On symmetrical lighting in portrait photography

When doing portraits or head shots, there are some typical setups. For example:
  • Classic portrait paintings and natural light portraiture places the subject near a window. Studio shots that mimic window style lighting use a big soft box, illuminating half of the face with a uniform soft light, and leaving the other side of the face shaded.
  • Location portraits with fast portable setups use a white shoot-through umbrella, which works good enough when you have to show up to a site with minutes to spare. The results look pro, with perfect face detail and soft backgrounds
  • Studio portraits, with a large soft box on one side, a hard light on the other from the back, a hair light, a background wash light
And then there are unusual and striking setups, like what Alex Koloskov does. I tried to copy his method, with limited success.



My first attempt (left),
  • 2 soft boxes one on each side, masked to give a 2 inch strip light effect, maximum power
  • 1 background wall wash, maximum power
  • 1 speedlite high front
Seeing that I was not getting anything like The Koloskov, I went away and the next day realized that I need to do the opposite (right) of what I attempted firstly, that is,
  • 2 naked hard lights one on each side, minimum power
  • 1 high front spot with white gel acting as a soft spot, minimum power
  • 1 low softbox with speedlite to fill under the chin, quarter power
  • 1 wash speedlite, max power 
I think I got close to The Koloskov, in principle. To finish this experiment I would need a background with a better quality surface, to create a nice gradient. 

Anybody can nuke the subject with flashes and softboxes, but that's like using a hammer to solve every problem. Alex Koloskov is a lighting master. My summary takeaways from watching his videos are: 1) get strip boxes, 2) design gradients 3) create drama.