Two-light studio lighting setups for any type of photography

There’s a lot you can do with just two studio lights — trust me, I’ve shot everything from bottle product photography to fashion photography using just two lights.

If you’ve just bought a studio lighting kit or expanded your setup to include a second light, then this article is for you because I’m going to share multiple examples of how to use two-light studio lighting setups for different types of photography.

I’ve put together two different examples of two-light setups for portrait photography, product photography, and fashion photography and I’m also going to explain how you could use similar setups to these for your own photography.

Portrait lighting setups

Soft side lighting and fill

two light portrait setup with soft light
Two light setup for portrait photography

Lighting requirements:

2x Studio lights
2x Basic reflectors (can be bare bulb)

This portrait used a setup of two lights, one either side of the model and facing away, into the walls.

This setup is good for anyone working in a small studio with minimal modifiers — it uses basic reflectors aimed at the wall to create the soft, flattering light you see in the final image or, if you’re working in a smaller studio, no modifiers at all.

Now you might be wondering how we created soft light using what are traditionally hard light modifiers.

Soft light is achieved when we use large light sources from the subject’s perspective. This type of lighting isn’t usually considered large from the subject’s perspective, particularly when it comes to portrait photography. But by creating indirect light and bouncing the light into the walls, we create a much larger light source, which gives us that soft lighting.

As I mentioned, this setup is great for when you don’t have many modifiers choices. It’s also really good for creating white backgrounds, as you’ll see in the full tutorial, and it’s also very versatile. In the video you’ll see how Urs Recher demonstrates how, by moving the position of the model or adjusting the lights, this light can easily be adjusted to control the density of the shadows.

Watch the full class here.

Backlighting sun and fill flash

Outdoor portrait photography using two lights

Lighting requirements:

2x Studio lights
2x Umbrella lighting modifiers

If you enjoy shooting outdoors and have a couple of umbrellas, then you can easily try this setup.

This subtle lighting effect is ideal for situations where you want to balance ambient daylight with studio flash (an effect I demonstrate further in our environmental portraits course) and it used just two umbrellas positioned to one side of the model.

For this particular image I was shooting into the sun, so I was using a graduated neutral density filter to cut out some of the light in the top half of the image. As you’ll see in the full tutorial, using the filter meant that the top half of the model was also darker, which is where the two lights came in.

If you don’t have filters, you can still try this setup if you’re looking to shoot creative portraits outdoors as it’s a lightweight solution that can give really great results.

Watch the full class here.

Product photography setups

Rim lit bottle photography

Bottle product photography with rim lighting

Lighting requirements:

2x Studio lights
1x Large softbox
1x Picolite with a projection attachment, snoot, or similar
Scrim or diffusion material
Black card

In my wine bottle photography live show I showed two different setups for photographing wine bottles, one of which used just two lights to create a nice controlled rim lighting all the way around the bottle.

There are numerous techniques you can use to achieve rim lighting, but this is one of the easiest ways and it also allows you a good amount of control over the type of gradient lighting you want to create.

The setup uses a large softbox as the key light, positioned behind the product, as I show in the tutorial. This allows you to easily control the thickness of the edge lighting by moving the position of the softbox closer or further away and adjust the intensity of rim light by controlling the power of the light.

It also overcomes the problem of creating light at the top of the cap, which can be difficult to do if you’re only using lights on either side of the bottle.

All you’ll need for this setup is a large softbox, a light for the label, a scrim or diffusion material, and some black card. It couldn’t be simpler!

Watch the full class here.

Fine dining food photography

Food photography with elegant lighting
Product photography lighting setup using two lights

Lighting requirements:

2x Studio lights
1x P70 reflector (or similar)
Scrims or diffusion material
Mirrors or reflectors (optional)

In our food photography course you'll find multiple two-light setups to give you some extra inspiration, but this particular setup is good for photographing rounded subjects that are slightly glossy or reflective.

Another benefit of this setup is that, depending on how you balance your lights, it can be used to achieve different moods.

The setup requires just two lights — a bare bulb from overhead and a light with a P70 reflector (or anything similar) from behind. Both of these were positioned shining through a scrim or diffusion material to create gradient lighting.

As you'll see in the full class, which I shot with professional food photographer and stylist Anna Pustynnikova, this setup allowed me to easily control the contrast by adjusting the top light. The power of the backlight could also be adjusted depending on how much additional light was desired.

If you need additional light, this setup also allows for the use of mirrors or reflectors. This technique is a great way to create additional light if you don’t have extra studio lights, and you’ll see in the class how this technique can be used to create very precise pockets of light.

Watch the full class here.

Fashion photography lighting setups

Deep umbrella techniques

Fashion image taken using two lights
Studio lighting setup for fashion photography using two lights

Lighting requirements:

2x Studio lights
1x Deep focus umbrella
1x P70 reflector (or similar)

This particular two-light setup is one you could use for either portrait or fashion photography, and you'll see in the full class how easily it works for both.

Using a light from the front, in this case with a deep focus umbrella, along with a background light creates a mid to soft, concentrated lighting that can be used for close-up head and shoulder shots and even full-length shots (as long as you're willing to retouch the background light).

The benefit of using the deep focus umbrella is that you can control the hardness or softness of the light by adjusting the position of the light within the umbrella, similarly to parabolic reflectors.

If your lights have fast enough flash duration, you can even use this setup to get really creative shots of models jumping and in motion.

Watch the full class here.

Falling girl fashion

Falling girl fashion photography

Lighting requirements:

2x studio lights
1x Para 133
1x broncolor flooter

Fashion photography often makes use of very sparkly, contoured lighting. And while you can achieve this, to some extent, using modifiers like beauty dishes or even deep focus umbrellas, parabolic reflectors are by far the best choice.

As you’ll see in this setup, parabolic reflectors also allow you to control the hardness or softness of the light, essentially giving you multiple modifiers in one.

For this falling girl fashion shoot I used two incredibly versatile modifiers — a para 133 and a broncolor flooter. Both of these lights allow you to control the output (the size and hardness of the light), which means it’s an incredibly versatile setup.

The para 133, which was my key light, was positioned above and to the side. I tested this prior to starting the shoot and decided a slightly harder light worked best.

I used the flooter for the background light, again testing to see how wide the spread of light needed to be.

If you have these modifiers at your disposal, or if you’re able to rent them, this is a simple setup that is great for fashion shots where the model is moving.

The setup also means you can create different results using these two lights because of the ability to control the output size and specularity. You can see an alternative setup, where I used a deep focus umbrella, in our ‘Models in motion’ live show.

Watch the full class here.

As you can see from the examples discussed here, with just two lights you can photograph a wide variety of subjects. As I’ve said before, a lack of equipment shouldn’t be an excuse.

Some of these examples use very basic modifiers, while others use more specialist equipment. Whatever equipment you have, think about the physics of light and how you can make what you do have work for you.

Remember you can find more lighting setup examples for all types of photography throughout our website.

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Recommended Content

For more studio lighting setup ideas, take a look at our extensive range of photography classes, including portrait photography, product photography, food photography, fashion photography and much more. Each of our classes includes a step-by-step guide to help you replicate the setup and pro advice from Karl.

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