Assuming a two light setup, what would the best use of the two lights?

  • What's a good/best 2 light setup got me a suggestion that the question was likely to be closed, so I tried a variation. Have changed it back
    – MikeW
    Jan 15, 2012 at 17:46
  • Yes, or answer it myself with some research. One and two light setups are a common topic, I would have thought people would have lots of thoughts on this
    – MikeW
    Jan 15, 2012 at 21:26
  • Yep, just trying to fill in the wiki tag for studio-lighting. Might need to make it more specific as you say.
    – MikeW
    Jan 15, 2012 at 21:57

6 Answers 6


For a two light setup (Key + Fill ) I will describe an approach using 2 flashes:

  • one on the hot shoe working in TTL (A mode) with an small bounce card for eye catch and directed towards the ceiling as main light
  • plus an additional slave unit located at 60° to 75° for fill or enhanced side light.

I would start by setting this second unit directly towards the subject (maybe at 1/8 power with Guide Number 38) or maybe bounced with and without a bounce card (1/2 power) in order to experiment a bit. A possible addition is to add a reflective white large card on the opposite side.

  • Another way to work with 3 lights is using the pup up flash (Canon SX 20) as controller, camera in manual (not preflash fired) and the other 2 units off camera with slave in S1 position. With subject a bit far from camera, ISO 80 and camera flash in medium power (as fill) the others can work as main and back or hair lights. Oct 12, 2012 at 0:37
  • If possible, I really, really recommend getting the main light off-camera as well. See other answers...
    – mattdm
    May 11, 2016 at 1:44

Two light setup #3 ( Key + kicker/rim light)

This setup uses a softbox/umbrella at 45 degrees, with a reflector for fill. The second light is a "kicker" which provides glancing light on the head and shoulders which can add a lot of drama to the shot. It could be positioned to also provide some spot lighting on the background. It may be necessary to use a flag/gobo to block the light from hitting the camera.

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Two light setup #1 (Key + Fill )

This is a very common setup, where you put one light directly behind the camera to provide fill (nice even light over your subject). Being directly behind the camera, it will light all areas of the subject visible to the camera and will not result in any visible shadows on the background.

The second light is the "key" light, which should be a stop or two brighter than the fill (depending on what lighting ratio you want). This is typically about 45 degrees to one side of the subject (Rembrandt lighting)

Because both lights are used in front of the subject, there will be no background or hair light. But this setup can be used if the background is lit with natural light or you want it to remain dark, as in a low key shot.

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Two light setup #2 (Key + reflector, hair light)

A variation of setup #1. This simply uses a reflector to provide fill, and reserves the 2nd light to be used as a hair light (directly overhead), or behind the subject to light both the background and the back of the head/hair to provide some separation of the subject off the background.

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Two light setup #4 - (Beauty lighting)

A lot of beauty lighting is achieved with on-camera-axis lighting, as opposed to the typical 45 degree loop/rembrandt lighting. So having one light near the camera frees up the second to use as a hair light.

For the main key light, there are several options.

  • ring light on camera or beauty dish on/near camera

  • butterfly lighting (softbox above camera )

  • clamshell lighting (softbox above camera, approximately 45 degree angle down at subject, reflector below subject (on lap or floor) providing fill


Two light setup (Strobist)

For strobist fans, David Hobby has several ideas for two light setups. These are not conventional portrait studio setups, but more gritty on-location type setups.

In the following posts he discusses rim lights, gridded spot lights, high-axis key lights and ring flash, along with standard softbox and umbrella.

Those that want a more modern look and are using small flashes might get some ideas.

Variations on a Two-Light Theme, Pt. 1
Variations on a Two-Light Theme, Pt. 2 Variations on a Two-Light Theme, Pt. 3

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