One Light

Creating Impactful Portraits with One Light

Creating Impactful Portraits with One Light with Toni Shaw

Starting Out Totally Confused

I am a supporter and fan of the beginner photographer. I think as we grow in our profession, we may on occasion forget the road we once traveled. One of the most significant moments in my life was when I first learned how to do off-camera flash. It was the most crude, confusing but satisfying moment in my entire photographic journey.

Like most of us when we first begin, I had attended one of many local photo walks. The teacher was this larger-than-life guy who always sat on a chair and yelled out commands at photographers in attendance. He would say with conviction, “Put your camera on this setting, and your light on this power.” He would point at the subject and tell you to “Shoot!” No explanation, no reasoning, no attempt to explain the exposure triangle (at that time, I didn’t know that there was such a thing). All I knew was, I did what he said. I put the camera setting on “this” and the light on “this” and just shot! I had questions, but due to the pure intimidation of his voice and not knowing anything about what he was instructing us to do, I just went with it! When I think about it now, it was hilarious. I didn’t understand what I was doing or why. But eventually with determination, many lighting fails, and studying the work of so many “famed” photographers, I dug through the trenches and found my space, my style, my look.

At the time of these unprecedented moments, I didn’t even realize that shooting with more than one light was even a thing. I was a beginner; I didn’t have a real “mentor.” I didn’t know I even needed one. So, I just continued unapologetically shooting. 

I had a lot of issues

Here were a few things that truly helped me understand that maybe I was missing a few key elements in lighting.

  1. Random people in Facebook groups would say, “You need to separate the subject from the background.”  
  2. Unintentionally, the top part of the subject was lit, the bottom half of the subject was not lit, and I didn’t know how to fix it. So, in my mind, it was now “intentional.”
  3. There were areas in the image that I didn’t know how to communicate to anyone, create, or control the light that I was visualizing and wanting to achieve.

I had questions, but I kept shooting everything that I could find to shoot, and slowly things started to make sense for me.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the August 2021 magazine.