Read the latest issue here

Lighting Secrets Revealed: Hannah Couzens

Posted on Aug 6, 2017

Hannah talks through her studio set up for this stunning image.

Words by Jemma Dodd


Portrait photographer Hannah Couzens opened her first portrait studio at the age of 22, but that wasn’t before doing a two-year diploma in photography and spending a year out working as a photographer in New Zealand. During her time abroad Hannah worked alongside a New Zealand photographer, shooting everything from rugby to real estate. “I started working 48 hours after I landed, and working out of my comfort zone photographing the All Blacks and thinking: what have I done? But it actually turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It was an intensive year of figuring everything out and pulling it together,” she says now.

Fast forward to now and Hannah runs a successful studio photography business in St Albans with several business awards behind her; she won Young Business Person of the year in 2010 and 2012, Best Small Business in Hertfordshire 2010 and was runner up for Best St Albans Business in 2012.

Having used Profoto gear in the past, when Hannah decided to upgrade her lighting kit recently, she chose the Profoto D1 500 Air. “This has been the first shoot where I was able to really make use of the modifiers and have all of that available to me,” she tells us. “The quality is so much higher than lighting kits I’ve previously used. Overall it just has a much better build quality, and it’s much more reliable. The recycle times for the flashes are much faster as well; it doesn’t interrupt your work flow and you don’t have to worry about recharging times.”

“The Air remote is fantastic as well. It means I can control everything while having a conversation with my model and not have to stop and physically go over to the light. The quality of the light shapers drew me to Profoto as well, as to have that quality there is amazing.”

What ideas did you have for this shoot?
This model is someone that I work with regularly and she frequently changes her look. She actually messaged me with a new look asking when I was back so it was perfect timing for me to test out the Profoto kit.

She frequently changes her look because she doesn’t really want to get typecast into particular roles, and because it was so different, I felt that we needed to do something that was a very clean but still pretty portrait of her, and an accurate one with her new hairstyle and the make-up she wanted to show off. With this shot in particular I thought that it would be good to not do anything too dramatic.

Although we have used four lights, I always want the lights I use to be subtle and still have a purpose. This first shot was more of a blank canvas to show that this is her new look, her new hairstyle. We didn’t go crazy with lighting, just a very straightforward ‘this is how she looks’ shot.

How much planning and prep goes into a shoot like this?
Honestly, not too much. I like to listen to what the client wants to achieve overall, so if they come in and tell me ‘this is what I’m looking for’ and ‘I want to show off my new hair, or this, or that’, I know what they want to achieve overall. I almost like to freestyle the shoot from there, so once they’re standing in front of me we’ll work together and I start to think what I can use to accentuate this feature that they want to show. If they haven’t got a clue, we’ll try various things, but I like to freestyle and figure out there how we’re going to light it and what look we’re going to achieve.

What’s involved in your lighting process and set-up?
For this set-up I used four Profoto D1 500 Air heads. The two at the back each had a 1x6ft strip Softbox RFi with a grid on; I decided to use those as kickers/rim lights around her shoulders and head. They were angled back towards the model to give a highlight around her neck and shoulder line to show off her bone structure with her short hair, to subtly pick out her outline. I then had a 2x3ft rectangular softbox RFi overhead, but rather than pointing it at her I had it on a boom arm facing straight down onto a white reflector, to keep the light on her face as soft as possible, without any definite shadows.

The fourth light was actually a second thought. I initially started with a grey background, and then I figured that switching up the colour of the backdrop gave a softer look with the colour of the make-up and her colouring. However, when I did put the cappuccino colour behind her, it just needed to become a bit softer, so I decided to use an extra light with a zoom reflector and a 20° grid to just hit the background to separate her a bit more and make that overall image more soft and give less contrast between her and the backdrop.

Was it easy to get this set-up right?
It was pretty easy because the light in front was never really intended to hit her, so I just had to make sure it was low enough so there was still a catchlight and that we didn’t position it too far ahead or too far back. The only thing I had to watch for was that as this set-up gave her a restriction on how many poses she could pull, if she turned too far to the left or to the right, the kick light would start to fall on her nose. The position of them was purely there for her straight on poses, so her face had to always be straight on.

On a typical shoot how many different set-ups would you use? 
Per person for a shoot I always try and use around three or four lights, but sometimes it can go down to one. Unless we’ve got a brief that’s very restrictive and it has to look a certain way, like no shadows or quite the opposite, for each person I will try and use between three and four set-ups per shoot.

With this image how much post-processing was carried out?
The model has fantastic skin anyway so thankfully there wasn’t too much post-processing that needed to be done. All that’s been done is a little bit of skin retouching; some frequency separation just on the skin to smooth out any lumps of make-up or blemishes. In terms of the contrast and the colouring of the image, I’ve not needed to really touch it which is great.

See more of Hannah’s work at

Don’t forget to sign up to receive our newsletter below, and get notified about the new issue, exclusive offers and competitions.

Have you heard The Photography News Podcast? Tune in for news, techniques, advice and much more! Click here to listen for free.

Why Kase filters?

January 31st, 2019

The answer is simple: there is no point investing in expensive lenses if you...

Skate photography for charity

October 14th, 2022

Since day one, skateboarding and photography have gone hand in hand. From the early...

Blossoming out: The Photography News Pod...

April 30th, 2020

We're in the spring months, which means now is the perfect time time for...

Sign up to the newsletter!

Subscribe to the Photography News newsletter to get the latest issue of the magazine, news, special offers, occasional surveys and carefully selected partner offerings delivered direct to your inbox.

You may opt-out at any time. Terms and conditions and Privacy Policy.