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Lighting Secrets Revealed: Holly Wren

Portrait photographer Holly Wren balances natural and artificial lighting for pleasing results, discover her lighting set up.


Based in London, Holly Wren is a lifestyle and portrait photographer. Back in 2012 she joined The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme, where she set up her photography business. Focusing on portraiture including environmental and lifestyle portraits, Holly works with both natural light and her Profoto lighting equipment to produce bold, yet natural-looking images. “I chose Profoto lights because they give me beautiful, consistent, reliable light, in a small and transportable form but, without compromising build quality or battery life,” Holly tells us. “The Air trigger allows me to work quickly on location in demanding and ever-changing lighting conditions with or without an assistant.”

Often shooting with shallow depth-of-field Holly favours natural and high key lighting, while creating images full of fun and expression. She mainly shoots for commercial clients who want images to support their brand and also works with various creative agencies and PR companies. Past clients include British Land, Royal Mail and Ricoh and she has had work published in the likes of The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Read on to find out how Holly created this image…

Can you tell us what this image was taken for?
This image was a test shoot I did with Shelley Kyne, a dancer and model I met through a London creative Facebook group. This shoot was part of a portfolio update. I wanted to capture a lifestyle portrait that showed Shelley in a café culture environment, hanging out drinking coffee and writing in her diary. I wanted her to be having fun, and show a sense of playfulness. My aim was to have a finished image that looked natural – as though it was shot using natural light and not too ‘forward lit’. My style is to have the image evenly lit and balanced across the foreground and background.

Did you have any other team members, make-up artist, hair stylist, stylist etc?
For this shoot, I styled it myself. I often do that with my test images, as I understand my brand and the style and colours I want to use to keep that consistent. For this shoot, Shelley did her own make-up, I’d briefed her to keep it quite minimal and natural. I also had my assistant Diana with me.

How did you decide to light it?
I’d scouted the location before the shoot, and knew that it would be full of natural light. However, the sofa that I wanted to use placed Shelley facing away from the main light source coming from behind, so I knew we’d need to infill with flash. But I also knew I’d have to overexpose the background to lose the detail of what was on the street behind. It was always my intention to make that light mimic the natural light flooding in, which was coming from behind her and behind me. I knew I would need to put the light coming in from over my shoulder to the left, but not overpower the light coming from behind, otherwise I would lose the beautiful light on her hair and shoulder. I used a Profoto B2 single head with a two-foot Octobox, which was handheld by my assistant and the Profoto Air TTL Trigger for Nikon.

What challenges did you face when lighting this shot?
I had a very tight space to work in, the café was open and full of people so I couldn’t bring in any large modifiers or set up any stands. Both my assistant and I couldn’t back up very far either. I also had the issue of the book that Shelley was holding to her face causing shadows, and as a result making the light look less natural. There was light everywhere, except enough on her face where I wanted it, so the biggest challenge was to keep the natural light and infill it to look as natural as possible but avoid a reflection of me, my assistant or the flash in the window. For this particular shot my camera was set to ISO 500, 1/200sec at f/3.5 and then I had the B2 set on low power at around three/four.

Is this set-up typical of your usual shooting style?
Yes, I knew what should work for this, as it’s very typical of the way I shoot, but working environmentally means every location is different and on this day (as many others) the sun outside was constantly going in and out behind clouds so the ambient light was ever changing, meaning I had to work fast and think on my feet to keep this balanced and correctly exposed with the light from the Profoto. The main change I made was moving the light’s position more to the left, and the shot slightly round so we were not reflected in the window. My first instinct would have been to place the Profoto more behind me to mimic the direction of the light from the second window, but this made Shelley’s face appear too shadowed on one side.

As featured in Professional Photo magazine, issue 120.

See more of Holly’s work at

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