Tips + Techniques

Tips & Tricks: Justine Ungaro's Mood Lighting

July 21, 2014

By RF Staff

We asked our pal Justine Ungaro—who is constantly traveling to shoot high-end and celebrity weddings and portraits between her home in LA and internationally—to tell us how she gets such consistently well-lit shots. She gave us three portrait examples using her Profoto lights to set very different tones.

The Detailed, Tongue-in-Cheek Portrait


The image above was shot the show Betas, in a scene where Ungaro was asked to photograph characters inspired by famous YouTube clips or other viral internet media.

"Because this whole shoot was very tongue-in-cheek, I decided to take inspiration from Jill Greenberg’s series of crying toddlers and I lit my subject in a somewhat similar fashion using the tools I had on set," Ungaro says.

She photographed 11 different “characters” with different lighting set ups using two Profoto heads with 3 x 4-feet  softboxes as kickers, a beauty dish overhead as my main light and a ring flash on camera for fill.

TIP: For greater detail on your subject, be sure that your fill does not overpower your other lights.

The Classic, Cheerful Couple

For a portrait of a couple with their new puppy, Ungaro placed the trio infront of a large window in her studio which is covered with diffusion film.

"I used one Profoto head with a 3 x 4-food softbox on a super boom overhead from the front for fill." Ungaro says. "It would have been much more dramatic with no fill at all, but we would have lost a lot of detail."

TIP: Keep it simple. "I buy one brand of something so I know my whole setup will fit together.  The B1 is great for most working photographers who want a really good working light because it's small, mobile, simple to set up  and there are no external batteries."

The Sultry Musician

Used as the cover of The Reigning Monarchs' new album "Black Sweater Massacre," the band wanted a photograph of a girl who looked "Mad Men meets Goth.”

"The lighting was simple," says Ungaro, " just one Profoto light with a beauty dish on a super boom just out of frame, high right. The light was angled to just barely graze her eyes without catching too much light—lending a feeling of mystery."

TIP: Use beauty dishes for most flattering light. "I use them a lot, usually to photograph women, or when I'm doing a portrait of one person at a time," Ungaro says. "If you use them close to the subject, it creates really beautiful, flattering soft lighting. You've got this intense pretty light on the face and great dimensionality on the clothes that falls off as it approaches the floor and creates great shadow on the chin."

Profoto website