As a working photographer with a crazy schedule and a lot of projects happening simultaneously, I like to keep things simple whenever possible. While I own a number of flashes, strobes and continuous lights, sometimes it’s easy to overlook how much can be accomplished with just one light source. This article will cover three of my favorite studio lighting techniques that use only one light.

Clamshell Lighting

Clamshell lighting was very popular in the heyday of Hollywood and is still a mainstay technique for modern photographers. It’s called clamshell lighting because it utilizes 2 evenly placed light sources, one on top of your subject and one beneath. I like to achieve this same look using just a key light and a flat reflector.

In the example above, a 3-ft octobox was placed directly in front of the subject at about a 45-degree angle. In front and below the subject I placed a matte silver reflector at rib cage height to bounce additional light up onto my subject’s face. This works to soften shadows and brighten skin tones. A white reflector can also be used in place of matte silver for a more muted effect. I personally love using clamshell lighting for headshots and portraits because it is universally flattering.

Shoot-Through Umbrella

Photographic umbrellas are very commonly used but shoot-through umbrella lighting is often overlooked. I really like it because of the nature of the light pushing through the apex of the umbrella. The umbrella shape creates a “hot spot” of light that I usually center on the subject’s face and chest. The gentle fall off creates soft shadows and a slight halo effect. This lighting technique is perfect for creating a soft, romantic mood.

In the example above, a 72” white shoot-through umbrella was placed in front of the subject and slightly to one side. The large size of the umbrella created a large “hot spot” to work with and was also large enough to light the backdrop.

Bounce Panel Lighting

Most often using one-light source consists of the key light being in front of or to the side of the subject. When I get tired of that look I like to utilize a large panel and bounce light from the panel down onto my subject. This results in a broad area of light to work in and the fall off can be gentle or dramatic, depending on where you place your subject in relation to the bounce panel.

In the example above, a white piece of foam core board was placed above my subject at an angle and slightly to the side. I used a flash with a small octagon softbox and pointed it up at the panel to create the key light. The resulting effect is softened and fairly even. My subject can then move side to side to get more or less shadows on the face (as preferred).

I hope these techniques give you the confidence to tackle some new one-light looks. Whether you are working with flash or continuous light, these studio looks are great for headshots, portraits, fashion and beauty. So grab a light and get to work!

Born and raised on the West Coast, Laura Tillinghast began making art at a young age. She explored many mediums until finally discovering photography when she was 17 years old. From that point on, she knew she had found the tool she was looking for to bring her imagination to life. Shooting primarily advertising and editorial content, you never know what you will find in front of Laura's lens. Whether it is a gorgeous model, a rock band or a bowl of oatmeal, she shoots with the same goal in mind; make it beautiful. See more of Laura’s work at her website: