A friend of mine has asked me to do some promo shots for a boxer he knows.

It's not usually my style, but I have been researching types of shots and wondered how to go about getting these types of images - my main concern is lighting.

I want my light to cast lots of shadow and contrast - this will give me a mean type of urban/grunge look, something like the following shots:

enter image description here

enter image description here

All credit to photographer Breat Beadle

I think I have the right lenses 35mm f1.8 / 50mm f1.4 / 90mm f2.8 - I also have a ring flash and a SB 800 flash gun.

I think I might need some studio lighting/beauty dish or some directional light - my research lead me to ebay studio lighting kits - I want to buy something I can use again but am very confused between continuous lighting / strobe and all these mega wattage kits out there.

Is there something I can get straight away to improve my shots - that's not too expensive/which won't be a waste of money - maybe one light or something...

Update: Here is what I managed to achieve with an off camera flash gun and a ring flash to trigger it

enter image description here

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the title would be better as "how to light a boxer?"? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Oct 15, 2012 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Photoshoot complete - very pleased with the results - will post an update above once edited - tried the "hotshoe approach" suggested by @matt_grum - worked a treat, just had to watch my exposure and power of flash \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Oct 19, 2012 at 8:29

3 Answers 3


If you want maximum contrast then a single light with no modifier is the way to go.

However the shots you posted don't show that sort of contrast and have a lower contrast smooth transition from highlight to shadow, which is the hallmark of a large diffused lightsource, such as a softbox or shoot through umbrella.

Definitely go with a strobe over a continuous lightsource as it means you can overpower the ambient light so it doesn't show up in your shots.

You have two main options: a studio (mains powered) strobe kit or a battery powered hotshoe flash based setup (usually the parts are sold separately but can be available in kit form).

A studio kit will usually comprise two heads, two stgands, two softboxes/umbrellas and sync cables. That's all you need to get shots like the ones posted (except for the smoke, unless you go for a really cheap kit and one of the heads explodes).

For the hotshoe approach you need at least one flashgun, one stand (a tripod will do) and some method of triggering the flash (cheap radio triggers are available from ebay and work ok most of the time :)

The advantages of this approach are: price (the hotshoe setup is more modular, and you can build it up over time for a lower initial investment), portability/flexibility, the gear is lighter and doesn't need to be plugged into the mains.

The advantages of the studio approach are power, better light from softboxes rather than umbrellas (more control, less spill, can get closer), syncing with cables more reliable than wireless.

Given that you already have an SB800 I would go with that and buy a lightstand, umbrella holder and white shoot through umbrella. You can get great results with one light if you know what you're doing, so the next most important thing is to practice on a willing volunteer first.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So say I went for the Studio kit such as this one ebay.co.uk/itm/… then is one of the lights continuous or do all of them just fire when I press my shutter button? - in basic terms are me and the semi-naked boxer in the dark ? or do I rely on the ambiant light to AF etc? Why when I see photos of studio setups do I see one of the softbox lights is on - is that a continuous light? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Oct 15, 2012 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot of studio lights have a continuous light for modeling - allowing you to see how the light falls on the scene. These modeling lights also act as a visual reminder that the head has recharged. Any ambient light from other sources is usually drowned out by the flash, so you and the model are not in the dark. \$\endgroup\$
    – smigol
    Oct 15, 2012 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rob basically what smigol says is spot on. Typically you'll trigger one of the heads and set the others to "optical slave" mode where they'll fire whenever they detect one of the other heads has gone off. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 15, 2012 at 18:06

In the shot you show at the top, there are at least two lights on the subject. One is coming from the left, and that light is creating the shadow at the lower right of his nose. But there is another light to the right and behind him, which is creating the rim light on his back, shoulders, back of his neck, back of his arm, etc.


I would actually also suggest here going for some natural lighting. I took this shot on a beach, nearing sunset. Admittedly I did have my flashgun mounted on a tripod on camera left. I then processed it in Lightroom. I think with different processing you'd be able to get the kind of shot you are looking for in mono there, but without the need for any expensive rigs, as the sun is free.

Although I might not have had the control you would in a studio, I feel the rugged outdoor terrain definitely gives it an edgy feel that again mother nature provides for free, rather than the cost of a studio.

Just my 2 cents :-)


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