Studio Portrait Lighting – A How To

Here is a tutorial showing how a professional photographer sets up the lights to make a studio portrait.
All pictures in and text in this tutorial are copyrighted to Ben from SonShine Studio.

This photography lighting tutorial is constituted of seven images.
Five will show what each light does on its own, one will show all of the lights together, then the final image will show a wide angle shot showing the light placement around the subject.

1. Background Light
This first image shows just the background light. This light illuminates the background only, it will keep any dark clothing that the subject may be wearing or her dark hair from blending in with the background. It also removes any shadows that may be cast from the main or fill lights.

Lighting tutorial

2. Hair light
This second image shows what the hair light does, it is illuminating the hair! It is above and behind the subject aimed down and will keep the hair looking healthy. A soft box could also be used. A small amount of spill on the shoulders is permissible but should better be avoided if possible.
Lighting Tutorial

3. Kicker light
The third light is the kicker light (also known as the accent light or garlic light) and “kicks” some light onto the side of the subject’s dark hair opposite of the main light side. This light should “connect” with the hair light and the main light so the hair is lit from all sides (wrap around lighting) and will make the subjects hair look great and keep it from blending in with a dark background.

It is also used on males to just graze the side of his face (it is called “Clint Eastwood” lighting when used in this fashion) and will outline the masculine jaw. It is occasionally used on women in the same fashion and for the same purpose. It should “kiss” the subject, not blast them, and when used as a kicker on long haired women should not encroach onto the cheek, nose, shoulder or chest.

lighting tutorial

4. Main light
The fourth light is the main light. The main light provides contrast from one side of the face to the other because it is more powerful than the fill light and will cast a shadow onto the opposite side. It should only illuminate the subject.
A broad light source (such as a softbox) will cast a soft shadow. A hard light source (such as a straight 16 inch parabolic reflector) will cast a harder shadow. The closer the light source is to the subject the softer the light appears.

lighting tutorial

5. Fill light
The last light before we see all of them together is the fill light. The fill light is a broad light source usually placed behind the photographer and fills in the shadows. This light should provide illumination to everything the lens of the camera will “see.” This light will guarantee that your blacks will register with detail on your print. The fill should follow the nose. A fill metered at 2 stops less than the main will give you approximately a 3 to 1 ratio of highlight to shadow.

lighting tutorial

This is what the final image looks like when all of the above lights are used at the same time! notice that the model is posed properly with the feminine head tilt.

lighting tutorial

A wide angle shot took from behind the fill light. Beginning at camera’s left, you can see the aluminum light stand that holds the fill light and the extreme right edge of the 62 inch white umbrella can be seen at the top left of this image (the black thing.)
The next light at camera left as the main light and is at the subject’s right up high aimed down. It is the black soft box and has louvers (which cannot be seen.)
The next light is above and behind the subject which is the hair light. It is snooted to prevent light from spilling onto the shoulders. The last light is the kicker light which you can see on a stand at camera right rear beside the background. It also is snooted to keep the light exactly where it is aimed. In both the kicker and hair lights there are honeycombs which force the light to go in a straight line instead of spreading out.

tutorial lighting

I would like to thank Ben from SonShine Studio again for allowing me to post that great tutorial, I’d also want to remind you that Ben has a new video full of tutorials entitled “Photographing The High School Senior Girl In The New Millennium” for more information about this video please contact Ben directly.

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