A guide to two point lighting for city street portraits

Contemporary portrait and X-Photographer Damien Lovegrove is no stranger to shooting portraits on-location. In this useful article, he gives you all the tips you need to create his two point lighting set up, specifically when shooting portraits on city streets.

By Damien Lovegrove

Contemporary portrait and X-Photographer Damien Lovegrove is no stranger to shooting portraits on-location. In this useful article, he gives you all the tips you need to create his two point lighting set up, specifically when shooting portraits on city streets.

The Equipment

Firstly, and most importantly, to create a two point lighting set up you will need the following pieces of equipment:
• 2 x lightweight lighting stands with a wide radius and good height
• 2 x Speedlights with brackets to attach to stands or dedicated off camera flash units up to 200Ws
• Flash trigger

This shot of Rosalinde was taken in the corporate district of Hamburg and I placed Rosalinde near the air conditioning louvers of an office block. I shot from below to make the shot more dramatic.
FUJIFILM X-T1, XF35mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 200, f/16 at 1/80th second.

The Location

Locations are paramount to how your portrait will look so scout out suitable city street locations ahead of the shoot. I have found the following locations have provided excellent backdrops for my shoots:
• City banking districts on a weekend
• Old industrial areas
• Beneath bridges or flyovers

This shot of Alicia taken in Paris on the banks of the Seine used two small Speedlights on full power rigged just out of shot – one from the left and one from the right. I had just a few moments to get the shot so the preparation was important.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2, XF35mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 200, f/16 at 1/250th second.

The step-by-step

Once on-location, follow these simple 12 steps to create the ideal shooting workflow while using lighting set-ups:

1. Find an interesting background in a safe spot out of the sun and without many people around
2. Compose the image and identify what areas are out of the shot
3. Rig the flash units opposite each other just out of the shot
4. Set the ambient light level needed using preview exposure in manual mode
5. Switch Preview exposure in manual mode off
6. Take a test picture
7. Adjust the flash quantity to taste
8. Take another test picture
9. Review the shot in detail by zooming in and scooting around the frame. Look for lighting stands in the shot or lens flares from the flash light etc.
10. Make any changes necessary
11. Take the picture
12. De-rig and move on

Even a pair of old shuttered doors can make an interesting background for a portrait. I used a pair of more powerful flash units with 600Ws each in strip light soft boxes here.
FUJIFILM GFX 50S, GF110mm lens, ISO 160, f/4.5 at 1/125th second.

The detail

Location, location, location
I start my research in a new city unknown to me by using Google Earth. I look for areas like intersections where canals or rivers meet railway lines or roads because there are useful bridges to work under out of the rain or the sun. Other areas I like are banking districts like ‘La Defence’ in Paris or ‘The City’ in London. On the weekends there is usually no-one around so it’s easy to take shots using the many interesting textures and surfaces of the buildings as backgrounds. Stay clear of shopping districts or tourist areas. I like old industrial areas like docklands, abandoned power stations and factories, too.

Compose the shot
Once on location I work out the exact framing for my shot. I like to use a tripod because once this shot is set I can get on with rigging lights and it’s easy for me to see exactly when they are out of shot by glancing at the rear LCD screen.

I fitted coloured gels to my flash heads for this shot of Victoria under a road bridge in Bristol. It was raining hard but we mostly managed to stay dry under here.
FUJIFILM GFX 50S, GF32-64mm lens, ISO 800, f/4 at 1/1250th second (to freeze the rain splashes).

Set the base exposure
I set the ambient exposure by switching on ‘Preview exposure in manual mode’ in camera and while looking through the viewfinder I set the scene exposure so that it is still visible but dark. I avoid black holes if possible. My camera settings are: Pro Neg S, H tone -1, S tone -2. It doesn’t matter what Fujifilm camera I use the settings are the same for all of them. These settings show me the information I need in the EVF to get the exposure spot on. I shoot RAW plus Fine Jpeg and just process the RAW files in Lightroom.

Set the flash exposure
I then switch off the ‘Preview exposure in manual mode’ and move my focus point to the correct place. I guess the flash power level needed and take a shot. I crash zoom in to 100% to see the exposure on the face of the person I’m shooting and I adjust the flash power as required. Once the power is correctly set I adjust the flash coverage to ensure it is exactly where I want it.

I spend time fine tuning the pose or action with clear direction. I then create the moments and capture them as they happen.

Top tip
Guessing the flash exposure each time ensures I have a built in learning process because, with the instant feedback, it doesn’t take long to get good at guessing the right amount of flash needed for any given flash to subject distance.

And finally…
It doesn’t matter what make of flash units you use as long as they are in manual mode and have a trigger that works with Fujifilm cameras. These shots could have been taken with expensive or cheap flashes and no-one would know.

I used the lighting the artist had used on the mask painting as my motivation for this lighting on Victoria. The painting is one of over 100 high quality artworks created during Upfest in Bristol. FUJIFILM GFX 50S, GF32-64mm lens, ISO 100, f/11 at 1/125th second.

More from Damien Lovegrove

Website: www.lovegrovephotography.com

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Author: Fujifilm EMEA

This blog account is managed by the Corporate Communication team for Fujifilm in EMEA.

6 thoughts on “A guide to two point lighting for city street portraits”

  1. Hi Damien.. I love the idea of the two light set up. are the speed lights contained in any light modifiers. how would I set up the ambient light using a Canon ? sone I know you have used Canon in the past too.
    thanks in advance

  2. Hi Tony, thanks for your comment. The only lighting modifiers are grids and coloured gels. I like to keep my light sources as small as possible so the fresnel heads on the AD200s are perfect. With a Canon you have to take a picture, press play, take a look and make any adjustments to the ambient light, make it darker or lighter and then add flash… and then repeat. Take a picture, press play have a look, make adjustments as required.Then repeat until you are happy 🙂
    Moving from Canon to mirrorless 6 years ago changed my life and I have been with Fujifilm ever since. Shooting with Fujifilm cameras is just much simpler and more rewarding. I hope this helps, Kind Regards, Damien

    1. damienlovegrove – Creative photographer and lighting guru inspiring and empowering the next generation of photographers with books, blogs, workshops and videos.
      damienlovegrove says:

      Hi Silver, I embrace shadows. They make the shots look fabulous. I never use fill flash or erase shadows in post production. If for some reason I don’t want two shadows on the ground I’ll let the backlight light just the top half of my sitter. It’s rare though. Damien.

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