Whether you’re an amateur, intermediate or professional photographer, sooner rather than later you would have realized that understanding and applying portrait photography lighting correctly really does improve the quality of your portraits to great lengths. Once you’ve successfully achieved an oustanding portrait, it’s really difficult to stop experimenting and it’s not that hard to pick up.
Then of course we have to tread down the road of photography lighting jargon – split, backlight, narrow light, ambient, strobe, fill, main, diffused, hair light etc. Oh, please save me…
It’s enough to make you turn to drink… well nearly.
Why is it worth learning portrait photography lighting?
In a nutshell it makes an incredible difference to the outcome of portraits. Once you’ve seen what might have been and then compared it to a portrait with carefully selected lighting techniques, the results will prevent any further apathy. You might still turn to drink but you’ll have amazing portrait results. Some of the first things that come to mind is the difference it makes to cheekbones, the size of someone’s nose, wrinkles can be rendered friendly (just made that up) I don’t know if you can render them friendly but you can make them nicer to look at :-). Scars blemishes and marks can be softened too.
Understanding lighting for portrait photography is more important than many photographers think if only to ensure much, much better results.
Thankfully, in a studio, the photographer is the master and all composition is in their control. That said, there are a few standard lighting procedures you should know in order to be on the road to being the master. There is much more to achieve magnificent results and I will get to that but these are a good place to start.
Let’s talk about trio lighting (often referred to as three point lighting)
This is a very common approach to portrait photography lighting and is highly effective I must add.
Main light (sometimes called key lighting)
This light is usually positioned at angles to the models face at about eye level or slightly higher at approximately 45 degrees from centre. It is most often the brightest of all lights hence the name. Like you couldn’t tell…
Shadow softener or Fill Lighting
This is used to soften the shadows which may be too harsh on the other side of the models face from the effects of the main light. It’s intensity is most often around 20 to 30% of the main light.
The outcome should reflect a natural style of lighting. That said, you can always use a few other styles of lighting to add drama to the shot and manipulate more physical appearance and highlights. Some people refer to it as Rembrandt lighting. Hmmm!
In trio lighting this is the third element for effect. This light is positioned behind the model in such a fashion that it highlights the hair and sometimes the shoulders. It’s your call and it can be controlled by angling. This light is rather sensitive to brightness. You can easily over do it. Make sure that it simply allows a little separation from the background. If you feel it looks better when it’s extremely bright, it’s time to stop drinking.
Nearly all lighting now is flash oriented in some way but there are many ways to diffuse lighting. None more popular than the umbrella bounce method and the well known soft box which is simply made from material. It contains a strobe. These are much better than using a standard strobe which is often far too harsh for many subjects. You cam also use background lights to enhance any particular background requiring emphasis. There are coloured gels you can get to dramatize and colour the background.
There are other accessory type lighting pieces you can get to enhance your portrait photography even further. One is Butterfly lighting which really should be another article. Another common lighting method like a kicker is used most often in addition to the fill which is meant to highlight lines and bone structure. Personally, I think this can be over-kill. However, it’s really a personal matter and it should be looked at if you are serious and want to experiment a bit. You can get some seriously good portraits by using just the trio lighting method.
If you are deadly keen on portrait photography, this is the most affordable portrait tutorial style eBook I know of. It answers many questions I admit I hadn’t even thought about and it’s high quality step by step information. You must get this! Especially at this price. More importantly, there are some excellent interviews with high profile portrait photographers who spill a few portrait secrets as well. There are a couple of products or should I say ebooks out there that are worth considering when it comes to picking up the finer points of portrait photography… nothing this good for this price though. Truly, this is the best I’ve seen. If one ever better turns up, I’ll change this affiliate link but I can’t see that happening in the near future. Sacrifice a few cups of coffee this week and snap it up. You can get it at this current price at my affiliate link. I learned a few things from it as well (sighs with embarrassment).
I have some portrait photography tips type articles here but no where near as indepth and thorough as the eBook I just referred you to.