in Photography

How to add movie prop lights to your portraits

My name is Matthew Hamilton and I am the owner of MHamiltonVisuals which is a headshot photography company in Philadelphia. I work with actors, models, and business professionals to provide them with the images they need for their marketing purposes. In this article I will talk about how to utilize fresnel lights as props in your portrait photography. This is a very popular style these days and through this article you will learn the step by step process of what you will need to do in order implement this into your work. Enjoy!



Have you seen those Hollywood style portraits on Instagram with the hot fresnel lights on in the background of the subject? It is a super popular look these days that I personally love to see and use in my work. It transports the viewer to a location they are fascinated by because of the illusive and secretive behavior of movie sets. Also, depending on the angle of the light, it can add some nice backlight and flares to the image.


Say you want to incorporate this trend into your portraits, how do you do it? Below is an outline to what you will need to make this happen!




First lets discuss the gear you will need in order to start incorporating these lights into your shoots as practicals.


The light (duh):



You are going to need to get your hands on some fresnel lights. It doesn’t matter if they have a bulb included or even if they work. (see next section) However,  you will want to make sure the light has the look you are going for. Remember that using a light that is pretty rugged and beat up can also add another cool element to the shot. I have a wide range of these lights in my studio. Some big, some small and I use different ones depending on the look I am going for in the photo and how much space I have. eBay is your friend in this case. Many people will be offloading units that they don’t use anymore. Snatch them up at good prices! If you do get some that are working and include a bulb you can use them for any video projects you may have as well!


A speed light with CTO gel:


Remember how I said it doesn’t matter if the tungsten light you buy works or not? This is because we are going to place a speed light inside the fixture to replicate the regular hot light. This also gives us control over the power output of the light because some tungsten units don’t have dimming capabilities and require an external dimmer. Also, depending on which lights you end up getting, you may not have enough power in your standard studio outlet to support that much electric current. In my studio we certainly have the electrical power for those types of lights but it certainly is not cheap to run them. I have used a few 6k’s in my portraits before. That’s six thousand watts PER LIGHT! Certainly more economical to charge a few AA batteries and throw them in a speedlight. Speedlights are generally daylight balanced (like all strobes) so you will need to cut a small piece of CTO gel and tape it over the light to create the beautiful yellowish light we come to know in tungsten units. Play around with the position of the speed light inside the fixture. Different angles will create different hotspots on the front end of the fresnel. Happy experimenting!


That is basically all it takes to add these lights to your portraits. A pretty simple setup that adds another dimension to your work. Feel free to experiment with adding fog to your shot as well. That way you can get some nice light streaks coming from the light as well. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about how to add this to your portraits or anything else! What cool props are you using in your portraits? Have you tried to add some practical lights into your work before?


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.