Photography 101: Lighting Setups in practice

I like shooting people.

Wait, that sounds wrong.

I love photographing people to death.

Nope, let’s try again.

I like it when people let me shoot them in any way I want – Yup, that’s the one!

But seriously, in this Photography 101 post you’ll come across four different lighting setups that I used during one of my latest Photography Classes at KAIST, where my willing students got to play the subjects as well as the assistants while I shot (ok, not literally, photographed) them. Even though I only own two flashes and two triggers, this still provided enough variation in looks that varied from high key pure and clean to low key – somber and dramatic.

My gear: Canon 5dMarkII + 50mm 1.4 lens. Canon 430exII speedlight, Youngnuo 560exII speedlight, SMDV FlashwaveIII triggers, white shoot through umbrella, light stand and white reflector or classroom board.

Table of Contents

  1. Setup 1

  2. Setup 2

  3. Setup 3

  4. Setup 4

Setup 1

White wall as the background (unlit)

Single light (flash triggered through a white umbrella)

Subject flat against the wall

No reflector

This type of look reminds me of a simple portrait, something Steve Jobs would have probably gone for in his line of work. The shadows on the face are evident, but not too harsh. Rather, they sculpt his face very nicely and the shadow on the wall adds to the overall 3D effect of this image.

Setup 2

White wall as the background (unlit)

Single light (bare flash)

Subject about 1meter (2-3 feet) away from the wall

No reflector

Using a bare flash, I was going for a high contrast-type look (also known as low key) with the side lighting of the face. This is a better look for males and my student was eager to participate with unique facial expressions that I elicited.

Setup 3

White wall as the background (unlit)

Single light (flash shot through the umbrella)

Subject about 1-2 feet away from the wall

No reflector

A more inviting/approaching look for a male or female would be this lighting set up, where the shadows on the face help to sculpt it, while leaving the background neutral.

Setup 4

White wall as the background lit by one of the flashes

Secondary flash is shot through the umbrella

Subject about 1-2 feet away from the wall

Reflector is used

This is what is called a High Key look with lots of light behind and in front of the model to illuminate any shadows. A very popular style to make your subject look friendly, approachable and totally hire-able! Don’t you think?


Playing around with different lighting setups and teaching others to do so is something I do for fun all the time and I’d love to photograph you too.

Let’s get in touch about your next photography session!

If you liked this Photography 101 post, please like or share with someone else who’d enjoy it.

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