One-, Two- and Three-Light Setups



Today's post comes from the The Best of Photographic Lighting, 2nd Edition, by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

Fuzzy Duenkel is well known for his sophisticated senior portraits. While he transports his studio-lighting setups to make stunning portraits in the subject’s home, these techniques are equally applicable to studio shoots. As you’ll see, Fuzzy’s lighting technique differs significantly from the traditional portrait lighting setups, yet there are similarities. He uses one key light with ample fill. He also uses a background light and kickers (what he calls “edge lights”) to illuminate the perimeter of his subjects. The following descriptions cover three of his more frequently used setups, employing one, two, and three lights, respectively.



One-Light Setup. Fuzzy’s one-light setup uses a single key light, a 5x7-foot softbox set at about chin height and forward of the subject. A large 6x6-foot silver reflector is the only fill, and it is used close to the subject. A homemade Mylar mirror reflector is used to redirect light from the key light back onto the subject. Fuzzy calls this an edge light because it illuminates the side or hair or torso of the subject, depending on where it is aimed.

One other interesting feature of this setup is that a large gobo (2x8-feet) is used to block light from hitting the camera, which could cause flare. The opposite side of the gobo is mirrored Mylar to increase the relative size of the key light. You will notice that the canvas background is not lit separately. It is pulling light from the key light and reflector and is only positioned four feet from the subject, as seen in the following diagram. You will see, in subsequent setups, that the larger and farther the background is from the subject, the more it needs its own light source.

In the one-light setup, the large softbox is used close to the subject and the frontal reflector, which also gobos the camera and lens, broadens the light for an elegant, diffuse highlight. The background is lit mostly from spill from the main light and reflectors.



In the one-light setup, the large softbox is used close to the subject and the frontal reflector, which also gobos the camera and lens, broadens the light for an elegant, diffuse highlight. The background is lit mostly from spill from the main light and reflectors.


Two-Light Setup.
The same 5x7-foot softbox and 6x6-foot silver reflector are used as in the one-light setup, as is the mirrored gobo, which is used to minimize flare and expand the key light’s apparent size.

Note that, in the diagram, the subject is eight feet from the background, which is farther than in the first example. Thus, a 24x32-inch Chimera softbox is used to light the background and produce an edge light on the subject. The light can be feathered toward the background for more emphasis, or it can be feathered toward the subject for stronger backlight. The removable louvers control the amount of edge light and also prevent stray light from causing flare. An optional barn door (or gobo) may be used between the background light and subject to control the amount of edge light and shield the camera from stray light, which might cause flare. The gobo is used in case you want to remove the louvers from the softbox for more light on the subject and less feathered light on the background.

It is important to control the difference in output between the key light and the background light. Fuzzy aims for f/11 from the key light, then sets the background light to produce f/8 for low-key backgrounds, or f/16 for high-key backgrounds.



Three-Light Setup. The main difference with this setup is that a second background light is used to add double-edged lighting on the subject (or for high-key backgrounds). You will note in the diagram that a hinged reflector is used very close to the subject, just out of view of the camera. This reflector, like so many of Fuzzy’s lighting accessories, is homemade from insulation boards and is white on one side and silver on the other. The other part of the reflector is being used as a gobo to keep stray light from hitting the camera lens.


As with the other lighting setups, the key light is positioned just under chin height. This keeps light in the eyes and helps avoid what Fuzzy calls “dark eye bags.” It should be noted that while softboxes are used as a key light in all three setups, a flash bounced into a white wall may be used in tight quarters. Fuzzy normally uses an f/8 setting for the key light with a background light setting between f/5.6 and f/8. In all three lighting setups, Fuzzy also recommends adjusting the fill reflector by eye.

*excerpted from the book The Best of Photographic Lighting, 2nd Edition

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