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April 16th, 2014

Create Beautiful Portraits Using Simple Lighting Techniques

Posted by liveBooks

Award-winning photographer Michael Corsentino tells us how to create beautiful portraits using simple lighting techniques. As an author and an educator he generously shares his lighting and posing secrets, processing techniques, time-saving workflow strategies and shooting philosophies with other photographers. We’re thrilled that he’ll be a regular contributor.

Keep it simple! I’m continually reminded of this tried and true maxim. Being a dyed in the wool lighting geek I like nothing more than throwing a ton of lights into a setup, and creating complex, layered lighting. It’s the puzzle solver in me. Sometimes that’s completely called for and the only way to produce the desired result. However solving the lighting puzzles doesn’t always have to involve a kings ransom worth of strobes, power packs, etc, quite the contrary. In fact, 90 percent of my lighting solutions end up using between just 1 to 3 lights.

It’s easy for me, just like the next guy, to get caught up in the use of lust worthy gear and complex setups. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of great equipment at my fingertips so the temptation is ever present. However at the end of the day it really isn’t about the gear or how many lights you can throw at a project. It’s about the quality of your artistic vision and results you’re able to produce. The tools are only as good the person using them and only a means to end. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I repeatedly rediscover just how much is possible with a few simple tools, tools you know inside and out. Limitations beget innovative solutions and from innovation springs creativity.

In future posts I’ll look at multiple light setups, post processing, workflow and more. But since I’m talking about keeping it simple, I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the point than looking at a few recent one light portraits. The following images were created using only one strobe or speedlight along with modifiers such as a beauty dish, octabank, reflector panel, subtraction panel, and v-flat. The importance of modifiers can’t be over emphasized. They play an important role in allowing you to shape and control the quality of your light, even if you’re only using sheets of foam core to reflect or subtract light. As you’ll see this is something I do often, either alone or in combination with an additional modifier on my key light. It all depends on the quality of light I’m after.

Comp Card Fashion Portrait

Fashion Portrait

Comp Card Fashion Portrait courtesy of Michael Corsentino. Model: Makaila Nichols, MHUA: Annie Radigan.

To create comp card portrait for model Makaila Nichols I placed a Profoto D1 500W camera left and modified it with a Mola Demi beauty dish. To open up the shadows, reflect light back from the key light and create a broad fill source I placed a white 4×8 foot sheet of foam core to the right of the model.

Blaine The Mono Band Portrait

Fashion Portrait

Blaine The Mono Band Portrait courtesy of Michael Corsentino

For this image of Orlando, FL based rockers Blaine The Mono I’m using 1 Profoto 7B and Pro 7 head at full power, placed camera right, 15 feet from the subjects and modified with a 7 foot octabank. I’ve placed one 4×8 foot sheet of black foam core on the left side of the band to subtract light and create a more sculpted moody look. The band members are Randi Stickles, Clifton Garner, Eric Joseph, Chris Culverwell.

Self-Portrait Promo Image

Fashion Portrait

Self-Portrait Promo Image courtesy of Michael Corsentino

For this self-portrait promo image I used the same lighting setup I used for the band portrait above. Except in this case I moved the light closer. With only one person to light the distance necessary to provide enough coverage was less. The set up was 1 Profoto 7B Pro 7 head at full power, placed camera right and modified with 7 foot bank. One 4×8 sheet of black foam core was placed camera left to subtract light from my left side.

High Key Fashion/Glamour Portrait

Fashion Portrait

High Key Fashion Glamour Portrait courtesy of Michael Corsentino. Model & HMUA: Chelsea Brooks.

It doesn’t get simpler than this. To create this high key glamour cover shot style image I used 1 Canon 600EXT Speedlite at full power fired into a white 4×8 foot foam core v-flat placed behind me as I shot.

Many of these images have been featured in my monthly lighting column for Shutter Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about how they were created, see the lighting diagrams, and my instructional videos sign up for Shutter Magazine. This FREE monthly resource is loaded with tons of valuable educational content from today’s top photographers.

It’s my pleasure to share with the liveBooks community as a new regular contributor to the Resolve blog. As a long time liveBooks customer I can attest to the positive impact liveBooks has had on my business and visibility in the marketplace. It’s my honor to now be in a position to give back and help others as they make their way along their photography career paths. It’s going to be an exciting ride!

All images © Michael Corsentino 2014

Michael Corsentino is an award-winning contemporary wedding, portrait, editorial and fashion photographer. A 2013 American Photo Top Ten Wedding Photographer nominee, Michael is an Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom expert as well as a Capture One Pro Certified Professional. He is author of the popular Canon Speedlite System Digital Field Guide, Canon 6D Digital Filed Guide, and forthcoming Capture One 7 Pro Official Guide.

In addition to his busy shooting schedule, book and video projects, Michael is a contributing writer to Photoshop User Magazine. He writes a monthly lighting column for Shutter Magazine and serves as Tech Editor at Large and Photographer in Residence for Resource Magazine. A sought-after international workshop leader and speaker, Michael is based in Florida and has been shooting digitally since 1999. He made his first exposure when he was 12 years old and hasn’t put his camera down since.

His 35-year love affair with the magic and science of photography is more passionate today than ever – Stylish, dramatic, edgy and modern images set Michael’s photography apart.

Learn more at, follow Michael on facebook ( and twitter (@Corsentino)

One Comment

  1. April 30th, 2014 at 3:19 pm


    love the speedlight into the foamcore trick.. in my studio i have 2- 7’x9′ windows and have been simply rolling down paper in front of them and shooting away.. phenomenal light which reminds me of your example. i have been ramping up my Vivitar 285 kit. i can gang 3-4 onto one bracket and use in a 7′ umbrella OR into a small soft box. the new lith-ion AA battery technology is so great, no need for quantums… i can dial those suckers down to 1/8th power for quick recycle and using a 5Dm3 allows me to pump up the iso to make up for the power difference.. these are exciting times.. I am finding that using the cheap speedlights is liberating, undoing 25 years of learning how to light “the real way”, even leaving the portable elinchrome or profoto stuff behind.. Doing more with less opens up an entire world of new possibilities….. thanks for sharing! you can check out my stuff at

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