Three Easy Portrait Lighting Setups for Small Spaces

One of the hardest things I experienced as a beginner was not knowing how to create a simple lighting setup. I’d always imagined elaborate lighting setups of three to six lights or more, and it’s why I began to shy away from working in a studio.

When I finally realized that many portrait setups don’t require more than three lights, I began to experiment in my makeshift home studio. Below are some of those easy setups I used as a beginner for small spaces.

One Light with an Octobox and Reflector

This first setup is quick, compact and effective for working in a small home studio. A mid-sized octobox is perfect for this setup because it is so versatile. Raising the light high and angled down, the light hits the model’s face from above creating a flattering butterfly shadow on the face.

Place the light one meter away (three feet) directly in front of the model and use a white or silver reflector angled underneath the model’s face. This combination illuminates the eyes and creates pretty catchlights.

Two Lights: Key Light with Secondary Light for Backdrop Illumination

If one light isn’t enough to illuminate your backdrop, you may need another light. This setup creates a more vibrant backdrop and is achieved with one key light directly in front of the model, around one meter away (three feet). Raise the light high and angled down for flattering shadows on the face. This method is best with an octobox or beauty dish would be ideal depending on whether you prefer softer or harder light.

Position the second light at a 45-degree angle facing the backdrop and ensure that it is to the side, behind the subject, and out of shot. A square softbox is fine for this.

Clamshell Lighting: Two Lights with Softboxes

Clamshell lighting is created with two lights positioned like a “clam” in front of the model about one metre away, raised high and angled down.
This setup creates incredible reflective catchlights in the subject’s eyes, it also creates a beautiful glowing effect.

Two square softbox modifiers are perfect for this, however you can use other shapes and sizes too.

I hope these 3 easy setups were helpful for any beginner photographers. For more in-depth detail on this subject, make sure to check out my YouTube video above!

About the author: Kayleigh June is a beauty and fashion photographer based between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. You can find more videos about photography and lighting on her YouTube channel and find more of her work on her website and Instagram.