Getting Creative With One Light

So you have just picked up your first light or you have had one light for a while now, and you are wondering what more you can create with just that one light. Well, you can create loads.

I see many post/comments from photographers saying they can’t do this or that as they only have one light, and while it is more efficient using more lights in certain situations, it really is quite amazing what you can create with just one.

So my best advice is to get out and shoot loads, experiment, and fail as many times as you can because honestly you will learn more this way and the experience gained will stay with you.

In this post, I will show you just a few ways I have created images with one light. Now, this is no tutorial — it’s more a post on ideas to try.

Most folks starting out in off-camera flash tend to focus on portraits. It just seems to be the best place to start, and it is a great place to start! We all have family and friends who would love to help out, so don’t miss the opportunity to make the most of the help. Make a day of it, head out to different locations, and just practice.

All of these images have been shot using a favorite light modifier of mine: the long focus reflector. Getting to know your light modifier is important when starting out. Really learn how it affects the look (and how the shadows look) and get to know it inside out.

When out practicing, also try moving around your subject. Leave your light in the same place, take shots at different angles, and take note of how the images look with each movement.

It’s always good practice to move around your subject. Also, trying low and high angles can completely change the look and feel to the image.

If while taking a portrait using just one light you find on one side of your subject the shadows look too dark, using anything white or reflective to bounce that light back will lift those shadows. So if you’re lighting from above, place a white card below your light and bounce that back up. And the same goes for if you’re lighting from the side — simply place your white card/reflector on the opposite side to your light.

Light from above and place card below just out of frame to bounce the light back up.

The image below was shot using just one light and a whole lot of fake snow ( I wouldn’t advise shooting it in your living room though!)

Another great way to be creative with one light is to use a black card and place it between your light and your subject. This will create shadow down the face, creating a more moody portrait.

How about photographing a car? I hear you say, “with one light!” By taking multiple shots and combining those images together in Photoshop, you can create some amazing results! All the images below were created using the simple technique of light-painting cars with one light — who knew!

Don’t stop at just cars, motorbikes, and trucks — how about lighting a landscape scene?

Or light a scene with people in it for fun! This Halloween image was shot in the same way.

Head out into the woods and photograph some great shapes that Mother Nature has produced. Once again, I created these by taking multiple shots using my strobe and combining them in Photoshop.

Product photography is also possible using our good old well-used-by-now one light. Now, this genre is always a challenge, but by shooting and testing as much as possible, you can yield some good results. Using that one light and shooting through a scrim/diffuser will help create those lovely gradients across the surface of your product. And by using a white/reflective card, bounce the light back where you need it. Don’t forget you can also combine the techniques above to get more creative shooting products.

One light and fill cards — sometimes that’s all you need, as you can see in these test images above.

I really just wanted to put this post together to give ideas to the people who are new to lighting and to those who find one light limiting. While in many situations it is more efficient to use more than one light, when you’re starting out, pushing that one light to the limits will stand you in good stead for when you’re ready to break out more lights and get even more creative!

About the author: Barry Mountford is a photographer based in Gateshead, England. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Mountford’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.