Bounced Light Wrap Up

How to achieve lowkey portraits with nice soft lighting and rimlights again with a single speedlight!

In the first three tutorials here on I wrote about different techniques of bouncing your light. Although my last article covered a different topic, today I want to wrap up the whole bouncing-your-light-series and finish it (for now).  😉

The very first tutorial was about how to achieve highkey portraits with a single speedlight. Todays article will cover right the opposite: How to achieve lowkey portraits with nice soft lighting and rimlights again with just a single speedlight! The technique is very similar to the highkey one. But as usual, at first the result:

For this studio portrait I used one single bare speedlight, which was placed about 2m and directly behind my subject. The zoom was adjusted so that the light hit my model from about her bottom to her head. That resulted in the rimlight which you can see around the model’s body. To light her from the front I simply pulled in two white foamcore reflectors of which one – the “main light” – is camera right and just outside the frame. The second reflector is camera left and a little further away than the right one. That’s all! Simple and effective… 🙂

Here’s a lighting diagram to show how everything was placed:

This is by no means an ideal setup, but if you have only one light, it’s a very simple way to achieve a look similar to a multi-light setup. When you use such lighting, take care of stray hair and dust (or alike) in the air, because the backlight will emphasize that! I didn’t retouch the above photo by purpose, so that you can see these problems.

Some things to remember using this setup:

  1. The lighting ratio is determined by the relation of flash to model to reflectors. The closer the flash is to the model, the higher will be the light fall-off, hence the lighting ratio. So put the flash as far back as possible to get natural looking results.
  2. The ratio between both reflectors is based on their distance to the model – experiment with that!
  3. Reflectors with shiny surfaces will offer you higher “output”, but higher specularity as well. In my example I used matt finished foamcore boards.
  4. The size of the illuminated area of the reflector boards and the distance to the model determines the softness of light that hits the model from the front.

As I said – this is no ideal setup, but maybe it offers you a starting point for how to use backlight in other situations.

Keep playing and feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.

– Martin –