One-Light Interior Portraits

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In this lesson, photographer Steve Kurtz uses a simple one-light approach to create an environmental portrait of Pat Baron, the “Tiki King”. Pat is a great musician who makes custom ukuleles. He has a small store in Felton, California where the portrait was created.

The space was limited in the sales room so I decided to use one simple 45” shoot through white umbrella with electronic flash as the key light and a 42″ 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector for the fill light in the back and to the right of the subject.

The shoot through umbrella gives nice soft even directional light that will illuminate the subject as well as the background. I placed the umbrella to my right at about a 30 degree angle to the subject. This gave directional lighting to Pat while also lighting the background. I wanted to avoid reflections on the surface of the hanging ukulele’s behind Pat.

The 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector was placed a couple of feet from Pat on the shadow side of his face (right), to give a little fill in the shadows. I used both the gold and the white side for the portrait. The white is a little more subtle while the gold adds warmth.

This was mainly a portrait session, but I was able to do a few shots of Pat working on a ukulele without changing the lighting.

For this portrait series of Pat, the main light stayed the same, but I moved the 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector in for more reflected light in the shadows. Keep in mind that the angle of the 5-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector to the key light (shoot through umbrella) also affects the amount of light that reaches the shadow areas.

I also used a longer lens (100mm) and a wider f-stop (f4.0) to drop the background out of focus. I used the white MultiDisc surface for the shot on the left and the gold surface for the shot on the right.

Once you have the lighting dialed in, it is easy to shoot a series of different portraits without changing the lighting.

The beauty of the Photoflex RUD white shoot-through umbrellas is that they are inexpensive, compact and come in three versatile sizes. You can use a smaller 30 inch umbrella for very tight areas, the 45 inch umbrella for tight areas that still have some room and the 72 inch umbrella for full length or large areas where space is not limited. Any flash unit (even a shoe mount flash) or constant light source will work as the key light. The light these umbrellas create is soft and even and easy to control.

Written and photographed by Steve Kurtz.

Basic Lighting,

Indoor Portraits,


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