What makes a beautiful portrait? Is it the person being photographed? Is it the colour? Perhaps it’s a good lens. In fact there are lots of factors to why a portrait turns out nicely. I can give you one clue as to why a portrait turns out beautifully. The light.
Light, especially in portraiture, helps to shape and compliment a person’s face. Lighting sculpting, as this is known in professional terms, means that someone’s better features are enhanced. This brings us to the question about the very best lighting setup for portrait photography. The “best” lighting setup for portrait photography is one that carves out the beauty and appeal of your persons face. Lighting setups for portraits depend very much on the person and what you want to enhance.
Lighting techniques for portrait photography vary from broad to short, side lit and front lit. Beauty lighting is a term used to light from above and below, creating softness across a persons face. This is used for fashion and make up shots. These are predominantly used for women but can be used for men too.
One of the nicest portrait photography lighting styles is called profile lighting. This is a two or three light set up done in the studio. It involves a strip softbox (long rectangular softbox) and a small softbox. The person sits facing the main light. We need to funnel the light to reduce the spread of light. Once that is achieved we then place the fill light at approximately a 50-60 degree angle from ourselves, facing the person. We let the light fill in the shadows on the side of their face, without spilling too much on their body. The angle of the fill light is very important. You may ligt the background if you wish but remember to place the background light low to the ground so it’s not in the frame.
This lighting setup is great for portraits because the lighting is simple. Once you find the right angle then everything becomes easier. The lights you use for this type of portrait photography are soft boxes mainly. I have not used umbrellas simply because they spread the light too broadly. The whole idea of this lighting technique is to direct the light.
Portrait lighting is a wonderfully fun yet challenging aspect of photographing people. It’s very difficult in the beginning because light sculpting is very technical and extremely precise. It’s a fine art and one shift of the light to the left or right can completely change your photo. Once the lighting has been moved it may not yield the desires results.
lighting setup for portraits usually requires standard lights, and a whole series of tools to change the light. Silver umbrellas for example are reflective and will help to create broad lighting. Shoot-through umbrellas are semi opaque material and will soft a broad spread of light. Gobo’s are black pieces of cardboard, of varying sizes, that will block the light from certain parts of your image. Studio lighting for portrait photography can offer many lighting accessories to create the desired result.
Lighting is emotion. In all portrait photography we light the photo a certain way to induce emotion in our viewers. Using lots of shadow and blackness will generate different emotions than if you were to light the whole scene. Depending on how you create the relationship between the person and the light you can alter the mood of the photo altogether.
In this image I have taken you can see how the main light accentuates my models profile. The fill light is responsible for the light on the side of her face and the shadows that fall. This is due to the direction of light from my model.
Lighting is one of the aspects of successful portrait photography. Light your subject for emotion. Position your subject in a way that enhances that story and don’t forget to tell them how great they look. A model who receives compliments from the photographer will relax and you will get better photos.