Portrait lighting setups — Two light setup ideas

Portrait lighting setups

Three creative two light setups

In a previous article I discussed three easy portrait lighting setups using just one light, but for those of you who have more equipment, I thought I’d go one step further and show you some more great setups, this time using two lights.

When it comes to portrait photography, whether you’re using one light or four, you can get some fantastic results just with a little creativity and the right knowledge. Here you’ll see how to use just two lights with a variety of modifiers to get some amazing portraits.

These three setups are a great place to start if you’re looking to develop your skills and you can find even more ideas showing creative one, two, three and four light portrait setups in our LightSource courses.

Portrait using two lights
Two light portrait setup example.

This simple lighting setup, which is suitable for those working in either a small or large studio, uses just two lights with reflectors, positioned either side of the model. Used facing away from the model, the lights reflect off the nearby studio walls, which creates a lovely soft, flattering light for portrait photography.

A very simple setup that uses affordable modifiers, this two light setup is easily adjustable too, depending on the look you want. You can experiment with the position of the lights or the position of your model to test different results, as we did here.

You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

    Portrait lighting setup
    Portrait lighting diagram showing how to create soft side lighting using two lights.
    Portrait lighting using two lights
    Two light portrait setup example.

    This setup used two lights — one for the model and one for the background — with the key light being a Focus 110 umbrella. This is a wonderfully versatile modifier that produces a very focused light suitable for beauty and fashion work.

    One of the advantages of this light is the fact that you have the ability to change and focus the light from a harder, more spotlight effect to a wider, softer light. In the slightly softer position, the beam of light is wider, which makes it suitable for three quarter and even full length shots.

    You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

      Portrait lighting setup
      Portrait lighting diagram showing how to use a Focus 110 umbrella for portrait photography.
      Portrait lighting using two lights
      Two light portrait setup example.

      This setup, which makes use of two softboxes in somewhat unusual positions, shows how thinking creatively really pays off. Using one large softbox from above and one from lower down, these two lights create a magical soft light perfect for close up portraiture. With the lights used in this position, close to the model, the setup is also perfect for working in small spaces.

      You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

        Portrait lighting setup
        Portrait lighting diagram showing how to create a soft, enchanting light using two lights.

        You can achieve amazing results using just one studio light, but having two allows you just a little bit more flexibility and creativity. You can also get even more creative and make a two light setup look like a three or four light setup by introducing simple accessories such as reflectors and flags. You could also try these setups using speedlites. Many modifiers nowadays are available with speedlite adapters, which means you can get creative results with the most basic of equipment.

        Having the right equipment is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another. To get the very best results, you have to understand the physics of light and how light can impact your image. You’ll find essential lighting theories such as the inverse square law, hard versus soft light and how to measure light in our Lighting Theory & Equipment section. By understanding the concepts covered in each class, you’ll see that you don't necessarily need more or better equipment, you just need to know how to use what you have.

        For more two light portrait photography ideas, visit our Portrait section, where you’ll find a wide selection of creative lighting setups.

          Two 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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