Wisdom Wednesdays – Let there be light!

For this week’s Wisdom Wednesday we will cover how to achieve professional studio lighting


Let’s face it, if you are primarily taking studio photos for your clients, lighting needs to be a top priority. In fact, colloquially photography literally means to paint with light! (Not so subtle)
Lighting can have such an astounding impact on the quality and professionalism of your final photographs. Any photographer will tell you that many things can be fixed in post, but lighting is seriously something that needs to be done right the first time.

The good news is that lighting is not super expensive! Your camera and lens are going to take up the large portion of your photography funds and lighting pales in comparison as far as cost goes.

Here at Backdrop Outlet we offer a ton of lighting equipment at extremely reasonable price points.

Before we go into specific lighting setups, lets cover the basics of lighting and terminology. (Psst – If you are already familiar with photography lighting terminology, or you just do not care to learn, feel free to skip this next section)



The two types of lighting

There are mainly two different types of light within the photography realm. These are natural light and artificial light. As you may have already guessed, natural light is all light that you are not producing (ie sunlight) and artificial light is your doing (ie constant lights and camera flash). In this blog we are going to focus completely on artifial studio lighting. (maybe natural lightitng will be discussed in the future)


Lets go over the different types of artificial lighting:

-Constant lighting: when it comes down to prices, constant lighting is always more expensive and less powerful at a given exposure. But it is the easiest to work with. Constant light is just that–constant. It can either be tungsten or fluorescent depending on how you want to work with them.
-Flash: flash is typically associated with the pop-up flash on your camera or with a flash that can be mounted into the hot shoe of your camera. They are often weak but if it is the correct flash, it can work perfectly with your camera’s metering algorithms to create a more balanced image. Contrary to popular belief, the middle of the day is when you’ll want to use a flash.
-Strobe: strobe usually deals with monolights of some sort. These are traditional studio strobes and are typically much more powerful than a flash at a given aperture. They can also accomplish things that flashes normally can’t unless there is some sort of special setting used such as overpowering the sun’s rays in a scene and having more consistent color that leads to a simpler and more streamlined workflow in the post-production stage, (flashes tend to change colors with battery power).


Along with different types of light, lets go over the different categories of light that we will be using in our different light setups:

-The Key Light – This is the main light used on your subject.
-The Fill Light – The purpose of this light is to fill in the shadows created by the key light, preventing them from getting too dark.
-The Back Light – This is used to separate the subject from the background.
-The Hair Light – Light right above the subject shining down onto the hair.



Now that we have gone over some key lighting terms we can look at –

5 major portrait lighting setups that you can take advantage of!


1Paramount Lighting

Paramount lighting, sometimes called butterfly lighting or glamour lighting, is a traditionally feminine lighting pattern that produces an even shadow beneath the subject’s nose. It tends to emphasize high cheekbones and good skin. (so watch out for those shiny faces!) It is less commonly used on men because it tends to hollow out the cheeks and eye sockets.







Notice the shadow under the nose and the emphasized cheek bones

Key Light. For this lighting setup, the key light is placed high and directly in front of the subject’s face, parallel to the vertical line of the subject’s nose (see diagram above). Since the light must be high and close to the subject to produce the desired butterfly shadow, it should not be used on women with deep eye sockets, or no light will illuminate the eyes.

Fill Light. The fill light is placed at the subject’s head height directly under the key light. Since both the key and fill lights are on the same side of the camera, a reflector must be used opposite these lights and in close to the subject to fill in the deep shadows on the neck and shaded cheek.

Hair Light. The hair light, which is always used opposite the key light, should light the hair only and not skim onto the face of the subject.

Background Light. The background light, used low and behind the subject, should form a semicircle of illumination on the backdrop so that the tone of the background grows gradually darker the farther out from the subject.

2Loop Lighting

Loop lighting is a minor variation of Paramount lighting. This is one of the more commonly used lighting setups and is ideal for people with average, oval-shaped faces.



Key Light. To create this setup, the key light is lowered and moved more to the side of the subject so that the shadow under the nose becomes a small loop on the shadow side of the face.

Fill Light. The fill light is also moved, being placed on the opposite side of the camera from the key light and close to the camera–subject axis. It is important that the fill light not cast a shadow of its own in order to maintain the one-light character of the portrait. The only position from which you can really observe whether the fill light is doing its job is at the camera. Check carefully to see if the fill light is casting a shadow of its own by looking through the viewfinder.

Hair and Background Lights. The hair and background lights are used in the same way as they are in Paramount lighting.

3Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt lighting (also called 45-degree lighting) is characterized by a small, triangular highlight on the shadowed cheek of the subject. The lighting takes its name from the famous Dutch painter who used skylights to illuminate his subjects. This type of lighting is dramatic. It is most often used with male subjects, and is commonly paired with a weak fill light to accentuate the shadow-side highlight.






Notice the distinct triangular shadow pattern on her right cheek

Key Light. The key light is moved lower and farther to the side than in loop and Paramount lighting. In fact, the key light almost comes from the subject’s side, depending on how far his head is turned from the camera.

Fill and Hair Lights. The fill light is used in the same manner as it is for loop lighting. The hair light, however, is often used a little closer to the subject for more brilliant highlights in the hair.

Background and Kicker Lights. The background light is in the standard position described above. With Rembrandt lighting, however, kickers are often used to delineate the sides of the face (particularly the shadow side) and to add brilliant highlights to the face and shoulders. When setting such lights, be careful not to allow them to shine directly into the camera lens. The best way to check this is to place your hand between the subject and the camera on the axis of the kicker. If your hand casts a shadow when it is placed in front of the lens, then the kicker is shining directly into the lens and should be adjusted.

4Split lighting

Split lighting occurs when the key light illuminates only half the face. It is an ideal slimming light. It can be used to narrow a wide face or nose. It can also be used with a weak fill to hide facial irregularities. For a highly dramatic effect, split lighting can be used with no fill.







Notice how only one half of the face is illuminated

Key Light. In split lighting, the key light is moved farther to the side of the subject and lower than in other setups. In some cases, the key light is actually slightly behind the subject, depending on how far the subject is turned from the camera.

Other Lights. The fill light, hair light, and background light are used normally for split lighting.

5Profile Lighting

Profile lighting (also called rim lighting) is used when the subject’s head is turned 90 degrees from the camera lens. It is a dramatic style of lighting used to accent elegant features. It is used less frequently now than in the past, but it still produces a stylish portrait.





Notice how only the profile of the model is in the shot

Key Light. In rim lighting, the key light is placed behind the subject so that it illuminates the profile of the subject and leaves a polished highlight along the edge of the face. The key light will also highlight the hair and neck of the subject. Care should be taken so that the accent of the light is centered on the face and not so much on the hair or neck.

Fill Light. The fill light is moved to the same side of the camera as the key light and a reflector is used to fill in the shadows (see the rim-lighting diagram above).

Hair and Background Lights. An optional hair light can be used on the opposite side of the key light for better tonal separation of the subject’s hair from the background. The background light is used normally.

As always, we hope this installment of Wisdom Wednesdays was insightful and can propel your photography career to new heights! Lighting can seem quite daunting, but it can also be an exciting thing to work with in your next shoot.


Until Next Time

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