Lighting equipment is expensive, especially the good stuff. Investing in a new lamp isn’t something we can do every month, especially if you’re just starting to make your way as a professional photographer or filmmaker. That’s why I’ve prepared this article to show you different techniques for creating 6 types of illumination with the same lamp (or the same light source).

Table of Contents

Let’s start by looking at different lighting styles:

1. Rembrandt’s triangle

To create this lighting style, place the light at a 45-degree angle to our subject or the object of the shot (with the camera facing right in front). This technique is named after the Baroque painter Rembrandt, since nearly all of his portraits are characterised by this famous lighting style. One part of the face is perfectly illuminated while the other is shadedforming the “triangle of light” just below the model’s eye on the part of the face that’s in the shadow.

Personal trick lighting example 1

2. Butterfly

This lighting style is created by placing the light just behind the camera, in front of our subject but from above. Here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2021 07 24 at 11.49.38 How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

Its name comes from the shadow under the nose that resembles a butterfly. I really like this type of lighting because it softens the model’s face.

Now if you don’t like the shadows that form under the chin, around the neck area or what is known as “the double chin”, there’s a simple solution: use a reflector. Wait, you don’t have a reflector? No worries, neither do I! You can create your own reflector with the following materials: a large sheet of cardboard, some tape, and aluminum foil. It’s really easy to make: wrap one side of the cardboard with the aluminum foil and fix it in place with tape. Check it out! Your homemade reflector is done:

When shooting, you’ll be able to reflect the light coming from the lamp above towards the person from below to achieve this result:

before after How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

This is known as “clamshell lighting” because it creates the shape of a clam from the lamp above, the reflector below, and the subject in the middle.

3. Side

As the name implies, side lighting consists of placing the lamp entirely on one side and illuminating a single part of the subject’s face. The other part remains in darkness:

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this type of lighting. But if your goal is to generate a bit of mystery in your shot or portrait, illuminating only half of the face can help.

You can also take some very creative photos if you ask the person pictured to look fully into the light source. The results can give photos a certain intensity:

Tipos de iluminacion godox5 How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

4. Zenith

Placing the lamp above (or on top of) our subject is known as zenith lighting. It’s certainly one of my favorites.

Tipos de iluminacion godox4 How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

This technique is used a lot in cinema. You can see it in movies like The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) or The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) to name just two out of thousands of examples. In the case of The Godfather, its usage is almost over the top as you notice how all the actors are being lit from above. By doing so, Coppola managed to deepen the shadows around the eyes, darken the looks, and increase the feelings of mystery and emptiness in these characters corrupted by the mafia and crime.

Screen Shot 2021 07 24 at 11.35.21 How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

5. Backlight

As the name suggests, this is when we place the light completely behind the subject and we don’t have any type of frontal lighting.

Tipos de iluminacion godox3 How to Illuminate Photos with a Single Light

Although the idea of taking photos “against the light” isn’t very popular, it can create very interesting lighting that generates an effect of intrigue or mystery.

In the end, it all depends on what you want to do. If this is the effect you were looking for, don’t think twice: go for the backlight.

6. Personal trick

To finish, here’s a personal favourite for when I have a just one lamp in a closed place (like a room without windows), and I need a lot of light. The effect is created by completely removing the diffuser from the lamp and reflecting all the light off the white walls and even parts of the ceiling.

When using this trick, you’re going to light up absolutely everything. But you’ll hardly notice it because the lighting effect will have a very natural feel. It’s as if the light is coming from a window, reflecting off the entire wall and ceiling.

The result is a very soft light projected against the wall or towards the ceiling, as if a heavenly light was “raining down” on your subject.

These are my 6 tips for creating different types of illumination with a single lamp. I hope they serve you well and help you capture some incredible images.

Hanns Schmelzer

¡Hola! Soy Hanns. Nací y crecí en Venezuela, pero vivo en Berlín desde 2014. Puedo hablo tres idiomas (alemán / inglés / español), disfruto cocinar y soy un apasionado por los videojuegos. Pero sobre todo, ¡me encanta todo lo que tenga que ver con las imágenes en movimiento!

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