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Tips & Tricks

Using One Light & An Umbrella For Fashion Photography

By Miguel Quiles on March 18th 2016

If you spend any amount of time browsing the internet for fashion lighting setups, you’ll inevitably run into content showing complicated & elaborate configurations. Early on, I had the impression that it just wasn’t possible to create the looks I saw in magazines unless I used a lot of lights and expensive modifiers. In my quest for simplicity and results, I stumbled upon this simple, one light setup using the unlikeliest (at least for me) of lighting modifiers; the silver bounce umbrella.

As I demonstrate in the video, the setup for these shots is quite easy. I placed a single strobe (a Phottix Indra 500) with a 40′ silver bounce umbrella to my right side, slightly higher than my model. My camera settings were at f/11, 1/125, 160, and I dialed my power/ISO up or down to get the exact look I wanted. The backdrop used here was a collapsible made by Savage Paper called “Lakeside”, which added to the rich look I wanted for this shot.

The key to this setup is getting the model to be close enough to the backdrop where they both get enough light. For this scenario, I had her sit about a foot away from the background which yielded the ratio I wanted. The other important thing is to use a longer focal length that gives you a nice compression to your image. Earlier on in this shoot, I tried to capture this look using a 24-70mm lens, and even at the longer end of the lens, I could still see the edges of the backdrop. Fortunately, I had the newly announced Sony 85mm 1.4 G-Master lens in my bag and quickly found that it was just the right focal length to get the shot. In retrospect, I probably could have had a little more flexibility if I shot this with a 70-200mm lens, but you work with what you have.

While large beauty dishes and octas are all the rage in fashion photography these days, I hope that this encourages you to try out other lighting modifiers. You never know when you’ll find one that will contribute to your signature look.

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Miguel Quiles is a commercial wedding & portrait photographer based out of New Jersey. He’s been involved in the photography industry for over 15 years, starting off first as a salesman at a local camera store. Since that time, Miguel has been refining his skills and pushing the limits of his creative abilities through the medium of photography.

As a self-taught photographer, Miguel hopes to share his experience and knowledge with new and upcoming photographers who wish to take their work to the next level.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Henson

    Beautiful! One of my go-to modifiers is a cheap diffused umbrella I got years ago. Best $11 I ever spent! :)

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  2. Justin Haugen

    Love this set Miguel and the information! Great makeup too, she’s stunning.

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  3. Raoni Franco

    Nice breakdown Miguel, thanks! Any chance we can take a look at one of these images without the editing? I aks because I have a very hard time getting that pop and contrast in the lighting with umbrellas, so I would like to know how much of it is achieved in post. Thanks!

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  4. robert raymer

    It is amazing what you can do with so little. While you are right that it is often surprising at how complex many lighting set ups are, what I have found just as amazing is how many amazing images and photographers actually use very minimal lighting. One light (even if it is just the sun) can be very effective if you know how to control it.

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  5. Bob McCormac

    Thanks for sharing your setup for this great shot. I’ll be trying it as soon as possible!

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