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3 Natural Lighting Setups for 3D Portraits that Pop

Break out of a creative rut with the BWN method
Photo of three natural light setups

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re shooting portraits using only natural light. There are only so many looks you can create with just natural ambient lighting, right?

Sometimes it may feel that way. If you want to get your creative juices flowing again and capture portraits that are sure to delight your clients, check out the below tutorial from Justin Laurens who shares three natural lighting setups for 3D portraits that “pop.”

The best part if you like to bring only minimal gear to a portrait session is no additional lighting equipment is needed. Your client will likely find it less intrusive while being thrilled with the results.

“Do you find that sometimes your images look flat and lack depth?” Laurens asks. “Would you like to more cinematic, eye-catching images that pop and look more 3D? Typically, this kind of 3D effect is created using a three-point light setup in a studio to create separation between your subject and the background, as well as depth by introducing shadows on your model’s face to create contrast, shape and dimension. The problem with these setups is that they’re usually expensive, cumbersome to use, annoying to carry around and limit your freedom to shoot wherever and whenever you’d like.”

The good news is there’s a simpler and less expensive alternative way of creating more cinematic images with added depth and three dimensions. The technique, which Laurens calls the BWN Method, uses only natural lighting. BWN stands for Backlighting, Window Lighting, and Negative fill.


#1 Backlighting

“Natural backlighting is one of the most wonderful tools you can use as a photographer to create magazine-quality, cinematic and 3D images that pop because of the separation generated between the model and the background,” he says. “Subject separation achieves this by making the model stand out or seemingly pop from the background which creates the illusion of a more 3D appearance.”

#2 Window Lighting

“Window light, when used correctly, can be one of the most powerful portrait lighting devices that one can use. Window lighting has been used for centuries by old master painters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt to create stunning dramatic portraits filled with tons of depth.”

#3 Negative Fill

“This might be my favorite of the BWN method because of its versatility and accessibility, especially considering how effective it is at instantly creating more depth and dimension in your photography. Where backlighting and window lighting provide a source of light for your portrait, negative fill does the opposite.”


Check out his demonstrations of these three can’t-miss natural lighting set-ups in the video below.

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