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Is there an optimum one light setup in terms of lighting the subject, providing fill (i.e through reflectors) and possibly lighting the background as well?

If you are armed with only one light, how would you produce the best result?

  • First, make sure you really have a one-light setup. If you are outside (or near window) with a single artificial light and the sun is up, you actually have two lights unless you kill the ambient one. – Imre Jan 16 '12 at 10:37
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One clever way to get a good result from one light is to use the corner of a room/studio with white walls.

Place your subject in the corner with your light at a 45 degree angle to the corner.

The back wall will be lit by the main light, as well as reflected light off the other wall.

The far wall will reflect light back onto the subject to provide fill, and due to light falloff, will be dimmer than the main light. By moving or turning the subject you can achieve different light ratios. And the walls act like big soft lightboxes.

one light studio setup

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For a more dramatic look, you can light the background with a softbox or umbrella, and feather the light on your subject. An extreme example of this can be seen at the bottom of this post

enter image description here

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A starting point would be to have the key light off camera and a reflector providing fill as shown below. This would produce a good result, but would lack a hair or background light.

A variation would be split lighting - move the light almost 90 degrees to the subject. A reflector opposite could provide fill.

enter image description here

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