How To Add A Second Light

by William Lulow

Using one light is the way to begin to learn the application of artificial light for portraits. Although it is the right way to begin, and perhaps the ONLY way to begin, it should be clear that just one light creates a series of shadows in a photograph where no information is visible. The natural progression would be to try to add some detail where the shadows create just blacks.

This article will begin to explore the use of a second light. Normally, the second light in a lighting arrangement will add some more information, fill in shadow areas or provide some interesting highlights. More information could take the form of making the background lighter, thereby adding detail to the photograph. It could be added to the foreground, thereby lightening the shadows. Or, it could be added from the sides to create different highlights.

I always begin by adding a second light in the front to fill in shadow areas. Once you set up your main light, your second light should come from the opposite side of the camera. So, if your main light is high and to camera left, the fill in light should be low and to camera right. The thing that is most important to remember is that the second light should be less intense than the first (main light). If you have two lights of the same intensity, you will wind up with conflicting shadows which give the image an unnatural look. One good way to make sure that the intensity of the second light is less than the main light is to have bulbs of different wattages. If you use a 500watt photoflood for your main light, use a 250watt bulb for your fill in light. Or, if you are using flash, make sure your main light is on full power and your fill in light on half power. (Or some other setting that will yield a properly exposed image).

I like to begin lighting lessons, especially with more than one light, by using hot light bulbs because you can readily see the effect of position, intensity, angle, etc. WITHOUT TAKING A PICTURE!  This forces you to THINK about what you are doing when you set up your lights. There are many photographers who set up a multiple light set without really thinking about what they are doing. Those results will always be disappointing.

Here’s a good example of a simple, two light set up:

RatioLighting(1_4)This arrangement consists of a REMBRANDT LIGHT set up camera left and a second light set up camera right and placed below the face. Notice how the shadows are still there, but they are now transparent. You can see detail on the shadow side of the face. The effect of the second light was to FILL-IN the shadow areas so that information could be readily seen. You should never destroy the effect of the main light when you add the fill-in. This is the first step in learning how to use multiple lights in a studio situation.

You can vary the degree to which the shadows are filled in by moving the second, or “fill-in” light backwards or forwards. Here, I have moved it back until my light meter read one f/stop less than the previous image:


Notice that you can still see the detail of the subject’s chin, but now the shadows are much darker. By the same token, if I moved the fill-in light closer to the subject:

RatioLighting (1_3)

the shadows are now much lighter than before. The fill-in light is actually one f/stop brighter than the original. Keeping the fill-in light at the same basic angle but moving it back and forth produces these effects. You can easily decide how dark you want the shadows to be by using your light meter to measure its intensity directly in f/stops.

This is the first lesson on how to add a second light to your overall scheme. And, it shows you the kind of control you can have over how much detail you want to show. Again, here the main light was in the same position. All that I did was to move the fill-in light backwards and forwards.