for both lights, we’re left with more uplighting than downlighting (see the image below).

downlighting dominates the clamshell look when both lights are set to equal power
This portrait features a clamshell setup with equal power output from both light sources

Instead, when we lower the bottom light source by four additional stops of light, we get a much more pleasant looking portrait (see the image below). You can still see the shadows under the nose, but we’ve opened them up and created more depth with directional lighting as opposed to the seamless lighting style shared in setup #2.

Clamshell lighting before and after with power adjustments
A single overhead light source was used on the left; the second image features a clamshell setup with varying power output

Conclusion

The three setups above illustrate how diverse and easy-to-use a two-light set up can be. We made quick adjustments to light direction and modification to achieve three distinctly different portraits. If you’re interested in learning more advanced off-camera lighting techniques, be sure to check out our Off-Camera Flash Training System on SLRLoungeWorkshops.com – our comprehensive, A-Z guide to flash photography!