Recently, I shared a video from phlearn.com, showing how to create great studio portraits using three inexpensive lights from Amazon.com (you could probably find something similar at Home Depot or Lowes). Today, we'll continue talking about easy, inexpensive lighting setups that produce great results. This time, the source article is from Digital Photo Magazine. Author William Sawalich shows four classic portrait looks using only one light. Go ahead and read the article. I'll wait... One big difference between the three light setups from the DIY rig, and these single light setups, is the more pronounced shadows in these single light looks.
These sophisticated-looking lighting techniques can also be accomplished at very low cost, using an inexpensive 10" reflector or 12" reflector and a $4 photoflood bulb. You can also use off-camera flash with a small soft box (like the little Westcott Micro Apollo or Pocketbox Max) for all of these, but it's a lot easier to see what you're going to get using continuous lighting -- and you won't get the dreaded "red-eye," either.
Additional lights can certainly be added to light the background or add separation (hair light or rim light) if desired, but part of the beauty of these classic lighting setups is how dramatically the light falls off beyond the subject.
Getting set up to create great results takes only a couple of minutes, and using these techniques, you can do it almost anywhere. If your background is busy, be sure to get in close, use a roughly 50mm lens (on a crop sensor camera), and open up the aperture almost all the way -- say, around f/2.8. That way, background details will be somewhat blurred and not detract from your portrait, but you'll retain enough depth-of-field to keep the subject acceptably sharp.