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Tips & Tricks

Three Ways to Create Dramatic Portraits with One Hard Light

By Hanssie on February 22nd 2016

Light is a controllable element that can help you to create any type of image you want. From the light and airy quality of natural light during golden hour to the dramatic and detailed portraits that hard light can bring, using and modifying light can help change your image from ordinary to extraordinary! In this video, Pye will show you three flash techniques to help you create dramatic, environmental portraits that will wow your clients using only one hard light.


Three Ways to Create Dramatic Portraits with One Hard Light

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Gear Used:

Scene 1

In the first scene, Pye wanted to shoot wide and feature the beautiful sky and the complex tidepools to get a great environmental portrait. First, he dials in the appropriate ambient exposure, and places the couple to the left of the scene, while the sun comes in on the right. He takes the image, but the couple is too dark and blends into the scenery.

To draw the viewer’s eyes to the couple, he brightens them using a Profoto B2. He places the Profoto 7″ Reflector on the light to direct the light output where he wants it to go. Pye’s assistant stands opposite of the sun to pop some light onto the couple.

Taking the first and second images from this scene, Pye blends them in post to get one beautifully lit, dramatic portrait.


Scene 2

In the second scene, Pye wants to freeze the motion of the waves, so he bumps up the ISO to keep the shutter a bit quicker. The Profoto B2 (with the Profoto 7″ Reflector) is set at full power since his assistant will be further away from the couple than in scene 1.

Using the sun as a backlight and the Profoto as the main light, Pye balances the ambient light to provide a little fill, so it reaches the shadows and helps freeze the motion to create this stunning portrait.


*Note* – For these types of scenes when you use hard light, you really need to work with posing the couple because you have hard highlights, deep shadows and not a lot of transition. Hard light can chisel out your subjects so having your couple kiss or dip can help them stand out.

Scene 3

In this final scene, Pye noticed the mist in the air and decided he wanted to backlight it. Taking the reflector off the Profoto B2 and hiding the light behind the couple on a Manfrotto Nano Stand, he was able to create this striking image that draws a viewer’s eye to the couple in a halo of light and a breathtaking backdrop.


Conclusion & More Info

I hope you enjoyed this article and video. If you want to learn more about mastering single source off camera light, then be sure to check out Lighting 201. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to SLR Lounge’s Youtube Channel for more videos like these!

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Cary McCaughey

    Love blending scenes with flash. Love flash. Love SLR Lounge :-)

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  2. Ant Motton

    I can see a set of steps in the first picture that I’m pretty sure they would of come down, also in that top picture I love how the light spilling out enhances the waves at the bottom of the image…I’m sure you’re able to do this wider shot with a smaller off camera flash (SB900 for example) and not have to splash out on 2.5k worth of B2s but it’s a great example, what ever the light source! (here’s my example with an SB900 and ambient light !! ;) )

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    • Unknown Unknown

      I wonder why everybody is going crazy for these overpriced Profoto flashes when you can get a Godox Witstro, which has basically the same features, for a fraction of the price.

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  3. Bill Bentley

    Nice skies, but Pye must have incredible powers of persuasion to get that couple to walk on those slippery rocks and get their clothes wet with salt water. I know the article is about lighting the portrait but the foreground in the first two images pretty much defeats all the effort to get the shot. Maybe I need to see them in full size.

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    • Chad DiBlasio

      Bill, have you ever heard him talk? He’s got the buttery smoothness that makes a woman in white gloves want a ketchup popscicle!! ;)

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