Portrait lighting ideas – Creative four light setups

Portrait lighting ideas

Creative four light setups

When it comes to portrait photography, you often see results that are really quite similar. Softboxes are a go-to modifier and aim is either Butterfly, Loop or Rembrandt lighting. But with a little creativity (and the right knowledge), the possibilities are endless.

In previous articles I’ve shown you how to create great portraits using just one, two and three lights (remember you can see even more examples in our Portrait section). Here I go that next step further and show you how to get creative results using four lights. You’ll see how I use common modifiers in unusual ways, how you can utilise affordable accessories for added effect and how to apply lighting theory to get the most out of your equipment.

Four light portrait lighting setup
Four light portrait lighting setup example.

Somewhat similar to the soft and shadow setup in our three light section, this setup is perfect for small studio spaces (though it does require some modification to the space).

For the lighting, three carefully positioned lights shining into the white studio wall on one side of the model combined with a large softbox on the opposite side serve to create a very contoured yet flattering light. Ideal for single or group portraiture, this setup produces a lovely soft, fresh light using just two types of modifiers — it doesn’t get much simpler!

You can watch the full tutorial for this image here.

    Portrait lighting diagram
    Portrait lighting diagram showing how to achieve soft, fresh lighting with four lights.
    Four light portrait lighting setup
    Four light portrait lighting setup example.

    This dynamic setup is a great, versatile option for portrait photography and is perfect for full length portraits too.

    A Focus 100 umbrella from the front provides a focused beam of light to illuminate the model’s face, while two lights shining into polyboards serve a dual purpose: to evenly illuminate the background and also create rim lighting down the side of the model. The fourth light, a hair light, is a gridded light placed above and behind the model. A further advantage of this setup is that it allows your model a great deal of freedom to move, which means you can get as creative as you want.

    You can watch the full tutorial for this image here.

      Portrait lighting diagram
      Portrait lighting diagram showing how to achieve dynamic energy lighting with four lights.
      Four light portrait lighting setup
      Four light portrait lighting setup example.

      This four light setup combines cold and warm light to produce a beautiful Rembrandt-style lighting.

      The setup includes a gelled light from the left of the model, adding some colour in the shadow, with the key light, a Focus 110 umbrella from above, a stripbox from the right to add three dimensionality and a background light.

      You can watch the full tutorial for this image here.

        Portrait lighting diagram
        Portrait lighting diagram showing how to achieve warm and cold lighting with four lights.

        You’ll have seen from these three ideas, as well as the other examples in our Portrait section, just how creative you can be with light. From dramatic and moody light to high key soft light — the possibilities are endless. Whether you’re using one light or four, all you need are some basic modifiers and creativity and the right knowledge.

        Knowledge is something I can’t stress enough. Often photographers come to me with the same problems, things like: “I only have one studio light”, “I don’t have expensive equipment” or “I have a small studio”. As you’ll have seen, throughout this article and in almost 50 portrait lighting setups classes, you can take great portraits using minimal equipment, even in a small space.

        The most essential thing is knowledge — understanding light and knowing how to use the equipment you have. We cover all of this in our Lighting Theory & Equipment section. If you’re using studio lights and haven’t yet watched these classes, they’re a great place to start. Whether you’re shooting products or portraits, the concepts covered in these classes are essential and, once you understand them, you’ll see just how much your photography can improve.

          Four light portrait lighting setup ideas.

          Recommended Content

          For more portrait photography classes, visit our Portrait section, where you'll find a number of creating portrait lighting ideas using one, two, three and four lights. Whether you're working indoors or outdoors, in a small studio or large studio, you'll find our classes cover a wide variety.

          If you’re looking to grow your lighting skills, you will also find the following classes useful. Here I cover some of the fundamental knowledge of studio lighting and show you how you can take complete control. Whether you’re unsure about different modifiers, flash duration or how to measure and correctly expose your shot, you’ll find all you need to know in these informative modules.

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