Portrait Lighting Techniques
"Different portrait lighting techniques can make or break images. Every photographer should understand the
basic styles and methods."
As you develop your photography skills, you begin to investigate new ways to improve your photographs. There are many elements to consider when developing proper portrait lighting. As an amateur photographer, you may be limited by your equipment, studio space or skills.
This article will present solutions to these three problems. First, we will outline proven portrait lighting techniques that professional photographers use in the studio. Second, we will look at a basic method lighting that guarantees ideal results for beginner photographers without the purchase of expensive equipment.
Professional Portrait Lighting Techniques
A basic professional setup utilizes light from at least two sources. The primary source of light is called "the key light" and the secondary source "the fill light."
Occasionally, additional lights in the background or accents are added to create special effects. We can define the various styles of professional portrait lighting based on the location and distance of the key light to the subject's face.
Broad and Short Lighting
The short or broad style of lighting is created by placement of the key light source to one or the other side of the subjects face. To create a broad lit portrait, your subject should be framed in 2/3rds of your frame with the key light source facing the side of the face closest to your camera. Broad light portraits make thin faces look heavier.
Short lighting is the opposite of broad lighting. To create a short lit portrait, your subject should be framed the same (in 2/3rds of the frame) with the key light directed at the side of the subjects face that is further away from your camera. Short lighting makes heavy faces look smaller.
Rembrandt and Butterfly Lighting
These portrait lighting techniques are defined by the angle of the key light to the center of the subject's face. Rembrandt (or 45 degree) and split lighting are added to the broad and short styles to make portraits "pop" as high quality photographs.
For Rembrandt or 45 degree lighting, the key light source is placed pointing toward the subject's face, at a 45 degree angle, slightly above the subject. Other light sources can be added but to achieve this style, the key light must be placed in this position.
The Rembrandt lighting technique is ideal for most portraiture as the 45 degree angle of light highlights most facial features perfectly. The most important element to remember this with style is to move the light source whenever the subject is moved. The key light must always be at a 45 degree angle, above, and pointing toward the face of the subject.
Butterfly lighting is achieved by placing the key light high and aligned with the subject's nose. The fill light is placed directly underneath the key light. The key light is raised until a butterfly shaped shadow appears under the subject's nose.
It is important to pay attention to and avoid shadows around the subject's eyes when using this portrait lighting technique. Butterfly lighting works best with female subjects that have fair skin.
Beginner portrait photographers can integrate these techniques without expensive studio equipment. The best approach is to turn the flash on your camera off, as it can produce unpredictable results and to pay attention to the type of light source you use.
Normal light bulbs produce a temperature of light much cooler than professional studio lights (which are designed to reproduce the light temperature of natural light). Incandescent light bulbs often produce marginal results. For this reason, it is best to avoid traditional indoor light sources. Use natural light as your key and fill light sources whenever possible.
An inexpensive solution to avoid purchasing studio lights is to purchase studio light bulbs that emit the full light spectrum. These can be purchased at local photography stores, or at any internet photography supply store.
It is also beneficial to begin with just one light source. As you progress, experiment with fill lights and background lights. Try to keep your photographs as simple as possible to begin.
Complexity in photography opens the door to failure, as more elements can go wrong. You are bound to succeed with these proven portrait lighting techniques.
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