Portrait Lighting Basics – Part One

When it comes to photography and lighting, so many are immediately put off that they go running off into the night, panicking unnecessarily.  Previously on the blog I had talked about how to set up a flash with an umbrella, and five things to be aware of.  You can read those here, here, here, here, and here.

Now that we know how to set up our lights, it’s time to take a look at where to position our lights. You have a couple choices: directly in front, off to one side, or behind your subject.  We can talk about this until the cows come home, but it always is easier to show than to tell, so let’s take a look at each!

Here’s what happens when you put your light directly in front of your subject:

Light in Front of Subject

See how everything looks kind of washed out?  It’s not very flattering, so maybe we can move the light behind our subject and things will look a little better…after all, this isn’t really very good, right?

Here’s what it looks like when you put your light behind your subject:

Light Behind Your Subject

Well, this is kind of interesting – putting your light behind your subject produces a nice little rim around the edge, but there is nothing but shadow in front.  Kind of hard to see details in the subject’s face.  Probably not good as a single light source solution.  Let’s try off to the side and see what happens.

Light to One Side

Hey now, this is looking pretty good!  We can see detail in the subjects face, and the background is also nicely lit to give a bit of separation.  Because I have the light on one side, the other side is starting to fall off a bit into shadow, but it’s not too bad.  I should also note that the light is not directly at 90 degrees, and that explains why there’s more of a gradual drop-off to the shadowed area.  If I were to put the light exactly at the 90 degree mark, there would be much more shadow to the right (camera right that is) of the subject.

There are many more variations on this of course, and we are only talking about what happens when you rotate a light at the same angle around a subject and the result it has on detail and shadows.  If you really want to take things to another level, tune back in when we take the light lower and/or higher relative to the face of our subject!

Since people are all likely to ask, I shot all of the above images using my Canon 40D, with a 70-200f4 lens.  The metadeta details are:

Shutter: 1/250th

Aperture: f4

ISO: 100

Flash Setting: Auto ETTL

Make sure you tune back in for the rest of the week as we go through some more samples so you can see how light works!

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