Working with studio lighting can be a challenge, especially when you are just starting out. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started with studio portraiture. Consider this. Just how many sources of light does Earth have naturally? The sun, right? Consider the sky and amazingly, the ground beneath your feet that reflects light back into the darker shadows. The light that is reflected back is also known as fill light. If we didn’t have fill light in our everyday lives, we wouldn’t see any details and what we’d see would be completely black. Just as one source lights our entire planet, one primary light source in a studio can be sufficient to light your whole photo shoot. It’s amazing just how much you can accomplish with just a single primary light and one or a couple of fill lights. If you’re thinking that three lights doesn’t sound particularly easy, allow us to elaborate. We’re suggesting a single light with a reflective surface or two that would serve to reflect the light or reduce shadows. Using a single light and a single reflector can create unique and appealing images.
Short LightingA short light is a kind of lighting for the studio in which the side of your subject’s face, the part furthest away from the lens, receives the primary light. Conversely, the part of your subject’s face that is nearer to the camera gets less lighting on it. This lighting set up creates the illusion of a thinner face, making it perfect for photographing subjects who are larger. Short lighting assists you in making your subject look thinner.
Broad LightingBroad lighting is the exact opposite of short lighting and requires that the side of your subject that is closest to the camera gets the most light. Broad lighting is less frequently used in portraiture, mainly because it adds weight to your subject. In order to fill in the shadows, you can use reflectors placed at about a 45 degree angle to your subject on each side of your light.
Photo by jesst2010 via Flickr
Split LightingSplit lighting appears to be more complicated than it actually is. It involves placing your primary light source on one side of the subject at just 90 degrees to them. This creates a dramatic shadowing in the center of your subject’s face. If you use a flash for your primary source of light, consider a secondary source for placement.
Photo by Bree Kenyon via Flickr
Rembrandt LightingRembrandt lighting is thought of as a classic form of art. In this type of lighting, the primary light is located up high and to the side of your subject’s face that is furthest from the lens. In general, the subject is put at an angle that is 45 degrees to your camera, instead of looking into the lens head on. Using the Rembrandt technique creates a triangle of light that is located on your subject’s cheek that faces the camera. The triangle casts light right under your subject’s eye and does not fall under their nose. Your subject’s face should look like it’s lit on one side and has a shadow on the other side. Position a reflector or something with a reflective surface on the side that is opposite your primary light. Your reflector should be at an angle that allows it to bounce the ambient lighting onto the shadow side of your subject. It’s important not to try to get rid of the dark shadows and instead, to bring details into those shadows. Finally, remember that adding small details to a subject makes the final image seem more creative.
Photo by de faria via Flickr
Butterfly LightingThis kind of studio lighting technique is administered by placing the primary light source right in front of your subject’s face, then changing the height of the light to cause a shadow to develop under the face and just over the nose. This technique is perfect for images of individuals who have oval shaped faces and it is thought of as akin to glamour shot photography which is perfect for female subjects. Butterfly lighting produces dark shadows in your subject’s eye area and under their chin, in proportion to the size of your primary light source and how far it sits from your subject. You should also utilize a reflector that sits under your primary light to add fill light under parts of the face like the nose and chin. Butterfly lighting is also known as over and under lighting technique.
Photo by Rian Flynn via FlickrAlthough the above mentioned studio lighting set ups can require additional lights, it isn’t always necessary. An artistic, high quality image can be taken with a very expensive or a very inexpensive camera, using just a single source of light. Possessing the right equipment and knowing how to work with it are not the same thing.
What lighting technique has been most challenging for you and why?
-Backdrop Express Photography TeamInterested in learning more about studio lighting? Check out A Guide to Lighting Terminology!
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