One Overhead Light Portrait: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey

In this video, I’ll show you how to use a single overhead light to create dramatic portraits in your small home studio! Hello I’m Gavin Hoey, and you’re watching AdoramaTV brought to you by Adorama the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers. And in this video I’m going to do a portrait shoot with an overhead light source. Well technically it’s going to be a softbox, that’s in front of my model, above my model, and behind my model, to create three different looks. Now having an overhead light source is a very different look and feel to having your softbox off to the side, something I looked at in a previous video, and in a small home studio. It creates a few problems, the main one for me being ceiling height, or lack of it, because this is as high as I can get my softbox. Now that means, I really need my model to be lower down, so they’re gonna be sat down, and probably sat on the floor, so I think the first thing I need to do, is make my floor a bit more interesting, then we’ll set the light. Let’s get a model in, and let’s get shooting. So to help me out today, I’ve got the amazing Sophie. Sophie’s gonna to be the model for this shoot, and as you can see’s she sat down on the floor. Now the floor for this is actually the old decking from my garden, and it should look really nice in this set up. Above Sophie I’ve got an explorer 400 in a fairly large 38 inch softbox, now it’s pointing straight down, and I could adjust this by angling the light around. That would change the shot quite a bit, but for consistency throughout this video, I’m going to leave it always facing straight down, the other thing you’ll notice is that Sophie will be the same distance from the background throughout. So only the light will change position. Now the first position I’ve got it in is a sort of classic position, light in front of Sophie, her head is roughly in line with the back edge of the softbox. I want to work out the the light that’s reaching Sophie, so let’s get my flash meter, and discover what that’s going to be, so when I’m metering the light, I’m always going to point the little dome, towards the light source, which is straight above Sophie like that. I’m getting f/4, that’s perfect, that’s what I want to shoot at, so let’s take a few shots like this, and see how this lighting setup looks. You can start by looking straight ahead of me, and as you can see this works really nicely. Sophie is correctly lit, there’s lovely light on the foreground, but that background is really dark, and that kind of makes sense, because it is the furthest thing from the light source in this shot. So for the second setup, I’m going to move the softbox so before it was in front of Sophie, well now it’s going to move just a little tiny bit, so she is right underneath the center of it. Now that might not look like a big amount of adjustment, but it’ll have a big impact on the shot. Now what’s going to happen? Well now the softbox is a bit closer to the background, so I’m expecting this to get a little bit brighter, but conversely there’s less soft box in front to light Sophie’s face, so maybe a little bit less light there. I’m gonna check the amount of light that’s coming and reaching the top of Sophie’s head by getting my flash meter. I’m not expecting a big change if any, because although we move the light we haven’t necessarily got it any closer, so let’s just come and have a little look here, and sure enough it still reads f/4 so let’s see how this looks. Okay… so looking at the camera… first of all… so looking at these pictures, there’s a lot more contrast on Sophia’s face, and when she’s looking directly at the camera her eyes are in shadow, but the moment she looks up at the light, this works really well, and gives a lovely balance between illumination on the background, and illumination on Sophie. So the final position for the softbox, is going to be even closer to the background, and I’m going to try and line up the front edge of the softbox with the front of Sophia’s face. Now if I go too far and go even closer to the background, no light will get on Sophie’s face, and we’ll have a silhouette which could be a look you’re after, but not what I’m going for today. So I reckon probably around about there is pretty good, so in this position there should be much more light on the background. Very little light, but some on Sophie’s face, it should give her a lot more contrast to the image. It might affect the exposure… it might, let’s get a little meter reading. Now if I meet her from the front here, it’s definitely going to affect the exposure, so I need to be roughly in line with Sophie’s face. Let’s get a meter reading in here, and it still says f/4, so note same exposure, great let’s take some shots like this, and as expected that background is now much brighter, and if Sophie’s looking at the camera, where we can’t really see much detail in her eyes at all, but the minute she looks up at the light, we can see into her eyes, but we have that really high contrast look, with deep shadow and highlights on Sophia’s face. So as you can see, I can get three very different looks simply by moving this softbox closer or further from the background. So let’s try that, we’ll experiment, we’ll do a little bit of a shoot, and see what we come up with. So Sophie are you ready, okay let’s do it, so I think we’ll begin with the lights swung out to the front. Now I’m going to move the softbox, so it’s directly over your head, you can look at the camera. You can look at the light and I think I like this, this is a nice versatile lighting position, and finally light towards the back, this time to get light in your eyes. You have to look at the softbox not the camera overhead. Lighting in a small home studio is a bit more tricky to set up than side lighting but if you can overcome the obstacles, it’s a really great way to light your portraits. Now if you’ve enjoyed this video, don’t forget to leave me a comment below, and if you want to see more videos from myself and the other amazing presenters right here on AdoramaTV click on that subscribe button, and click the bell icon for regular notifications of our new videos. I’m Gavin Hoey. Thanks for watching.

100 Replies to “One Overhead Light Portrait: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey”

  1. This maybe a stupid question but what kind of light is in the actual room? Not the strobe but the ceiling light. Is it another led light or tungsten?

  2. Gavin have you ever considered an LED Panel for your overhead light? They are relatively easy to make and if you DYI it is also relatively cheap.
    I made this one my self and added a switch from and this thing works great! I will allow you to put one or more of these overhead and gives you a ton of soft light.

  3. gives me home for my really small room – i dont have much room for gear but this looks doable

  4. Thanks for showing the position of the light when viewed from directly overhead. It makes it so much easier to see the actual position of the light rather than just viewing it from the position in front.

  5. Gavin thanks so much for the video. As always, you are a photography encyclopedia. You've given me a great idea for my next shoot since I have some new backdrops but they are very small ( 5 x 7 ft) and some boards (like yours) for the flooring. I think they are going to work great for me. Cheers, friend, as they say on your side of the pond.

  6. If you have white on the ceiling, as you seem to have, why not just aim the light straight up and use the ceiling as a reflector? Use this all the time in confined spaces.

  7. +Gavin, I liked the video but I have a question about your C stand: Specifically the knuckle which attaches the boom arm to the stand. That appears to be a better knuckle than the standard knuckle one would get with that Adorama Century stand. Is it easier to move and position than a basic boom arm, which also seems to be a telescopic boom arm?
    Thank you and Cheers!

  8. Great video Gavin. What is the material of the backdrop plse? And the paint colour? Did you just get a plaster to give it a textured feel?

  9. great video as always. Does it drive anyone else crazy when a woman has her hair covering one ear and the hair pulled back behind the other? It drives me nuts. Love all your videos. You make it seem so simple.

  10. I really did not think it was going to look that good but once she looked in to the light area, Came out nice, On a side note: you could add one more board across the top of the other as a baseboard and make the transition more natural

  11. Have a shoot coming up and I don't know how much room I'm going to have but either way the effect is exactly what I have in mind!

  12. I notice a lot of women like to take photos holding the camera above their head. I always wondered why they did this. For better lightning?

  13. Your videos are great. I was wondering what background you used in this video. You probably addressed it in an earlier video but I can't find it. Did you make it yourself or buy it? If you purchased it could you let me know the name and vendor. I really like it and would like get one that is similar.

  14. Great video Gavin! The examples you provided were awesome.

    Just a quick question, did you purchase that backdrop or did you make it? If you made it, do you have a video on it? That would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Gavin!

  15. Loved this video, as I do all of yours. I liked all 3 light placements, but I think I liked the more dramatic "look" behind best. You get more creativity out of your small space than most do in a super large studio. And…you're very easy to listen to, plus you explain well what you're doing. Keep'em coming.

  16. Who is this imposter? The real Gavin Hoey always uses a smoke machine! 😊 Great work as always Gavin 😋

  17. Don´t stop Gavin. I really like your home studio videos. Made me a little studio at home myself and try many of your shoots. Just look here

  18. Simple, effective and produces great results in a confined space.
    What software do you use for the lighting diagram Gavin?

  19. Good solid advice, as always… but ; 6 minutes in before your model smiled!
    She really did look as if she’d rather be elsewhere 🤫

  20. Bonjour Gavin , super video !!👍📸📷 j apprend toujours beaucoup dans tes videos . Amitiés de France Xavier

  21. The thumping 'music' at times renders your commentary all but unintelligible which is a great pity as you always have something informative to say.

  22. Thank you, Gavin and Sophie! For years now, your videos have consistently been "fun and informative". I hope you don't get tired of hearing that, because I hugely appreciate you taking the time to make these. Take care!

  23. Great video as always, Gavin! Where can I get those graphics that you used? They would be so helpful to me. Thank you.

  24. If you drop the softbox to about 30 cm above and in front of the model’s head you would get nice catchlights in her eyes and a little bounce off the floor (when sitting on the floor) that would have given a clamshell effect.

  25. Nice video but when you did the light meter you didn’t state your power level for the light, shutter speed, etc.

  26. This has been my focus for me over the last few months and it has been exciting and challenging. I use continuous lighting to make exposures easier but have experimented with flash as well. Always trying new setups. Even a strong flashlight produces interesting results.

  27. Maybe an odd thing to note, but isnt it lovely to see a model (and photographer) that knows what to do with her feet? I tend to find photographing seated subjects is often made so awkward by the feet. Well handled by both photographer and model!

  28. Nice job with the simplicity of one light for portraiture takes the emphasis off having the viewer focus on technique and places it on what you're saying with the individual in the image. Nice work Galvan…J

  29. warning! do not do this when shooting a not so appealing model. it will turn out like the walking dead… great setup though. 🙂

  30. I love it, as always haha. I would love to see some male portrait photography! Which poses and lightning are best for them. Thanks!

  31. I was just doing this same kind of look with a friend of mine the other day. (in fact, I just posted one of the shots at I love this look! And I love the way you embrace your various limitations. I think that's really what makes people more creative, and you're perfect proof of that!

  32. Nice one Gavin. Question: Where did you find the boom…it looks pretty stout, and I’d like to get something that. Thank you.

  33. Hi. Great instruction as always. I would love to get a link to that boom arm, google isn't cooperating, thanks!

  34. thanks for sharing your talent, have a question, what's the extension arm on the C-stand, just another C-stand pole, and if so how is that attached, thanks

  35. Noticed you don’t have the standard boom that comes with the flashpoint c stand. What is this boom called?

  36. Ci sono i tempi di scatto, apertura e gli iso ma il flash come lo usi ??? Alla massima potenza, calibrato o in TTL???

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