How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits

We’ve all seen the usual studio set up –  beautifully crisp white light, maybe some strobes, diffusers, and other things of the sort. However, what can you do beyond that to make your portraits stand out? Add some color! In this article, learn how to use colored gels to add some spice to your images.

musician portrait with pink background - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Colored gels are filters that go on your light in order to change the output color. They are usually sold at photography stores and clamped onto your lights. They range in size, thickness, color cast, and most importantly, price. Be very mindful of how hot your lights are because we’ve had gels melt on the set before during long sessions (such as music videos). 

However, you can also make your own colored gels using cellophane and tape. Just take some really saturated cellophane from a local party or art store and wrap them around your softbox or LED light (so long as the LED runs cold and won’t melt the plastic paper) and fasten with tape.

This may not look like the most professional setup, but I suppose that matters little so long as the final outcome is fantastic!

spooky photo with double exposures - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

There are limitless possibilities with gels. In regard to color combinations, I suggest making sure all of your gels are saturated the same in order to match with one another (and not become a headache in the editing room later).

Here are some of my favorite gel lighting arrangements to create some new and unique imagery. As a personal preference, I use continuous light, but the same can be achieved with studio strobes or speedlights.

One Color Gel Setup

The simplest and most traditional gel lighting look. There isn’t any fancy setup for this look, you can photograph your model in any fashion and just replace the white light with a color. Make sure your colored gel is really vibrant or the image may fall flat. 

portrait of a girl with amber gel - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Play with distance, shutter speed, and some light post-processing to see how far you can get the light to spread. That can add a unique and unexpected twist to your one-light setup!

A good use of the one color set up is backlighting! Take your light and place it behind the subject.

backlighting with gels - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Double Colored Gel Setup

My personal favorite is the double colored gel setup. All this requires is two lights, each gelled with different colors. Set them to the side of your model and watch the magic happen!

The division can be very eye-catching and intriguing.

model with red and green lights - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Be mindful of your model’s physical structure. You want to make sure that the color division hits the proper place. Aim for the lighting to (generally) divide right at the center of the nose (split lighting).

Tri-Color Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

You can go as intense with colors as you like, but when I do three color looks, I like one of those colors to be white. The white softens the whole look and doesn’t make it overly exaggerated.

However, if you prefer a color, I suggest placing a lighter color in the center of your arrangement and the darker colors on the sides.

portrait with 3 colors of light - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

For three color looks, my favorite arrangement is the traditional triangle light setup. This includes one light in front of the subject and two lights at the sides.

Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can set up the two side lights behind the model and just turn them towards the model. That keeps the light from being too harsh. For a more intense look, place the lights directly at the model’s sides.

lighting diagram - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Rim Light Colored Gel Setup

girl with rim lighting - How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Always a very dramatic and edgy look, using gels for rim lights can bring a bit of flair to your portraits. It does depend on your model’s structure as to where you place the lights. What I do is set up a white light in front of the model and two colored gels on lights to the side pointed forward.

The best colors I’ve found for the rim light look are purples, blues, reds, and greens – oranges tend to get a bit lost with the white light.

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Background Light Gel Setup

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

The quickest way to liven up any location is to aim some lights with colored gels attached toward the background wall.

You can photograph your subject in any traditional studio light manner, and just shoot two gelled lights to the back wall. This allows your subject to be really well separated from the background (something we always strive for in studio photography).

How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Lighting

Now go out there and play with colors!

The post How to use Colored Gels to Create Unique and Creative Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photos

In this 7-minute video, photographer Craig Beckta has 5 tips that will help improve your portrait photos drastically.

#1 Use Off-Camera Flash

“The larger the light source and the closer it is to your subject, the softer the light,” says Beckta. He also prefers to use round softboxes, as it creates a round catchlight similar to that which you can expect from the sun.

For more on this topic read:

#2 Use Different Lighting Patterns

Moving your light source around and adjusting the angles and modifiers allows you to change the pattern of light. Some lighting patterns are more flattering for particular situations, but changing the lighting pattern throughout a shoot means that you have more options available to you back in the editing room.

Read 6 Portrait Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know

#3 Direct Your Subjects

Even with experienced models, it is “important that you give them subtle directions.” After all, the model can’t see what you can see as the photographer. Keeping good direction over the shoot keeps you in control creatively, and dialogue between yourself and the model can only be a good thing to keep everyone comfortable.

Check out our dPS printable posing guides for more ideas.

#4 Think About the Background

A wide aperture will allow you to blur the background, but be careful that there aren’t distracting objects intersecting your subject.

#5 Watch Your Exposure

Be careful with your exposure. There’s nothing worse than coming home from a shoot and finding the highlights are blown out or the shadows lost. Beckta runs through his entire process with regards to monitoring his exposure during a shoot.

Over to you

What do you think? Do you have any other tips for portrait photography?

The post 5 Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School.

3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

You’ve probably heard that the absolute best time for taking gorgeous portraits is before sunset at golden hour. I love the golden hour as much as the next photographer. But I’m also a mom, and I know the importance of being able to capture photographs of your kids throughout day-to-day life, not just when the lighting conditions are ideal.

Let’s face it – birthday parties, parades, celebrations, and field trips often happen in the middle of the day when the light is harsh and more difficult to work with. How do you capture those special midday moments?!

kids eating popsicles - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

You can absolutely take amazing photos of your kids no matter the time of day! In this article, I’ll share three quick and easy tips for those times when you want to capture memories and are photographing kids in harsh lighting conditions.

1. Find or Make Some Shade

One of the easiest ways to approach photographing kids in harsh lighting conditions is to find or make some open shade.

If you’re outdoors, look for a group of trees, a small hill, a tall building, or even part of a play structure that can provide you with a bit of shade for your photo. When you’re looking at the shadows on the ground, try to find a patch of shade that doesn’t have “hot spots” of sunlight mixed in with the shade. Mottled light is generally not the most flattering type of light for photographs.

If you aren’t able to find open shade, you can also create it. I’ve used everything from a sun hat to a couple of friends holding a beach towel in the air to create a small patch of shade for a photo of my kiddos. Be creative!

girl in a watermelon hat - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

2. Find Your Light

Unless you’re shooting right at high noon, the light from the sun will still have some direction to it. If you’re familiar with the circle trick, this is a great time to utilize it so that you can easily visualize the direction of the light.

Snapping photos without taking the direction of light into account often results in lackluster images with squinting subjects and uneven unflattering lighting.

kids squinting in the sun - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

This is an example of what NOT to do when shooting in harsh lighting conditions. See how the girls are squinting and the light is uneven across their faces?

However, spending just a few seconds thinking about the direction of the source of light makes for a much better image in exactly the same location. One simple way that I often communicate this to kiddos is to ask them to stand with their feet pointing towards the head of their shadow.

two girls backlit by the sun - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

Nine times out of ten, this simple instruction quickly orients kids so that the direction of light (backlit) is most flattering. You may still end up with some hot spots across their shoulders and the tops of their heads, but typically the light will be nice and even across their faces, which is really my goal when shooting in harsh light or full sun.

3. Try a Fill Flash

girl backlit with water in the background - 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light

So, what if the background you’re trying to capture doesn’t allow you to orient your child in the best way given the direction of light?

Whether you’re taking photos of a historical landmark or a hometown parade, there is another trick you can utilize in harsh lighting conditions. That is to use your on-camera flash as a fill light to help diffuse any harsh shadows and brighten your subject’s face.

For example, the above image was taken at a local lake. Because of the location of the dock coupled with the time of day, I wasn’t quite able to get the sun all the way behind my daughter, resulting in a bit of a hot spot on the right edge of her face, while the rest of her face is just a bit dark.

If this effect bothers you, give fill flash a try!

This second image (above) was taken at the same time, in the same place. But this time I used my camera’s flash to soften some of the highlights near her face. You’ll notice that the coloring of the water is entirely different when using a fill flash versus without it. Additionally, her eyes seem to have more pop with the flash compared to without it.

Whether or not to use fill flash in harsh lighting conditions is really a matter of aesthetic preference. But it’s certainly worth a try if something feels a bit off when you’re shooting in harsh light.

In a nutshell, don’t be afraid of photographing kids in full sun – it’s easier than you may think. Give it a try, and chime in and share your best images with us below.

The post 3 Tips For Photographing Kids in Harsh Light appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Copper, Prisms, and Orbs, Oh My! – 3 Creative Techniques for People Photography

Have you ever wanted to shake things up a bit when it comes to people photography? Stretch your creative muscles? Try something new and different? Then this article is for you! We’ll explore three easy and relatively inexpensive creative techniques for people photography that will help you step outside the box and have a little fun.

3 Creative Techniques for People Photography - silhouette and a sun flare

One of my favorite techniques – shooting a silhouette with a piece of copper pipe for a little extra added shine.

1. Copper Pipe

A small piece of copper pipe can create a huge bang for your buck when it comes to people photography! My husband is a plumber, and I always ask him to save me spare pieces of copper pipe in different diameters to put to use in my photography.

If you don’t happen to be related to a plumber, head to your local home improvement store, and they’ll be able to cut a piece or two for you. I mostly use pieces that are 1-2″ long, and 1/2″-2″ in diameter.

3 Creative Techniques for People Photography - copper pipe flare two kids photo

From there, things are easy. Simply hold the piece of copper pipe in front of your camera lens as you’re shooting!

Depending on where you and your subject stand in relation to the sun, you’ll create all sorts of different effects ranging from a warm glow to semi-circles that look like they’re on fire. When I use this method I typically prefer to shoot in silhouette, which tends to produce a more defined glowing light.

I use manual focus coupled with Live View mode to more easily adjust the placement of the effect in interesting ways.

silhouette and flare - 3 Creative Techniques for People Photography

2. Glass Orbs

Another fun and unique tool for creating interesting photos of people, is to use a glass orb or crystal ball.

These orbs result in a kind of fish-eye effect that can be really fun in certain instances! I enjoy using these with kiddos, especially those who might need a little help warming up in front of the camera. Because you’re pointing your camera at the orb rather than directly at them, it can be a fun way to ease nervous kids into being in front of the camera.

3 Creative Techniques for People Photography - glass ball kids portrait

The final image is cropped and inverted as the image appearing in the glass orb is upside down.

Keep in mind that anything you photograph in an orb will be flipped upside down, so if you want the person to be right-side-up, you’ll need to adjust that in post-production. On the other hand, sometimes being upside down enhances the creative effect, so don’t be afraid to play around with the orientation to see which you prefer.

Some people prefer to keep the edges of the orb sharp and in focus, while other people prefer to shoot at a wider aperture to blow them out a bit. Again, when it comes to creative applications like this, there’s really no right or wrong way to do things, so feel free to play around and discover what you like.

3. Prisms

Yep, your favorite item from elementary science class can be a really fun tool to implement in photography too! Simply holding a prism directly in front of your lens and turning it as you’re shooting can create a whole variety of effects from subtle to intense.

3 Creative Techniques for People Photography - kid portrait and reflection from a prism

Once again, I typically use manual focus and Live View mode when shooting with prisms.

If you’re new to prisms, it can take a bit of time to learn how to achieve the different effects. Those can range from reflecting your subject to different places in the image (above), projecting small rainbows near your subject (below), to even showing your subject and what’s in front of them at the same time.

I’ve even seen people utilize prisms to show both a bride walking down the aisle and the groom waiting at the same time.

3 Creative Techniques for People Photography - girl laughing

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, copper pipe, glass orbs, and prisms are all really fun options for creative techniques and effects in people photography. All three require a bit of a learning curve, so don’t be afraid to play around and try different things.

You’ll discover what your aesthetic preferences are in no time! Have you tried any in-camera photo effects that you really enjoy? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

The post Copper, Prisms, and Orbs, Oh My! – 3 Creative Techniques for People Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

All you need is love – and the know-how to capture affection in your photos.

Weddings overflow with affection. - Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

One of the big challenges in portrait photography is capturing the elusive aspects of life: feelings, smells, and experiences. It’s difficult because a photograph is limited to two dimensions and a single point in time. It only captures what we can see, but we often want it to do more than that.

To make a good photograph, we want to be able to share a sensation or an experience. Fortunately for us, it’s not completely impossible.

One of the great things about humans is that we have a pretty amazing imagination. We can feel the texture of fur just by seeing a photo of it, we can almost smell the sea when we see an evocative picture of it. The challenge is to take a photograph that’s good enough to make the viewer feel what you want them to.

Affectionate friends. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

In this article, I want to share some tips that can help you capture one of those elusive things – affection. I hope you enjoy the ride!

What is affection?

If done right, affection is easier to explain with a picture than in writing – a picture is worth a thousand words and all that. Let me give it a try, though.

Affection is an expression of love and trust, a kind of comfortable tenderness, a warm and confident gaze that doesn’t need to be returned. It’s strength in selflessness and is a very private experience.

Affection between humans and pets. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Like most other feelings, but perhaps even more so, affection is really hard to fake. It’s often found in the small gestures and mannerisms that have been built over time.

And that’s why it’s so challenging to capture, especially in people you don’t know well.

Sisterly love. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Why try to capture affection?

So you may be thinking, if it’s so difficult, why bother? What’s the point of struggling to capture something that exists in so many more dimensions than a photograph and that is such an intimate feeling?

First of all, the challenge is a good way to develop as a photographer and a human. It gives you the chance to try to capture something essential, positive, that which will one day be the greatest of memories.

A mother's love. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Knowing how to photograph affection is a great way to offer family and friends, as well as customers, amazing images that show something real and beautiful.

How to capture affection

Capturing affection may be a bit difficult, but it’s definitely not impossible. If you’re a professional photographer, one of the challenges is that your models may not know you well enough to be comfortable around you.

Nervousness and discomfort don’t go well with displaying affection. Since you won’t have the time to get to know everyone you’re hired to photograph, you need to find other ways to inspire confidence in your models.

The look between newlyweds. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Even knowing someone well doesn’t mean that it’s easy to capture affection. Shyness or awkwardness may sometimes make it even harder to photograph the affection among your friends and family.

One way to get what you want is to catch a special moment without being noticed. This works well at a wedding shoot, a family gathering, or even when doing street photography. The important thing to think about here is consent and whether it’s a situation where it’s okay to take such a photograph.

Parents and children. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Proper preparation

If you’ve been asked to photograph a couple, or a parent and a child, preparation is important. With just a little bit of effort put into creating a connection and making your models feel comfortable you can go a long way.

Sometimes moving to a place with fewer distractions might help. Other times being surrounded by others is the right thing. You have to read the situation and make the best of it.

Affection in times of sorrow. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

Part of preparation is building trust. You can start way before the shoot by getting in touch with your customers and making them confident that you know what you’re doing.

Show them that you can be trusted to capture beautiful memories for them and that you’re there to support them in the quite unusual situation that a photo shoot presents.

Love between siblings. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs

And as always, practice makes perfect. You can learn to find and capture special moments by looking in places where you wouldn’t expect to find them. Photography is so much more than just pushing a button. It’s learning to see the world in a different way, learning to understand what you see, and learning to capture it.

Affectionate behaviour. Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs


How do you make sure you capture genuine feelings in your photos? Do you have any tips on how to capture affection or a photo that you’d like to share?

I’d love to get your suggestions and see your photos in the comments below!

The post Tips on How to Capture Affection in Your Photographs appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions with Families

Even though I focus on weddings, I still do family sessions. Most of these are clients from when I started as a family photographer and I have built a relationship with over the years as well friends that they send my way. I find it a great privilege to see their children grow up and capture moments with them year after year.

family's legs - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

But let’s face it, this doesn’t happen every month or every six months even. I am not there often enough to capture milestones or fleeting moments. Most of these are annual sessions where the family wants to document a point in their lives once a year. For this reason, I love and encourage lifestyle photo sessions so it feels like a series of snapshots of their daily lives are captured in a relaxed vibe.

What is a lifestyle photo session?

When I first mentioned this to my husband, he said he didn’t have a clue about what that even meant. A lifestyle photo session is one that is relaxed and focused on capturing moments and expressions, day-to-day activities and normal life scenarios, and nothing is too posed. Relaxed, candid shots, fun shots. Think less looking (at the camera) and more doing (action).

5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions - parents and kids

However, it is done with a lot of planning and intentionality for it to look as such. In this article, I will share with you five tips in my process of photographing family lifestyle photo sessions.

I am very much a planner and I like lists. I generally visualize things in my head first, go through it stage by stage, put this plan and an equipment list on paper and then I feel I’m nearly done. Then it’s just the shoot to get through but half the battle is already won.

#1 Plan in advance

toys and dinosaurs - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

Communicate your plan with the parents and instruct them on specific preparations in advance of the shoot. Agree on the most suitable time for them especially if the kids are really young. Advise them of outfits. Give them an indication of timings. For example, “We’ll spend an hour in your home and afterward go to a park or a nearby outdoor area for some fun action shots for half an hour”.

Ask them to prepare props that might be needed, snacks, and an activity. For example, if you are coming around at breakfast time, for them to get breakfast organized. This could also work for lunchtime (pizza-making, baking), bath times, play time (kite-flying in the park), etc.

#2 Have a formula

kids hands and snacks in a bowl - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

When you arrive, you should already have an idea of what to expect. Set up your equipment, line up your lenses where they are safe and have a mental (or physical) list of the following:

  • Wide location shots
  • Close-up detail shots of special things in the house
  • Candid images
  • Action shots
  • Creative/artistic photos
  • Portraits

kids toes - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

#3 Get to know the family

Spend the first few minutes getting to know the entire family just as they are, not just the children. Join in whatever they’re doing upon your arrival and don’t change the setup straight away.

The children will feel comfortable and safe if they see you interacting with their parents and that they trust you. The kids will warm up to you faster that way than if you would just go straight up to them.

photos of kids - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

family reading in their home - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

If you feel the kids need a break from you so that it stays all laid back and relaxed, ask to shoot the details in the house first.

You may need to move things around to style items or the parents may already have prepared these beforehand. Or if there are views outside the house, then take wide photos of them as well as a view into the house. These are part of their day-to-day story.

house details - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

#4 Focus on natural moments

This is easier said than done because when there is a stranger in the house, it’s very difficult to be completely natural like nobody else is there.

My best tip is to do this using an activity. When the family is focused on what they are doing, try to be invisible and hide behind posts, kitchen cabinets, doors, etc., and capture the moment like you are not there.

b/w candid of a child pointing - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

kids fingers on a ledge - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

You need to instruct the parents to initiate the activity, for example, reading books to the kids, playing with their favorite toys, watching their favorite program, etc. If you don’t get the shot you want the first time, you can always ask the parents to repeat the activity and have another go. Tell them not to look at the camera at all unless you ask them to!

This is also a great time to be intentionally creative with your compositions. You can put silhouettes, negative space and layering to great use and enhance your images.

kids and parents - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

playing peek a boo - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

hide and seek - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

#5 Don’t forget to capture portraits looking at the camera as well

This is really important not to overlook because grandparents always like shots of the kids looking at the camera! Try not to spend much time doing this, though.

Often I have to stage this, but try to do it really quickly. You can vary your angles too like asking the little kids to look up at you as shown below.

face portraits - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

more face photos of kids - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

Lastly, always remember to take a photo of just the parents without the kids! They always consider it a treat and will treasure their portrait together.

parents and kids photos - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions


Within that five-step plan, I can usually capture a great variety of shots from one or two planned activities. Although they are planned, they look natural and have a fleeting-moment-feel to them. This laid-back process works really well with really young children.

The older the kids get, the more amenable to instructions they become. Older kids may also have their own ideas of how they want you to capture them, and which props or toys they want to be incorporated into their images. So be open to their ideas too.

kids props - 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions

I hope you find these tips helpful. Do you have tips to add? Do share them in the comments area below.

The post 5 Tips for Doing Lifestyle Photo Sessions with Families appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

Don’t make these 5 crucial mistakes when photographing clients!

Over the years I have read dozens of articles explaining tips, tricks, and things to keep in mind for successful photo sessions. As I was wrapping up a family shoot recently I started to think about the situation from the opposite end of the spectrum. Kind of as a way of giving some advice to my younger self or other photographers who might still be honing their craft.

So instead of five tips to try here, are five things you should never do if you want your photo sessions with clients to run smoothly.

5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients - family photo

Mistake #1 – Not showing up on time

This one is a bit of a carryover from my childhood and is based on a lesson my dad taught me at a very young age. Whether my siblings and I were going to church, to school, or even just to a friend’s house he would repeatedly stress that we ought to arrive at our destination at least 10 minutes early. If we show up on time, he reminded us over and over again, we’re already late.

That might have been a bit of an oversimplification but the lesson still sticks with me to this day. It’s also one that is especially true when it comes to photographing clients.

If you are to meet at a certain location at a certain time, do not arrive when you have agreed to. Instead, make sure to get there at least 10 minutes early, and that’s the bare minimum. The earlier you arrive the more you can prepare, especially if the session is outdoors or in another type of uncontrolled environment.

fossil watch - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

As my dad would say – if you get there on time you’re already late.

Arriving early allows you to assess the situation, get your cameras and lenses in order, double-check your settings (did you remember to turn on Image Stabilization? Are you still shooting at ISO 3200 from last night’s star-trail experiment?) and mentally prepare yourself for the photo session.

It also sends a message to your clients that you’re responsible and you care about the job. If you show up on time you might end up arriving after your clients. If they’re like my father and got there early they may be wondering where their photographer is. It doesn’t take much effort to arrive well in advance but it can pay huge dividends and set a positive tone for the rest of the photo session.

Mistake #2 – Don’t dress casually

portrait of a couple in a garden - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

Your clients go out of their way to dress for the session. You should too.

This one is a big deal for me because I’m perpetually wearing the same clothes I wore in college: jeans and a t-shirt. It’s my go-to outfit for just about any situation and there were a few times early in my photography work with clients that I treated sessions as just another day out when I could dress casually. However, doing that sends an unfortunate message to your clients that you can easily avoid with very little effort.

Jeans and a t-shirt might seem fine to you but your clients might take this as a sign that you are a bit of a slacker or that you don’t care enough about your work (or them) to look the part. Clients are more likely to see your work as high-quality if you take the time to dress up a bit.

Wear nice clothes as a way of projecting a professional image. It will help clients have a more positive view of you, your work, and the session as a whole.

family sitting on the grass - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

Some clients prefer a more casual style for themselves, and that’s fine. But it never hurts for you to wear nicer clothes as a way of projecting an image of professionalism.

Mistake #3 – Don’t make fun of your clients to get a laugh

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re doing a photo session and it’s going reasonably well but your clients aren’t responding quite how you would like. You’re trying to get them to loosen up, relax, and smile but they still seem a bit reserved and hesitant. As a result, your pictures just aren’t quite as good as you know they could be.

So you decide to crack a joke at the expense of one of your clients who is balding, wearing mismatched socks, doesn’t realize his shirt is un-tucked, or maybe just not quite paying attention.

Oh no, the glare from Bob’s head is messing up my camera! Hang on a second, I’m being blinded over here!

Does that scenario ring a bell? I have almost done this on a couple of occasions but stopped each time, and I’m so glad I did. You might think your comments are benign and all in good fun, but the person might be sensitive about the very thing you are pointing out. You could easily cause some hurt feelings or even downright anger.

Your clients might respond to these quips with laughter but on the inside, they may feel something entirely different that could cost you referrals, repeat business, or in-person sales.

family walking on a pathway - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

This family was an absolute joy to work with. I would never want to sacrifice meaningful professional relationships with them or anyone else just for a quick laugh.

The damage that is done by what seems like benign comments could linger for a long time and have consequences well beyond the session itself. Instead of aiming for a cheap laugh, strive to maintain a level of professionalism when interacting with and photographing clients on a shoot.

If you get to know them a bit (another benefit to showing up early!) they will be more likely to loosen up, cooperate, and give you the type of pictures you are really striving for.

Mistake #4 – Don’t use your phone during the session

I know how tempting it can be to reach for your phone during a photo session, and there might even be a thousand good reasons to do so. What if it’s a text from your landlord? Maybe your cousin sent you a Snapchat message about his new job? What if your spouse is going to be home late and needs you to pick up the kids? Certainly, your clients would understand if you peeked at your phone for just a bit…right?

They might understand, but they might also wonder why you are getting distracted while they are paying you to do a job. One little peek at your phone often turns into two, then three, and pretty soon you find yourself missing shots or watching your clients roll their eyes in exasperation because you’re looking at your phone more than your camera.

portrait of teenagers - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

My advice is simple, just ignore your phone. Better yet, leave it in your car or put it on silent and stick it in your gear bag. If you think you might need to check it during a session, tell your clients in advance (yet another reason to arrive early) and ask their permission to take a minute at a certain pre-planned time to do so.

This might seem overly restrictive, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the alerts and messages on your phone that you might not even realize how much you are actually using it. Your clients will probably not notice if you are NOT using your phone, but they will certainly notice if you ARE using your phone and they might not want to hire you back as a result.

Mistake #5 – Don’t over-extend the session

Many photographers charge clients a certain amount based on the length of time that they offer for sessions. One-hour portraits, two-hour engagements, 15-minute minis, or 3 hours of wedding plus 2 hours of reception coverage, for example.

This usually works well and gives both the photographer and the clients a set of shared expectations, but it can backfire in some unexpected ways depending on the type of clients you are working with.

little girl in a blue dress - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

15 minutes in and this precious little girl was ready to be done. Extending the session would have made her fussy and stressed out her parents too.

Know when to fold

There’s a line in an old Kenny Rogers song that’s quite à propos for photographers, “You got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em”. As a photographer, you need to learn how to read the situation, watch your client’s body language, and get their input on how to proceed when you feel like the session needs to draw to a close.

Your clients might be paying you for a one-hour session but if the kids are fussy, the grandparents are tired, and the shirts are getting sweat marks after only 40 minutes then you really need to find a way to shut it down tactfully and gracefully.

The best way I have found to do this is to keep an open dialog with clients throughout the session. Talk with them as you take their pictures and let them know that you are willing to adjust as needed especially if kids are involved. Your clients expect you to be in charge and they often won’t speak up for fear of being rude or confrontational.

So read the situation closely and take the initiative if you think it’s time to put the camera away. Your clients will probably be glad you did.

couple portrait - 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients

Talk to your clients and make the call

I have had parents thank me profusely for ending sessions early because their children were wilting after only 30 minutes. I once did an entire one-hour family session in 20 minutes on a single spot in a grove of trees because three generations were involved and the elders were exhausted and tired.

In both situations, I got input from the clients constantly and let them know that I was aware that people were ready to be done even though there was still time left on the clock.

The time might not be up, but if the session needs to be over then you have to bring it to a close. Extending it needlessly just to fill the time allotted could cause more headaches than it’s worth. Alternately, don’t go over your time unless you get permission from your clients. If they are expecting one hour and that time is up, don’t keep shooting unless you’re sure it’s fine with them. Doing otherwise could come across as rude or insensitive, no matter how good the pictures turn out.


I hope this gives you a few ideas to try or, more accurately, to avoid the next time you are photographing clients. If you have any tips on what to avoid I’d be glad to have your input in the comments below, and I’m sure other dPS readers would as well!

The post 5 Crucial Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Photographing Clients appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

In this article, you’ll get some tips on how to survive photo sessions with difficult children.

When you imagine photographing your client’s family session, you envision taking beautiful photographs in a pretty location and getting all of those great photos that will make your clients happy. However, you never imagine walking into a session only to find that the child, or children, are protesting, throwing tantrums, or simply not willing to cooperate.

Don’t freeze up and don’t give up, these helpful tips will keep you moving along during the session so that you can get those beautiful expressions and give your clients the best experience.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children - boy in a white shirt

This little boy kept saying no the entire session. After exhausting all of my tips, I started playing hide and seek and exploring looking for treasure. He was all smiles afterward!

Set client expectations

Preparing your client for what to expect and giving them tips on how to help can make all the difference during their session.

One of the main tips you can give your clients to plan the session to coincide with the time of the day when their children are in the best mood. This means, if their child is the best right after a nap, schedule their session then. Children get tired quickly and you don’t want to have a sleepy cranky child at your session, which will be nearly impossible to bring back to the side of contentment.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children - girl with toys

Bringing toys and snacks can really help the children take a break and reset for a little bit. I photographed this little one playing with her favorite toys.

Have your client bring snacks for their children that can be used to help get the smiles and good behavior during the session. I would caution you not to bring candy unless you have already spoken to the parents ahead of time and they’ve approved it. Best to have them bring appropriate snacks their kids love.

Water or juice is also recommended. Even if you schedule the session after a mealtime, those snacks always come in handy.

Children during portrait sessions

Letting kids play keeps them busy and happy.

A very important tip that is also helpful is telling your client that the word “no” is off limits during the session. In other words, parents cannot say “no” to the children during the session.

Letting children play and explore is part of the fun and giving children a little bit of time to get a feel for their surroundings can make all the difference in their participation. The word “no” usually makes children shut down or protest, both behaviors you want to avoid.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children - boy in the grass

Having mom or dad tickle and play with the children helps the kids to focus on them and not so much on the photographer.

Play, explore, and enjoy

Part of the session should allow for some playtime and exploration. Children are incredibly curious and playing to that curiosity is going to help you get those in-between moments. This is especially helpful when the child is protesting or doesn’t want to cooperate but just do their own thing. Go along with it.

Tell your clients to play and draw their child’s attention to a particular tree or place where you’d like to photograph them. Ask them to walk together hand in hand. Have your clients make silly faces or tell jokes, and singing their favorite nursery rhymes or songs also helps to relax the children.

Exploring during portrait sessions with difficult children

Walking around and exploring the location can help smaller children to enjoy the session and find it interesting.

Their experience during the session is what they’ll remember. Make sure it is fun and that they enjoy themselves. With that, have your clients bring extra clothing for the children as well.

playing in the leaves - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

Playtime is very important during sessions and helps children to enjoy the process!

Crying and shutting down

Sometimes, you’ll come across children that are simply not willing to cooperate and participate. You’ve tried exploring, you’ve sung their favorite songs and nothing is working.

Sometimes giving them a break from the session and focusing your camera on the parents can make the kids come around. Focusing on the parents can often lead the children to want to get their attention and they usually end up walking into the frame. When that happens, tell your clients to go ahead and interact with their child.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children - family on the beach

We focused attention on the parents during this session and the boy ended up wanting to walk with his mom and dad and we were able to get these photographs.

Interactions between children and parents make for the most intimate and meaningful photographs of the entire session. Letting the children and the parents be themselves without too much direction helps to relieve some nerves. It also helps you to build rapport with the children as you explore and play with them as well.

How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children - playtime

Playing with the children during a session can lead to real emotions and interactions between all family members.

Be aware that children under the age of 10 are usually willing participants for about 45 minutes. After that, they either get bored, want to play, or are hungry.

Try and anticipate this time frame and get the full family portraits done quickly and early on if you can. Afterward, you can choose to take individual portraits or just capture the family being a family.

Acting out and being overly silly

Portrait sessions with children acting silly - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

This silly boy had so much fun jumping and making silly faces and playing along helped to get the portrait on the left. The right makes for a nice memory of his personality as well!

There will be times when one or more of the children are acting overly silly and makes it difficult to get a portrait of them where they are smiling nicely for the camera. When this occurs, don’t allow the parents to try and wrangle their children into doing what is expected. Instead, turn it into a game. 

For example, tell the child(ren) that you love their silly faces and they are very good at making them. So you’re going to take two silly photos and one serious one. Change up the faces they are supposed to make and mix in the one you want by saying, “Okay, now I want you to smile like mommy wants and then we can make a funny face, deal?”

Once they agree, which they usually do, be quick to take the good photo and then continue with the game for a couple more photos. Then move on.

funny faces - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

Being silly helps to let the children be children.

This helps the children enjoy the session and display their playful personalities while still getting the photos that mom and dad will want. It also helps to not force the children to do anything which can lead to crying or shutting down, both of which you want to avoid.

Tweens and teens

Tweens and teens are also important during a session and usually, because of their age, can be the least cooperative. Here, I would suggest asking the parents for a little information on what they like or what school they go to before the session. This can help start conversations and get them to open up and relax a little.

Portraits with tweens and teens brothers - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

These brothers had a completely different vibe than my usual style but I went with it in order to get who they were at this stage in their lives.

Taking the individual portraits in a part of the location where the parents are not too close by helps teens to relax. Tweens and teens are very aware of themselves, often more than adults, especially now with social media, therefore, taking their portraits should be done quickly. 

Showing them the photographs can also spark more interest and help to boost their confidence during the session.

Tips for portraits with teens - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

Sometimes the awkward sibling hug can bring out real smiles. Let tweens and teens be themselves.

Tweens and teens are notorious for not wanting to smile. Ask another sibling to say something funny or ask their parents to remind them of an inside joke. If they aren’t willing to smile despite all of your attempts, it’s okay. Take some photos of them with serious expressions.

Sometimes, the serious photos are more striking than smiling ones. Reassure them that they don’t have to smile if they don’t want to. Letting them know that they have an option makes them active participants in the session and gives them the green light to also make suggestions.

Don’t be afraid to reschedule

If you feel like you are trying everything in your power to turn the session into a positive experience but it just isn’t happening, there is always the option of rescheduling the session. This can give both your clients and yourself a break so that you can attempt the session at a different location and perhaps at a different time when the children are feeling more awake and energized.

Surviving portrait sessions with difficult children

The left photo is at the beginning of the session and the younger girl didn’t want to participate. The right is at the end when I connected with her talking about her favorite show and she smiled.

It is very important during the session, however difficult, to keep calm and reassure the parents that their children are doing great. This helps to keep the stress levels down and even if you offer to reschedule, do it in a positive tone.

For example, “We got some great shots and everyone looks great, however, I think if we reschedule for a different time, we can get better photos.”   

Family portraits tips with children - How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children

Sometimes grouping the older siblings first can help the younger children to go along with the photo session.

Always keep the photos from the original session, you might have taken some really great photos before a meltdown. Sending a preview to the family will keep their confidence up and not leave them feeling like they didn’t do a great job. Instead, they’ll be eager for the rescheduled session to get even more great photos.


Portrait session with difficult children tips

Exploring and letting children get a little dirty or messy can help them stay in the moment of the session.

When you specialize in portraiture, having non-cooperative children at the sessions is inevitable. However, these tips will help you to smooth out tantrums and give your clients the best experience. That is what will keep them coming back to you.

Remember, you don’t have to force it and a quick reschedule can sometimes do the trick. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these tips or have found them useful.

The post How to Survive Portrait Sessions with Difficult Children appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

One of the most common reasons you hear from photographers who avoid off-camera flash lighting is that it looks artificial. Yes, studio lighting can look artificial, but sometimes that’s part of the charm. Nobody claims portraits made with a ringlight look natural, but that doesn’t stop the thousands of photographers (myself included) that use them all of the time. But that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to mimic window light in the studio.

In fact, that’s kind of the point most of the time.

How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment - portrait of a lady in the studio

Obtaining natural looking result in a studio is fairly easy with a few basic tools and some know how.

With studio lighting, you can create whatever lighting you want at any time. Providing that you have the right tools (and they are pretty basic), creating natural looking portraits in a studio environment with off-camera flash is exactly as difficult as creating portraits using window light.

Why is window light so wonderful?

b/w window light portrait - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

Window light has a lot of wonderful qualities that make it a great choice for photographing people and other subjects.

In a nutshell, windows give you a constant (during daylight hours) and large light source to work with. The light itself is soft, diffused (assuming that direct sunlight is not entering through the window), and lends itself well to virtually all subjects including portraits.

It also tends to be very directional (depends on how you position yourself and the subject in relation to the window), making it easy to work with to shape your subject.

two b/w portraits - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

Window light can give a variety of results depending on the time of day and the size and shape of the window. As such, there is no one size fits all solution to mimic window light and recreate it in the studio.

On top of that, we see things lit in window light all day, every day. It is a very natural state of things and it’s how we recognize the world around us. This familiarity makes window light an obvious choice.

Add to that that the master painters created a great many of their portraits in a studio lit by window light. The most obvious point of reference here would be Rembrandt since this style of lighting is one of the most common techniques that photographers use today.

The reasons for unnatural looking light

b/w portrait with ring lighting used - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

Some light sources, like the ringlight used here, are by nature very unnatural looking. When trying to recreate natural light, try to stay away from specialist tools like these and tri-flectors.

There are a couple of reasons why studio lighting can look canned and unnatural. These are:

  • Too many lights – When using natural light, you’re usually shooting with only one light source. Perhaps there’s a reflector involved or there might be multiple windows, but for the most part, it’s one light. Going into a studio environment where a single setup can involve a key light, a fill light, a hair light, two rim lights and two background lights can feel both complicated and wrong (unnatural). Fair enough.
  • The modifiers are too small – In most cases, windows are quite big. This means that the light source you are using to light your subject is large. Big light sources give soft, flattering light. Add some mesh curtains to that window and the light gets even softer and more diffused. What does that tell you about the size of modifier you need to use on your studio portraits to get soft light?
  • The lights are too far away – In terms of the softness of the light, it’s the size of the light source in relation to the subject that determines how soft or hard it appears. If you have an 8′ octabox twenty feet from your subject, it will appear quite small comparatively; therefore, the light will be a bit hard. If you have a small pop-up softbox on there, it will be even harder. Bring your lights in as close as you dare to get for the softest light possible. If you have a small modifier, I recommend having it so close you can barely shoot past it without getting the light source in the frame.
  • You’re using an odd light source – Specialist lights, like the ringlight used in the image above, create light that you wouldn’t normally find in natural scenarios. Even if a viewer doesn’t understand the why behind it, people are quite intuitive when things seem weird. If you’re going for a natural look, avoid lights like these.

How to recreate and mimic window light in the studio

Here, you’ll see just how easy it is to mimic natural light in a studio environment. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • An off-camera light source. Strobes, flashguns and continuous lights will all work equally well.
  • A large light modifier. These examples use a 5′ Octabox (or recessed softbox as PixaPro like to call it), but anything will do. If you don’t have any large modifiers yet and are unsure about what to get, consider starting with a large translucent umbrella. They’re big, dirt cheap, fold away easily and produce a nice, soft light.
  • White or silver reflector. This one’s optional, but you should have one anyway. If you’re using a really big modifier, the wraparound of the light may mean you don’t even need it, but they are useful for filling in dark shadows on the unlit side of your subject.

Setting up

behind the scenes studio shots - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

A medium sized octabox placed close to an above the subject and a silver reflector was all it took to create these images.

To get started, place your light about three or four feet from your subject. Turn the light so that it’s forty-five degrees (in relation to your subject.) Raise the light up as high as you can (making sure the subject still has catchlights in their eyes). High ceilings are a bonus.

The reason for this is that with window light, the light is often coming from above. The window is shaping the light into the room, but it is still coming down into the room. If you’re using modelling lights or continuous lights, watch the catchlights in your subject’s eyes. Once they are falling towards the top of their eyes, you’re good to go.

Likewise, also watch where the shadows are falling. If the contrast seems too high, introduce a reflector. This does take practice, so don’t worry if you can’t tell just yet. It may help if you squint your eyes tightly. This makes it easier to see the contrast. In these examples, the silver reflector was placed flat and in front of the subject at around waist level.

Now, all that you have to do is to take a light meter reading (or take a test shot), adjust your settings (either in-camera or on the flash) and start taking photos.

portrait of a lady in pink - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

To start with, try having your subject turned toward either the light or the camera. Beyond that, there’s not really much else to it.

How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

Practice makes it simple

If you are completely new to off-camera lighting, this may seem like a lot to get. I promise it’s not. Once you’ve set this up a few times, it becomes so easy that there’s not much more effort involved than placing someone in front of a window.

The advantages here are that you aren’t at the mercy of the weather or the time of day and once you get started with a set-up, the light won’t change unless you tell it to.

Just remember to keep the light both high and close and there isn’t much room to go wrong.

two images of a lady - How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment

Putting it to use

If you’ve had any hesitance to use studio lights for any of the reasons listed in this article, hopefully, you can see that with the right techniques, you needn’t worry at all. Honestly, it’s not as difficult or complicated as it seems. If you’re still unsure, rent a studio for an hour and put it to practice. You may be surprised at what you find out and learn.

The post How to Mimic Window Light in a Studio Environment appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector

In this article, I’ll give the virtues and benefits of shooting simply, with only one light and a reflector.

Lighting is often perceived as a complicated beast, but does it have to be? Sure, in terms of technical aspects, there’s an awful lot to learn before you can truly master lighting. There are also plenty of techniques that involve numerous light sources at various power outputs, rigged together with any number of modifiers.

But are these necessary? If you want to learn every aspect of lighting inside and out, then the answer is yes. However, when you are a beginner, I would argue that it’s far too easy to get bogged down in those complications when in reality, you could conceivably go an entire photographic career without touching them.

One light

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - b/w portrait of a lady

With a single light source and a reflector for fill, you have enough creative options in terms of lighting that you could go an entire lifetime with nothing more and still fill a diverse and varied portfolio. Technically the reflector is a second light source if you want to get into that, but it’ll be referred to as a reflector for our purposes here.

You may not want to and it’s more than likely that once you’ve got the basics of lighting down, you’ll want to dive deeper and deeper until you get to those ultra complicated set-ups, but it is possible. One light set-ups can give you both dramatic, shadowy photos which ooze mood as well as bright, cleanly lit images with plenty of detail throughout.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - 6 images of portraits of ladies

On top of that, there’s only one light to set up, only one light to modify and only one light to meter. If you’re working with limited time, say 20 minutes to set up, take a few shots and get out of there.

Four, five and six light set-ups just aren’t going to be an option. Of course, it’s also a whole lot easier to lug around one light then it is to take five.

Terms you need to know

This article will cover examples that are based in a studio where all ambient light is cut out (with one exception) and bounce is controlled through light placement or flags. As such, the light and the reflector are the only things lighting the images and each has its own respective role.

Key Light – The key light is your main light source. In these instances, it’s the actual strobe. It could just as easily be any other type of light source such as a window or a street light. This is the main light that you will be shaping your subject with.

Fill Light – In these examples, the fill light is the job of the reflector. When placed opposite the key light, the reflector bounces light back onto your subject and fills in the shadows. This helps to reduce contrast and also tends to lead to more flattering images of human subjects. A fill light does not have to be a reflector. Again, it could be any light source that acts independently of your key light to fill in shadows on your subject.


The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - studio setup with one light and a reflection

In all of these examples (except one that’s annotated), the reflector used is a large, cheap 5-in-1 reflector. You can buy one of these from just about anywhere that sells photo equipment for around $20 or less. Sure, there are expensive versions, but in my experience, they’re not worth the extra money. Get a good sized (32″ or 42″) cheap one and take it everywhere. Don’t be too precious with it and let it get dirty, battered and warped through use. They’re easily replaced.

If you don’t want to buy one, reflectors are pretty easy to make. White foamcore, posterboard, cardboard painted white, or a styrofoam insulation are all easily turned into reflectors.


Since the specific focus of this article is portraits, all of the modifiers used range from fairly big to huge. This is so that the light was as soft and flattering as possible. You can absolutely use a single hard light source with a reflector, so don’t consider the absence of examples of hard light here to be some kind of rule against it.

Example 1

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - color portrait of a lady

This shot is about as simple as it gets. The subject was placed a few feet from the background. The light source was a 5-foot octabox which was placed at forty-five degrees from the subject. The distance of the light was determined by watching how the modeling light fell on the subject and where the catchlights were in her eyes. It ended up about five feet away.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - studio setup behind the scenes shot

Because the octabox is quite a big modifier, it would have been possible to get away without using a reflector. The soft light the large modifier produces would wrap around the subject in a pleasing way. It also means that the subject could turn and face any direction she wanted for posing.

Regardless, I still chose to add a reflector to bring up the shadow side. It was placed as close to the subject as possible so as not to interfere with composition.

Example 2

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - dark moody portrait

Much like the first example, this image was created with the light source at a 45-degree angle to the subject. This time, the modifier was a mid-sized 2×3′ softbox.

To get the softest quality of light, it was placed as close as possible to the model without interfering with image composition. There are few things as annoying as having to retouch the corner of a softbox or a beauty dish out of every frame.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector- lighting setup

This time, the reflector was turned slightly away from the light source. This was because I didn’t want the full surface area of the reflector to be filling in the scene as I wanted to retain some of the dramatic lighting that the single smallish light source provided.

Example 3

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - two images of a girl in studio

This is exactly the same set up as the previous example, all that changed here was the modifier.

The softbox was exchanged for a beauty dish to increase contrast and add drama. The reflector was turned slightly so that it had maximum impact on the shadow side.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - lighting setup in the studio

Example 4

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - b/w images in the studio

To really take advantage of the contrasty lighting possible with one light, I opted for a large, gridded beauty dish in this example. Again, placed at forty-five degrees (notice a pattern here?), the light fall-off is much more abrupt than here, as compared with the bigger softboxes.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - dramatic studio setup

At 120 cm, this particular beauty dish is quite a bit larger than normal. As such, it is still quite soft, with a bit more wraparound than its smaller, more normal sized siblings.

A silver reflector was added to bring up the shadow side of the subject in order to ensure separation from the background and to keep the shadows from becoming pure black.

Example 5

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - lighter portrait of a girl

In a previous article, I wrote that you may very well never use a gold reflector. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since I wrote it and endeavoured to do exactly that. Instead of using the gold side of a normal 5-in-1 reflector, I used a Westcott Omega reflector, on which the gold is far subtler and less intrusive, making it much, much more flattering for portraits.

The key light in this image was a five foot octobox. If you look at the catchlights, you will see two other light sources. To camera left, there was a wall of windows which was underexposed by a stop to act as fill. To camera right is the gold reflector.

By adding a single light source to the ambient light, you get an incredible amount of versatility of what you can achieve.

Example 6

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector - studio portrait

This image was created exactly the same way as the previous one with the same octabox and the same gold reflector. This time, however, the power output of the flash was turned up so that it killed the ambient light from the windows. The reflector was also placed slightly to the rear of the subject in order to bring detail back into her hair.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector

Example 7

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector

One technique that I really love is to place the light source directly in front of the model (it’s okay to move it to the side a bit so that you can shoot past it) and as close as possible. With a single light, this can create some lovely, dramatic images. This was done with a large beauty dish.

The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector

The white reflector was placed flat and rested on the subject’s knees. This results in a makeshift clamshell technique, but instead of two lights, you’re only using one.


I could go on and on and on about this. The point here is to remind you to never forsake the power of simplicity when it comes to lighting techniques.

Sure, those set-ups with half a dozen lights, three reflectors, nine flags, your neighbor’s dog and a Swiss passport are great and you should absolutely explore them. Just be mindful that not every job has to rely on such complexities. Stripping things back to basics can, and does yield wonderful results.


Here are a few tips and trick to help you get the most out of your single one light source set-ups:

  • For portraiture, get the light in close. The larger the apparent light source, the softer the light. The softer the light, the more flattering it is for the subject.
  • Don’t just introduce a reflector blind and leave it there. Watch what it’s doing. Use modeling lights and learn to see the subtle differences the reflector creates. It’s hard at first, but with practice, you’ll start seeing the changes.
  • Meter with and without the reflector. As the reflector is acting as an independent light source, you can meter its exposure. If you want a specific ratio, or you know you want your fill two stops underexposed, meter it.
  • Don’t be afraid to turn the reflector at funny angles. If it’s a large reflector, in particular, you probably don’t want or need the whole surface area in use. Turn it any which way that provides the effect that you’re looking for.
  • You don’t shoot with off-camera lighting. So what? All of this applies to window light as well. A light source is a light source.
  • Don’t have a reflector? Buy one right now. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing and order one right now. They’re important and they’re not expensive. Godox sells one for less than $15.
  • Use these techniques on anything. I’m a portrait photographer, so the focus here has been portraits. But every single aspect covered here can be used when lighting any subject at all. Flowers? Check. Animals? Check. Food? Check.


In terms of variations on these techniques, this article hasn’t been anywhere near comprehensive. Honestly, using a single light and a reflector will give you an infinite variety of techniques to use in your photography.

When you’re starting out, I strongly encourage you to explore these as much as possible before moving on to more complicated set-ups as you may find, that most situations would benefit from the simplicity.

The post The Power of Shooting Simply with One Light and a Reflector appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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