Lighting 201: B.Y.O.L | The 3-Light Setup That Only Requires One Light

If you are coming to this party, you better B.Y.O.L (bring your one light), this will most likely only make sense once you watch the intro to this video, but you get the general idea.


Carrying multiple light stands, strobes, and modifiers can be cumbersome, and most times you may not have the help to set it all up in an efficient manner. In our Lighting 101 & 201 workshops, we’ve discussed a diverse selection of lighting tools and modifiers that can be used to create unique & dynamic images. In this specific instance, we use one off-camera light source and position our model just so, to replicate a 3-light setup.


Find your Light Direction

What was working for us in the scene above was the location of the sun and direction of light. Ideally, we place our subjects with their back facing the sun to get a rim light around the edges of their bodies, in doing so, however, this forces us to bump up our settings up to compensate for the dark scene, eventually blowing out detail in the background. We situated our model in a way that her back was to the sun which gave us this edge light surrounding her.


Although the front of her body is completely underexposed, there is still a slight amount of fill light being brought into the scene coming from the ground, essentially acting like a reflector. These are our two light sources, one from the back and one from the front, giving us the best use of natural light for our scene and composition.

The One Light We Chose To Bring

We needed major power in order to combat the heavy shadows – enter the Volt DB22’s. We used two of them, triggered by a PocketWizard Plus III to overpower the sun in the scene, setup with a single battery pack on my BoomStick. Since we didn’t want harsh, specular highlights on our model, we modified the light with a Profoto 3′ RFi Octa Softbox. Obviously, this isn’t the only option available for a shot that requires this much power here are some alternatives:
Profoto B1 500 AirTTL
Profoto B2 250 Air TTL
AlienBees™ B800 Flash Unit
Phottix Mitros+ TTL – You will most likely need 3-4 of these to reach the same amount of power as the alternatives listed.

With two Volt DB22s, we’re shooting at around 1/2 power. If you’re using the Profoto B2, you’re going to be shooting 1/1 power unless you have two of them stacked. Either way, you’re going to need roughly 250 to 500 watts second of light for a shot like this, especially since we are using it in conjunction with the Softbox, diffusing our light power.

Camera Gear & Settings

The question may arise as to why we chose to use more light power instead of adjusting our exposure settings. In order to get a highly compressed background we chose to use the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS lens, however, this type of compression can easily be achieved using a Canon, Nikon, or Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens as well. The front lens opening of the Sigma 120-300mm was a bit too large for the ND filters in our stock (recently we have been using the Tiffen 4 x 4″ Full Spectrum IRND 1.5 Filter) and therefore high-speed-sync wasn’t an option. After stopping down to f/7.1, we reached our sync speed and achieved great sharpness while maintaining the illusion of compression.

Canon 5D Mark III with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 - 1/200th of a second, ISO 50, f/7.1
Canon 5D Mark III with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 – 1/200th of a second, ISO 50, f/7.1

Dropping our ISO down to 50 gives us the dynamic range we require out of the ambient light and background of the image, while still retaining 1/200th of a second to retain sync speed. Ambient light exposure looked great. Again, I’m shooting kind of down on her just a little bit, so that I’m not getting any of the sky behind her. We’re not blowing out the highlights and we’re letting the existing shadows remain exactly how they appear in the scene.

For more lighting tips & techniques check out Lighting 201 in the SLR Lounge store, or stream this workshop and more in our library of photography and post-production education as an SLR Lounge Premium member.