2-point-lighting

This is how I light some of my street portraits using the two point lighting technique that I learned way back in the 1980s while I was training at the BBC. The two point light principle is simplicity itself with the subject being lit from two opposing directions with the light sources are 180 degrees apart. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that but there are a few things I’d like to share with you.

1.

1. This is an extreme colour shift picture. Not my favourite style but one that was very popular in the strobe era a few years back. The key or principal light is a Speedlight in a small 60cm softbox with a full CTO or colour temperature orange gel on the flash head. The back light is a bare faced Speedlight with a CTB or full blue gel. The white balance was set in camera to be 3430 Kelvin. The shadows of the rivets is the big hook for me in this picture. My model was set away from the steel in order to cast no shadows. The lump of dirt on the ground is pigeon poo and the picture was taken in the middle of the day under a railway bridge.

It doesn’t matter what you use as a light source. I regularly find natural light to act as one or both of the sources and if the sun is out I always make use of it either directly or reflected off a window. Point of note: Reflected sunlight can be tolerated by a model or client without the need for sunglasses or squinting.

2.

2. The picture on the right shows just how kind the New York weather can be. Most photographers I know would retire to a cafe until the storm had passed but my delegates on this workshop had no such luxuries. I waterproofed my Speedlights with clear zip lock freezer bags the kind you buy for food. I just pop them over the top of the units and we were good to go. The light goes right through the bags unhindered as the rain runs off. I used a bare faced un-filtered Speedlight on the left of shot and a Speedlight with full blue filter on the right rear of the frame. I laid on the street in the driving rain to get the shot and it was worth it. The umbrella was a broken one I found in a nearby waste bin. The pictures left and right above, shot on the streets of New York use very different techniques. The shots on the left taken in the Meat Packing district by the Standard Hotel were lit with natural light. It is what I call tunnel lighting. I placed Alex Wynne from MSA models under a railway bridge and she was subsequently lit from each end. Note the sheen on her skin. natural, directional soft light when combined with cocoa butter is a perfect combination to make skin come alive.

3.

3. The shot of Alex on the right was taken in the same spot using tunnel lighting as the shots on the left in grid 2 above. I love the definition of facial shape created by the shadow under Alex’s cheek bones and the kick light on her shoulder. This is a good example of priceless lighting created using natural ingredients. Stina Sanders top left and Alex bottom left are shot with the same set up as the rain shot in grid 2. Note how I placed Alex at ground level looking up to her right. Her eyeline makes a strong virtual diagonal and her arm completed the dynamic placed in a contra diagonal direction. I set her on the ‘thirds’ framed within a panel of bricks.

Shooting with filtered light was a fad, a craze that has passed for now. It is used occasionally in commercial shooting too and I’ll share a bridal collection I shot with mixed colour lighting at some point soon. When you study these pictures for the lighting clues remember that the light is 180 degree opposed. The camera position is irrelevant relative to the lighting angle. Two of the three shots above have the camera immediately below the light and the shot below has the camera at 90 degrees to the light. Get the light and subject directions right and you can shoot from anywhere.

4.

4. I loved this graffiti advert so we had some fun with it. The girl in the graffiti was lit with directional hard light so I matched the style and direction on Alex. This meant that Alex could blend into the scene. We shot this frame from the other side of the street.

What is really important is the direction of light relative to the subject. You will notice that the key light in all these pictures is ‘straight down the nose’. It’s a phrase I use to describe my lighting angles and principally it means that if the subjects nose was really long like Pinocchio’s it would touch the lighting stand. So I have only gone for eye contact when I am under the light.

5.

5. These two frames shot in the middle of the day in Bristol UK show what Speedlights can do on full power and fully zoomed in. The backlight can clearly be seen in the shot on the left. Speedlights are very versatile light units. You don’t need to buy big name Speedlights. If it can be triggered with a radio unit and it pumps out light you are good to go. I nearly always use Speedlights unmodified and I love how hard light narrows faces and defines bone structure as shown in the shot of Stina above right.

6.

6. Three shots taken in different continents. I captured the top left frame in a shopping mall in Singapore in Asia last month using the identical rig as the shot at top right taken in Greenwich Village New York. The shot at the bottom was taken in Bristol, Europe with two Speedlights scooting down the wall of this graffiti. We have fab graffiti in Bristol and our town is the home of Banksy. Tagging and low grade art just doesn’t happen here. Bristol is a street artists haven.

7.

7. These three pictures use sunlight as the back light and a Speedlight as the key light. Note that I’m right under the lighting stand to capture the beauty portraits of actress Natalia Warner . The top frame here was shot with a white balance of 9000 Kelvin and a half blue gel on the Speedlight. Notice how yellow the sunlight is on Natalia’s jacket sleeves even in the middle of the day at this white balance setting.

8.

8. Here are two more pictures of Natalia that I’ve lit using two bare faced Speedlights. Never under estimate the beauty of hard light. The crisp hard shadow under Natalia’s chin in the shot on the right is a clue to the boldness of this lighting style but look at that facial shape definition that would be destroyed with soft light. Metallic eye shadow really helps too.

Two point lighting is the most versatile lighting design for shooting fashion or beauty on the street. Having a back light elevates the pictures to a more polished state. Take a look at any CSI tv show or 24 etc and freeze frame as you go. You will see two point lighting on just about every scene if not every shot.

9.

9. The top left picture here is lit with natural light. It is 1600 ISO but with light this good that high ISO doesn’t bother me one bit. I remember as a kid being amazed at the shots of Mohammed Ali from ‘The rumble in the jungle’ fight. Grain everywhere but the pictures were so powerful the grain was irrelevant. The shot bottom left is lit with a Speedlight in my 60cm softbox and with sunlight from behind. I used high speed sync setting of 1/4000th to enable an f/2.8 lens setting. The shot on the right is an f/11 shot using twin Speedlights again.

Flash and the unexpected mirrorless camera advantage. I use the Fujifilm X-Pro1 for nearly all my work these days and I use the Fujifilm X100 for all the rest. I still have my Nikon system with the trilogy of f/2.8 pro zooms and my Canon system with a fabulous set of prime lenses including the Zeiss 21mm but they stay at the studio largely gathering dust these days. A modern mirrorless camera is all I need and want to use. When I shoot flash and want to work the lens wide open I put a x32 ND filter on the lens and open it up. Instead of shooting in bright conditions using ISO 200, 1/125th second and f/16, I can shoot at ISO 200, 1/125th second at f/2.8 with the ND filter. The electronic viewfinder compensates straight away and I have a fully bright viewfinder, fast accurate focussing and perfect exposures. With an SLR the process is a bit of a faff. I can’t use ND filters because I can’t see the shot through the viewfinder. So I use high speed sync. This works fine occasionally but it needs a degree in tech and fiddling to get right. Even with the most expensive systems out there I suffer from errors usually caused by me I have to say. With an ND filter on a mirrorless camera I don’t have to think.

ND (neutral density) comparison chart

1 stop = ND 0.3 or *2ND
2 stops= ND 0.6 or *4ND
3 stops = ND 0.9 or *8ND
4 stops = ND 1.2 or *16ND
5 stops = ND 1.5 or *32ND
10 stops = ND 3 or *1024ND – (Lee big stopper, B&W f-pro 110, Tiffen ND3 etc)

I hope you find this useful. You can connect with me by leaving a comment below or visit my website Damien Lovegrove. You can also connect with me on my Google+ page.

If you would like to join me on a workshop or at a seminar in the US please email Blaise at my studio to register your interest. I’ll be at a cattle ranch in Oklahoma and a boutique hotel in Chicago. Where else should I be heading in 2014? Let Blaise know your thoughts.

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Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. Beautiful work, very insightful post. Thank you..

    Reply
  2. Great article, thanks for the thorough explanation!

    Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! very cool stuff!

    Reply
  4. Hi Damien,
    Love your work and this article is great. Something to try out now.

    many thanks for sharing
    Gary

    Reply
  5. Brilliant editorial. Thank you

    Reply
  6. Loved this! The power and versatility of speed lights goes overlooked way too often. I’ll be trying out this technique at a wedding I’m shooting this weekend.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comments. For those of you who like to shoot TTL I have a video download called Speedlight Mastery. It is Nikon and Canon friendly and covers Nikon CLS, Canon TTL and Pocket Wizard TT1 and TT5. You can check out a free chapter here.

      Reply
  7. Hi Damien, great article and example as always.

    One quick q.. when you shoot from the key light position (like grid #7 or grid #3 top left photo), the 2nd light (back or rim light) has to be hidden behind the model to avoid the flare. Do you position it lower to the ground and aim it up in this case?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Martin, thanks for your kind words. I usually have the second light high like the sun. Light from low angle is scary at best. Some wedding photographers do it to create an effect but I like my light sources to be elevated. I move the stand just out of shot to one side if I have to. I hope this helps, Damien.

      Reply
      • Got it, Damien. Thanks. And the key light is about the face height or just slight elevated (judging by the nose shadows on your photos), right?

        Going to practice this set up over the weekend :)

        Reply
  8. […] picture above. I established my shooting position directly into the sun so that I could use the same 2 point lighting technique I discussed on Photofocus here. I then moved the branches of the dead tree into position and used them to create a strong triangle […]

    Reply
  9. […] didn’t think much about the way I light my photos until I came across this article on 2 Point Lighting by Damien Lovegrove. I know the basics and the technique behind it, but never think too much about how I place my […]

    Reply
  10. How do you mount the ND filters on the Fuji X100 camera? Are they screw in filters or Lee or Cokins filters with a holder?

    Reply
  11. Beautiful work and very nice article. Thank you for sharing this information.

    Reply
  12. the beauty portraits of the lighting stand to capture is best.

    Reply

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About damienlovegrove

Creative photographer and lighting guru inspiring and empowering the next generation of photographers with books, blogs, workshops and videos.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Lighting, Photography, Portrait

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