What makes a stunning portrait? Is it the individual being photographed? Is it the colour? Perhaps it’s a good photographic lens. In fact there are lots of factors to why a portrait turns out well. Nevertheless, there is one significant ingredient to success: lighting.
Lighting, especially in portrait photography, helps to shape and compliment a person’s face. “Light sculpting”, as this is known in professional terms, means that a persons better features are accentuated.
This brings us to the issue about the very best lighting setup for portrait photography. The “best” setup for portrait photography is one that carves out the attractiveness and charm of your persons face. Lighting setups for photographing people rely a lot 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 underneath a person, producing softness across a persons face. This is used for fashion and make up photos. These are predominantly used for ladies but is able to be used for men too.
One of the most appealing portrait photography lighting styles is called “profile lighting”. This is a two or three light set up done in the photographic studio. It requires a strip softbox (long rectangular softbox) and a small softbox, and a background light if you are using one.
The individual sits facing the main light. We need to funnel the light to reduce the distribution of light. Once that is accomplished we then place the fill light at approximately a 50-60 degree angle from ourselves, toward the person. We allow the light to 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 significant. You may illuminate the background if you wish but remember to position the background light low to the ground so it’s not in the frame.
This lighting setup is most ideal for portraits because it is straightforward. Once you find the right direction then everything becomes easier. Portrait photography uses soft boxes mainly. I have not ultilised umbrellas in this situation simply because they splay the light too broadly. The whole purpose of this lighting technique is to direct and funnel the light.
Portrait lighting relies on sculpting with light. It’s not easy because light sculpting is very technical and extremely particular. Lights have to be in very specific positions. Even a few centimeters can change the outcome of your image.
Lighting setup for portraits typically requires lights with stands and a whole series of tools to modify the light. Silver umbrellas for example are reflective and will help to create broad lighting. Shoot-through umbrellas are semi opaque material and will soften a broad spread of light.
Gobo’s are black pieces of cardboard, of different sizes, that will impede the light from certain reaching parts of your image. Studio lighting kits for portrait photography can give many lighting accessories to create the desired result.
Lighting is emotion. In all portrait photography use it to enhance and create emotion. Using lots of shadow and blackness will create different feelings than if you had a very bright scene. Placing lights in certain positions creates the persons relationship with the light, and as a consequence, tells a story.
In the most recent portrait image I did in the studio I have set up the main and fill light to emphasize my models profile. The main is responsible for the light on the very front of her nose and, the shadows that fall on the side of her cheeks.
This is due to the direction. The fill is responsible for the light on the side of her face. I angled it in such a way where we still see a little bit of shadow but not enough to illuminate the whole of her face.
Lighting is one of the aspects of successful portraiture. Light your subject for mood. Place 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 loosen up and you will get better photos.