Creative Use of Artificial Light

The creative use of artificial light can greatly affect both the mood of the image and the physical look of the model. While I love natural light sources for their soft and flattering illumination, artificial light offers dramatic effects that change an image entirely. Options I employ include high-key, low-key, strobe with natural light as fill, strobe with ambient light, and strobe only.

High-key lighting is a staple of all portrait photographers. In this example, the model’s black outfit contrasts perfectly with the white background indicative of high-key shooting.


Low-key is another classic portraiture option. But unlike high-key lighting, a dark background creates drama rather than contrast.


In this next image, I changed things up by using a combination of a gelled strobe, ambient tungsten lighting, and a large diffused strobe. The dominant background light was the orange-gelled strobe while the yellow light from a tungsten lamp provided a nice accent. To bring it all together a strobe with soft diffusion was utilized as a frontal key light.


This next example illustrates the power and drama with a gelled backlight. An opposing strobe was used to provide the frontal key light.


Continuing the theme of gel usage, this next image features strobe side lighting from opposing directions. To the right is the orange-gelled key light source and from the left is a blue-gelled strobe used as both accent and fill light.


Opposing light can also be presented at 45-degree angles. Here the red gelled accent light comes from the back left of the scene, while the main key light originates from the right front.


This next image shows how a single frontal strobe properly shaped to control the spread of its light can illuminate the model while leaving her surroundings in the dark. Now that’s dramatic!

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With the image below I created a silhouette by utilizing a strong backlight as the key light source. The absence of a frontal light creates a classic and dramatic visual statement.


Lastly, I have an example of how artificial light was used as the main light to frontally illuminate the model while posing in front of the early dawn sun.


I hope these examples and explanations provide you with an idea of the breadth of possibilities available from strobe lighting. Not all of these styles will be used during a shoot, but the best style will be used to create the best image.

“Having never worked with a male photographer, I was impressed with Doug’s professionalism. He’s a total gentleman, respectful, and quickly put me at ease.”

Alexandra Kole