Monday night I did a senior portrait session down in Wilkes-Barre, PA.  It went well.  Very well, in fact.  For both of us.   My client got some unique photos, and I got to play with lights. Or more specifically, with a light.

This was a new approach for me.  My usual MO when lighting a scene is to start setting up lightstands and strobes until I run out of them (that would be at four, currently).   And for some shoots, especially my university work, that works quite well – I basically light the hell out of the room.  But then there’s the other side of the coin – usually portraiture shoots – where I find myself growing frustrated trying to juggle multiple lights around a single model.  Frustrated by the complexity of it, frustrated by the logistics of adjusting four strobes, and frustrated by inconsistent results.

For several months now, I’ve been following Atlanta-based photographer Zack Aries through his blog.  If you’ve never checked out his work, you should.  Not only is he an excellent photographer, he’s a true inspiration for those of us trying to make it in this business; he’s the guy who decided to become a real, working photog, and did it.  With a single Vivitar strobe.  Hence,  Zack is also the creator of the “One Light Workshop” series, which highlights this style of lighting.

What I know about One Light comes from the website, and from studying Zack’s photos.   Sadly, due to logistics and expense, I haven’t been able to attend a workshop (although I’d love to!).   But you’ll notice that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about the idea, or trying to recreate it.  One light to make a photo, instead of many.  It’s an idea elegant in its simplicity.  And I believe the results speak for themselves.


So back to my senior portrait shoot the other night.  Instead of juggling multiple lights at a new outdoor location, I took a single SB-25 on a lightstand with a shoot-through umbrella.  We started shooting at 7 pm, with the flash at the correct exposure, and the ambient 2 stops under.  My assistant held the extended lightstand, usually up over her head to get into the right location (note – buy a lightstand with a boom before my assistant quits).

The results rocked!  The light is good and a little edgy.  The background falls off enough that it doesn’t compete for attention, but still does its thing.  And  I was free to move about, instead of being tied to a spot because of too much gear.  That’s really what it comes down to – too much gear.  I think that at some point early on in learning photography, we all decide that the answer to our problems is “more gear.”  And while it may well solve the problem of the moment, it also bogs us down, both in terms of logistics and in terms of style.  It’s a hard thing to break free from, and goodness knows this is just the first step in that process, for me.

This is definitely a technique I’m going to spend more time with, and I strongly suggest that you give it a try.  I don’t know that I can make it my primary technique, much less build a reputation out of it the way Zack has, but I do know that I’ll be pulling it out of my bag of tricks more often.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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