Shoot Breakdowns

How To Create a Dramatic 4 Light Fashion Portrait Lighting Arrangement

Studio Shoot Breakdown

My goal with this set of images was to be able to create lots of drama and make a bold statement while still keeping things pretty simple. As always I have included a lighting diagram and I am also going to show you some simple variations on this lighting setup.

For the images in this article, I used 4 300watt Flashpoint 620M’s. Each of the shots uses either a white WalMart reflector or a zebra gold California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector just out of frame under the subjects face to fill the dramatic shadows that are created by the light source being directly above the subject.

The background lights and rim lights are gelled and the main light is modified with either a Glow 22” white beauty dish with a diffusion sock or a Photoflex Litedome Platinum, Medium 24″ x 32″ Softbox.

For you strobists… YES – you could do this lighting setup with speed lights and a few modifiers.

The Lighting Setup


Both of the images below use the same lighting setup however the white Walmart Reflector was replaced with a zebra gold California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector to enhance the reflection from the gold colored makeup that was applied to the models body and face.


Yes – The backgrounds have been altered in post production – more about that later in the article.
The top image uses blue gels on the rim lights as well as a blue gel on the background light which is aimed at a black background. The bottom image uses magenta colored gels on the rims and background light.


The remaining two images use the same four light arrangement with a Medium Softbox taking the place of the beauty dish above the subject.


The image above uses orange gels on the two rim lights and a magenta gel on the background light which is aimed at a black background. The image below also uses orange gels on the rim lights with a dark turquoise colored gel on the background light.


Additional Notes

The rim lights are set at approximately 45 degrees from the subject. The key to making the rims work is to be sure they are back far enough so that the light doesn’t spill onto the subjects nose. (Notice in image 3 that the models face is turned to camera left and a small amount of pink hits the tip of her nose.) I am not telling you this as a rule – just that it can be distracting if too much of the colored light hits the nose.

You may notice that in each of the shots the models face is tilted up slightly. This is done to insure that the eyes don’t fall completely into shadow and to pick up nice highlights on the cheeks and nose, especially with the darker skin models.


Here is the same 4 light lighting setup without the bottom reflector. The models face has been lifted towards the beauty dish to provide even lighting on her face and a very dramatic pose. The camera angle adds to the drama by shooting low and aiming up towards the model.


Below is the same four light set-up using a gray background and a backlight with an orange gel aimed low so that the light creates a gradient that gets darker at the top of the frame. Also the reflector under the face has been eliminated in the shot to get the dramatic shadow under the models face. The model has her chin lifted slightly to avoid heavy shadows under the eyebrows and nose.


I mentioned that the backgrounds in the first four images had been digitally altered in post production. Here is the before and after from the featured image in the article. In the original version (SOOC) on the left, the background light with a dark turquoise gel is aimed at a matte black vinyl background. In post production, I masked the subject and added a texture to the background. Stay tuned for a future tutorial on my technique for doing this. It is super simple.

The moral is… there are TONS of variations. Your creativity limited by your own imagination. Experiment – Explore – Take Chances – Don’t Be Afraid To SUCK!

If you like these images – you may be interested in these two videos about hand and eye placement.

Watch the VIDEO

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

Watch the VIDEO

Curious about the gear I use?

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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