Cinematic headshot lighting with just one light and a few flags & reflectors

Oct 6, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Cinematic headshot lighting with just one light and a few flags & reflectors

Oct 6, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Working with minimal equipment can be a fun challenge. If you’re just starting out and have only limited gear, it can be your only choice. But what can you do to help make that one light produce more interesting results? Well, with the help of some flags and reflectors, you can do quite a bit.

This video from Morgan Cooper of Cooper Films shows us how it’s all set up and what task each component achieves. He is demonstrating the setup in relation to film, and he is using a rather expensive Arri SkyPanel LED light. But, the techniques can be used with much less expensive lights, such as the Aputure Amaran AL-HR672W. You can also apply the same principles to stills photography using a speedlight in a small softbox.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nku2R9H3kT4

I don’t know if it’s quite “cinematic” (what even is that, anyway? is it one style of lighting?) but it’s certainly a lot more interesting than the ambient light bouncing around the room.

It may be argued that if one can justify taking a $5.6K Arri light on a shoot, then they probably have more lights they can take along to make their life a little easier. Multiple light setups do offer more control. But, that’s not really the point of the video. Don’t get hung up on what the gear is. He isn’t using one light because he doesn’t have access to more, he’s doing it to show us what can be done.

single_led_lighting_setup

It’s an efficient setup. And the expensive LED panel and big clunky C-Stands can be swapped out for a much more portable setup.

Switch the C-Stands with some Manfrotto Nanos, swap the black & white boards with some folding 5-in-1 reflectors, and it’s a compact bundle of kit that could fit into a backpack. Ok, it might be a large-ish backpack, but a backpack none-the-less.

Knowing how to shape & control the light and use modifiers to your advantage is invaluable. Even if you’re not using artificial light sources, knowing how to manipulate light sources is essential as a photographer.

What’s your favourite one light setup? Let us know and show off sample shots using it in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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8 responses to “Cinematic headshot lighting with just one light and a few flags & reflectors”

  1. Eddie Avatar
    Eddie

    “Cinematic” seems to be a buzz word these days. I kind of roll my eyes a bit every time I see it in a headline. Since when does the use of both light and shadow qualify a portrait as being “cinematic”?

    1. jon Avatar
      jon

      I think it’s stupid too. But what I think people mean ‘dramatic’ when they say “cinematic.”

      And, personally, if it’s a simple business headshot, I don’t want it to be dramatically lit. It’s not appropriate. Shot 2 may look nicer, kind of, but I don’t like the quality of the lighting. Do a 3/4 shot with Shot 1’s flat lighting, and it looks cleaner and more friendly (for an employee portfolio anyway).

    2. cbenci Avatar
      cbenci

      Agreed.

      Hardly cinematic… whatever that means this week…

  2. AsianReaper Avatar
    AsianReaper

    Bullshit vid . Wno takes c stands and a Arrai to do a head shot ?

  3. n1x0n Avatar
    n1x0n

    What now, a properly lit stuff is suddenly called “cinematic”?! :-)

  4. Scott Hampton Avatar
    Scott Hampton

    Cinematic? No. Stylized? Yes. Not quite appropriate for what is accepted to be a headshot. Great tips on how to control light, though.

  5. michael Avatar
    michael

    What’s with all the hate in the comments? I think is great. My first thought was that I’ve got this old 10K Fresnel in my studio, and it would be fun to use that, and then I realized I’d melt their faces. I typically use Westcott LED panels and before that, I used Kino Flo’s. While I don’t have an LED Fresnel yet, I might give this a shot with the panels. If you get a chance check out 312 Elements Headshot Photography and see how I light my headshots. That is unless I end up changing my style to mimic yours.

  6. Jim Mueller Avatar
    Jim Mueller

    The results are what matters. (Cinematic) my guess is the author is a grip, adapting his skills to a headshot shoot.Yea, the ARRI is overkill, but again, likely this was his toolkit and he adapted. John, nice job… I like your use of the “floppy”. I may adapt to my work, please have a look at headshotsofchicago.com … Thanks for the article.