I am an amateur photographer, and I have little to no experience in shooting studio photos. There is one subject in particular that interests me more than others in that area - high contrast portrait photos.

What is required to achieve a high contrast light portrait on a dark/black background and a dark portrait on a light/white background?

Is there a way to do it at home without professional equipment?


2 Answers 2


I believe the photos can be made this way:
for the light on black (You don't necesarrily need to have black background to make it look black. This photo was taken in a normal room, I just put the lights on the sides and really close to the toys, so the main direction did not hit the wall, and the subject was so bright that the difference made the wall look black. See Strobist for better explanation.)

for the white background one (you might get better contrast without the softening sheet and with the light on camera right a bit more to the back)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Great way to illustrate the answer -- what did you do them with? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 3, 2010 at 10:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rowland: lightingdiagrams.com and GIMP for added notes (and crop, which removed the original link to diagram creator -- sorry about that). \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    Commented Aug 3, 2010 at 21:54

For the light portrait you use a single light on the model, no ambient light and no light on a dark background. Depending on what type of light you use, you may need something to block the light so that it doesn't fall on the background also.

The dark portrait is basically the same, but the light comes more from behind, and the background is lit. It may be possible to light the model and the backgtround with the same light, but it's easier to get the levels right with separate lights.

Using a single light for portraits is considered to be very difficult, so you may need to experiment a lot to get it right. You should use manual exposure, as the high contrast easily throws off the automatic exposure in the camera (but that is true for most studio photo anyhow).

It's certainly possible to do at home with minimal equipment, if you have a suitable background. A directional light and a light meter should help a lot, though.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the advice! I wish I could accept both answers, but sadly, I can't :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 3, 2010 at 8:32

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