Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Portrait Lighting Essentials

By Staff Published in Photography Lighting
Portrait Lighting Essentials

Fill & Hair

In this article, we've identified some core portrait lighting setups, but we've talked about them stripped down to their bare essentials. We haven't addressed background lights or hair lights, and we've mentioned fill lights sparingly. The main light sets the tone for the image, beyond that, you should always feel free to add accents like a hair light as you see fit. Most pros add hair lights as a matter of course because they're flattering, they help frame the face and they add dimension, but you won't go to lighting jail if you don't use one.
Split lighting is usually employed to create the actual split longitudinally along the center of the face—from forehead to chin right along the center of the nose. Like any rule, this one is made to be broken, but be careful about going too far. You can create an interesting look with a slight angle, but too much can look bad. Keeping one eye lit and one completely in shadow is a good idea.

To achieve a split-lighting look, simply set up your source at your subject's head height at about 90 degrees to the side. Fine-tune the light position to get the line between shadow and highlight where you want it. As with any lighting setup, the look will completely change if either the light or the subject move in relation to one another, so if the person you're photographing is apt to move around, a softer source is a good idea to avoid a misplaced hard line between light and shadow.

Glamour Lighting

This style goes by several names, mostly associated with Hollywood. It's also referred to as butterfly lighting for the shape of the shadow the pattern creates under the nose. Glamour lighting was made popular in the 1930s, and it has remained a mainstay of portrait work ever since. The goal here is to emphasize the cheekbones and the shape of a classically beautiful oval-shaped face. It's not a great match for rounder faces or for people with deeper eye sockets.

To create glamour lighting, position the light source parallel to the subject's face and above at an angle of about 30 degrees. This will give the cheekbones even illumination, and it will create shadowing, and therefore contouring, beneath the cheekbones. For glamour lighting, a fill light placed directly beneath the main light is often used to soften the shadows.

Loop Lighting

Named for the shadow it creates below and to the side of the nose, loop lighting is the go-to pattern for many pros. It's simple and usually quite flattering, and you can make it work with anything from a small flash to a big studio light. Loop lighting shows the contours of the face without emphasizing unflattering elements like wrinkles blemishes or scars. You'll often see wedding photographers making a lot of use of loop lighting for this reason. If you use a softer source like a lightbank or a softbox, you can de-emphasize these unflattering elements even more. An umbrella or a beauty dish can do a good job with a loop lighting setup because the wraparound look will soften the subject without negating the general look.

To create a loop lighting setup, position the light to the side of the subject at about a 30- to 40-degree angle and a little higher than head height. Don't go too much higher, or you'll create an elongated nose shadow that can look pretty bad. Also, if you position the light too high, you'll get a bad shadow in the eye on the opposite side of the face from the light source. These objectionable shadows can be somewhat mitigated with fill light, but they'll still be there.

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