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Photo Tutorial: Punchy Light

Today I wanted to share one of my favorite easy lighting setups I used for a collaboration with Naomi that maximizes contrast and gives an image that added punch. Getting strong contrast comes from a stronger light source. Outside, it’s the sun. In the studio, it’s a strobe without much (or any) diffusion. This lighting setup is similar to on-camera flash, but is more flattering because the light is slightly higher than the subject’s face. If you don’t have a strobe unit, you can easily use the flash off-camera with the appropriate accessories.

Naomi’s pictures were shot at home, and so were mine seen in this tutorial. It took only a 7′ x 4′ amount of space (my small kitchen nook), and I even propped the background boards up on the chair I was sitting on. The close distance of my body to the board also helped strongly illuminate the background since I was only using one light.

Get Punchy Light with One Light


In the first example, I show a softer version of this punchy setup. Using a little diffusion — shown here with an umbrella — allows the shadows (nose and chin) to be a little softer. But if you want more shine and contrast, follow the second example where I remove the umbrella and point the light directly at the subject (me).

This one-light setup is a great way to get studio quality shots on-the-cheap. It’s especially effective and flattering for photo booth setups and fashion-driven photography.

Tech Specs:
For this shoot I used one Profoto D1 Air 1000 w/s Monolight, from my Profoto D1 Air Kit. A less powerful version is this one. For smaller, more affordable setups, consider the Impact or Westcott or you can even use the Canon Speedlite. Shot with the Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f2.8 II USM lens and the Canon Timer Remote Controller. Exposure: 1/160 @ f13, ISO 100.

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Don’t forget to click over to Naomi’s blog for a special discount code good through December 18th!

If you enjoyed this tip and have a passion to learn more about photography, I teach DSLR photo basics in my Photo 101 online class!

  1. 1
    Megan T

    Thank you soo much!! These are the most helpful tutorials out there!!! Seriously appreciate this!

  2. 2

    Are there any budget but decent alternatives?

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