WEEKLY LIGHTING THEME: Portrait Lighting Basics

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by brooks short, Jun 20, 2004.

  1. This week's theme is about portrait lighting; more specifically the more common types of portrait lighting (short, broad, side/rim and butterfly lighting). I didn't have a model to pose for this theme so I went to the costume store next door to my studio and borrowed this mask which I call "George". Except for two obvious shots, all of these samples were photographed with a single 3'x4' softbox. These lighting techniques have to do with the placement of the main light and the relationship between the highlights and the shadows that are created. This first sample shows the difference between "short" and "broad" lighting. With the subject facing slightly to one side of the camera,"short" lighting is created by lighting the far side of the face. This directs the shadows toward the lens and makes the face look thinner because less of the face is lit and more of the face is in shadow. "Broad" lighting is created by lighting the side of the face that is closest to the lens ansd makes the face appear widder and fuller. Look at these two shots where only the position of the light has been changed. They almost look like two different people, or masks in this case.
  2. This second set of samples shows the effect of side or rim lighting. This is a simple technique in which the light is placed off to the side and almost, but not quite, behind the fron plane of the subject's face. The sample on the left has two lights, one on each side while the two other shots use just one light on the right. This type of lighting is rather dramatic and not something I do very often though I did shoot a job a couple of weeks that was similar to the profile shot on the right. It was of medical doctors and researchers. This particular series of three shots also illustrates the use of a fairly large softbox, close to the subject to creaty a contrast, dramatic lighting. Softboxes are more than just soft lighting tools.
  3. Butterfly lighting is not something that you'd normally use on a man's portrait but it is very popular for women. In butterfly lighting, the main light is positioned above the camera lens and aimed down at the subject. Often this light is very close to the lens. The name "butterfly" referws to the shape of the shadow under the nose. This lighting is very even across the planes of the face, though there are variations where the light is not centered over the lens as in this sample but it's placed slightly to one side or the other to create some direction to the light. The second shot in this series has the addition of a fill card placed under the subject's face to bounce light into the shadows and eyes. Here I used a white fill card. For a stronger "glowing" fill light effect, you can use a second soft light positioned underneath instead of a fill card.
  4. This last series of three shots has the subject facing straight to the camera with the light positioned to the right and slightly above the eyes of the subject. With the addition of a fill card on the left, this is a very standard sort of portrait lighting, especially for men. The planes of the face are lit with strong shadows from the nose and cheek bones. This "loop" type of lighting is recognizable by the triangle of light on the far cheek of the face opposite the direction of the key light. These three sample photos also show the differences between using a softbox, reflective umbrella and shoot-thru umbrella. The softbox has the least amount of spill light and the more directional quality of light. The shoot-thru umbrella shows the most spill light and slightly lighter shadow areas because of that spill light. In a small studio the amount of spill light from the umbrellas would be more obvious. There are many variations on these techiques. Larger or smaller, harder or softer light sources all have their own effects. The height of the key light relative to the subject's eyes also has a great effect on the look of the lighting. You can use these few basic setups as starting points for your own portrait lighting. You can combine and refine these techniques to create your own style. Experiment and have fun ! Be sure to share your results here in this theme.
  5. hi,

    I am new to studio or portrait lighting so i whas wondering what kinda of light was used on these flash, strobe or hotlights?
  6. Thank you Brooks, excellent examples and very easy to follow! Nice choice of prop, BTW.
  7. This is a wedding reception lit by two monos on opposute ends of the room.These never fire at the same time,but the photographer chooses which light fires,via "Pocket Wizard Plus" .A 2nd ,on camera light fires at 2 stops below the 2 main lights.A skilled shooter can "short light" a room full of people,and add depth & dimension, once they know the angles.
  8. Reginald,

    These samples were photographed using Speedotron power pack strobes. Exposure was f 16.5 at 100 ISO.
  9. Here's something I did a couple of weeks ago with some sidelighting and a bit of backlighting. The subject is a suspect in a murder mystery.
    The set up was done with two hot lights: one reflected off bristol board to the right, and one directly on the subject from the left behind the subject. Both were just outside the frame. And I used the on camera flash (dialed down two stops) for a bit of fill.
  10. And another one
  11. Brooks,

    You did "George" justice. A nice basic and amusing exposition of main-light placement and effect.
  12. Here's an example of short, loop (or "Rembrandt") lighting using a single, medium softbox and a large metallic reflector to provide fill and rim lighting on her back.
    [​IMG]</ center>
    The shot below is a hybrid of loop and butterfly lighting--the light is almost centered over the camera, but it's off just enough to provide shadows which better define her facial structure. (Yes, it's okay to change the standard techniques however you see fit.)
    [​IMG]</ center>
  13. Here's an example of straightforward butterfly lighting--one large softbox right over the camera.
    [​IMG]</ center>
  14. Hi Brooks

    I certainly have a lot of respect for how you did this, a very simple/clear demonstration of the staples of Portrait lighting, as a portrait photographer I'd like to add a couple of thoughts, I agree with most everything said regarding this theme but I've got a different slant on 'butterfly lighting' in regards to whether or not you use it on a man/any particular sitter/client.

    George is a great sitter, I hope he argrees to do more of your sessions, but suppose George walks into your studio and says he doens't like how his nose photographs, also he thinks thinks he looks old in the last few photographs he's taken, I've had clients say that to me in 'get to know' sessions before shoots, considering all the lighting techniques you've demonstrated here, and George hinting about his nose and his wrinkles, you're also considering which of these techniques to use on George, which brings us back to the 'butterfly/over and under' technique with fill, for a man or woman with a prominent 'Snozola' and at a stage in life where the lines on their face tend to promote prominent shadows, butterfly lighting with a lot of fill is the problem solver/the best choice for this client.

    One thing about butterfly light as opposed to all the rest of the techniques, as I'm sure you know, but a few other folks might not know, is that regardless of how the sitter changes his look/direction, the lighting remains right, you don't have to 'chase the sitter'(move your lights around to adjust to a change in pose), and this allows you concentrate on communicating with the sitter.

    Nevertheless a great demonstration.
  15. I forgot to mention one of the main reasons why I suggest the 'butterfly' techique w/fill, for some clients w/a big nose/sensitive about their nose, is that when photographing the face straight on w/the butterfly technique with plenty of fill, the nose is lens prominent, and with not much of a shadow, there's no reference as to how big the nose really is.
  16. Jonathan,

    You're quite right in that sometimes butterfly lighting is useful for minimizing certain facial features of both men and women. Making a larger nose appear smaller and filling wrinkles are two good examples.

    There are many more techniques such as camera height, tilt of head, chin up and down etc. that are helpful as well.

    The theme this week is really just a quick overview of some standard light placements for portrait lighting. Some ideas for people to try.

    As I said in the theme about butterfly lighting, sometimes the main light is not centered over the lens but is slightly off to the side. This position of the main light has the advantages of butterfly lighting that you've mentioned and also allows a slight shadow to one side to show some modeling of other features of the face.

    It's a valid point that you bring up. I'm sure everyone appreciates it.

    You know, Jonathan, we're always looking for other contributions to these lighting themes. Since you're a portrait photographer, and I'm more of a commercial photographer who occasionally shoots executive portraits or portrait type shots for advertising, it would be great if you'd like to do a theme yourself on some aspect of portrait lighting.

    Plus, Garry and I are busting our b*lls here churning out a new theme every week. We could use some fresh eyes and experiences to do some of these themes.

    I've done several still-life lighting themes which are easy for me to do but it seems that more people here on PhotoNet are interested in portraiture or at least people photos. I could be wrong about this but that's how it seems to me.

    If you're interested in doing some themes yourself, drop me a line and we'll discuss it.

  17. Brooks

    Actually your theme and the demstrations are highly skilled regardless of your background, you'd give many a portrait photographer a 'run for their money', I hope that I haven't overstepped any bounds with my comments regarding these themes, forgive me if I have, I added my 2 cents because with what you had to say about this theme, you're beginning to get at the 'crux' of what portrait photography is all about, at least for me, that's what 'piqued my interest' about this theme, it was not my desire to correct in any way, only to add.

    I was touching on this, looking at the three quarter, and profile shots, you can see the curvature of George's nose, with the straight on shot shot butterfly style w/fill you can't, even though this was all shot by a skilled photographer/the same phtographer, the client may consider one shot 'bad', one shot 'great', depending on what they want/possibly sensitive about.

    I will contact you about your offer offline, but cannot get your e-mail address, so if you can contact me, I have some thoughts on what you said.
  18. Jonathan,

    I just tried to send you a personal email but it bounced. My address is WBSHORT@worldnet.att.net

    If you send me an email, maybe I can just reply to that ?
  19. Brooks,

    One thing I would like to point out is that by taking the "still life" approach you and Gary are avoiding people getting enamored by the subject. Instead, this approach allows one to focus on the lighting itself. Thereby, learning cause and effect.

    I point this out because I often see people asking how some photographer made some shots. When I go to look at those shots, they're quite often relatively simple. Not that they're not well done. But, the person is confusing a great subject for great lighting.

    Similarly, when I look through critiques on the web I see people tend to critique the subject instead of the photogragpher/photograph. A beautiful model nude in front of a northern window is sure to get great reviews. While a non-attractive subject will get nill. There's often more to learn from the non-attractive shot.

    Conversely, just like what has been discussed here with butterfly lighting, it takes a little more understanding of lighting to make an average subject look great in a photograph.

    What I'm trying to point out is that by showing examples with still life, or a mask, you're emphasizing the actual lighting as opposed to the subject. The emphasis becomes on technique and understanding without being enamored by the subject. Some may not get this! Hopefully most do. I, for one, tend to feel I'm being more creative when I'm trying to make an average subject look great.

    Thanks for your effort!
  20. Mike,

    You are quite right. I chose to use a mask for this portrait theme for a couple of reasons.

    It's easier than getting a person willing to spend a couple of hours while I shoot the sample photos.

    The look of the mask is more consistent than a live person would be in terms of head angle, facial expressions, no blinking, etc.

    There's no emotional connection with the subject like there might be if I showed a beautiful woman or a small child etc.

    And, as you said, the only thing that changes from shot to shot is the lighting. So, the lighting itself becomes the subject.

    I'm glad you've been enjoying these themes. Please submit some samples if you can or, better yet, any techniques that you might like us to cover in a future theme.

    Not that we know how to do everything in terms of lighting. I know I have my strengths and weaknesses. I'll be the first to say "I don't know nothing about birthin' no babies " if I 'm not familiar with a technique. #8^)
  21. Following on from Brooks' comments, we both have the same limitations in that we both shoot mainly still life (it's fun, it pays well and it's what the clients want) and some contributions from other people with other types of lighting specialities would help everyone.

    Portraits and fashion of course, but also other subjects, interior architecture for example - I've spent today shooting indoor architecture, 2 more days of it to go but this only confirms that I'm just a commercial hack and it doesn't make me any kind of an expert - there must be a lot of people out there who can help other members (and me) by sharing their knowledge. Please email Brooks (he's the boss) if you'd like to kick off a theme.
  22. Brooks needs to talk to Mike about how to choose models.
  23. Z,

    I thought George was a great model. He sat very still, looking off into space, deep in his own thoughts. He never said much but I count that as a blessing ! #8^)

    Seriously, I chose George because I wanted this theme to be only about the lighting, not the model.

    Feel free to submit your own shot with your own model. I do also have a Beavis mask from Beavis and Butthead fame. I could have used a Michael Jackson mask which was quite horrific. But I stopped. I stopped and thought about the children. #8^)
  24. Here's butterfly lighting, some fill, a 36x48 Chimera softbox about 6'from the sitter to try to get light falloff around the cheeks, lighting is high key(intentional overexposure).
  25. Brooks,

    This is an excellent tutorial. I've heard the terms short lighting and such tossed around here but wasn't sure exactly what it meant. This visual example is helpful and explains the terms well. I hope these weekly lighting themes are around for a long time to come because I'm getting a lot out of them and I'm sure others are as well.
  26. Roger,

    Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying these themes. If you look under Administration, here in the lighting forum you'll find all of the previous themes that we've done so far.
  27. Haven't been around for awhile, but I am back and ready to learn more! I am including some shots I did over the past few months. The top left is him in action, in front of a black velvet background. The top right is one of my favorites in front of a piece of muslin from Wal-Mart dyed with Rit and the bottom one is from vacation (that is a ROOT BEER bottle)...he fell asleep watching T.V. and I couldn't pass up (sorry for the pathetic mommy gloating!). Hope everyone has been well and I look forward to further postings! :) Jenn
  28. Here's my contribution to this. This is a simple two light setup with a softbox to camera right and a silver reflector to the left. A blue gel over a grid spot on white muslin (learned that from an earlier theme). Hard to get the lighting just right when your subject is fighting with a squirming 7-month old dog.
  29. Hello Brooks,

    Thanks for the lead. I'm reading through the various themes that I missed and am learning a lot from them as well. These threads are by far the most helpful section of this forum. At least if you are learning studio lighting such as I am. I have learned plenty from many of you in several areas of this forum but this section takes the cake.
  30. Hi Brooks, Thanks a lot for the time that you and all of the others are taking to share your knowledge with us the "rookies" after reading your forums and practice them I've turn my portraits...
  31. The technical features for those pictures: the first one, Canon 300D using a white wall and the built-in flash... the second one, The same Canon 300D with a 135WS monolite with a 24'X 36" softbox rigth on top of the model (my wife) and an silver reflector (I used for that a heat shield that you buy at Pep-boys to put in your car to protect the dash from the heat) she was holding it just below the crop line, ISO 100, speed 1/60th, F10, focal length 55mm.
  32. Luis,

    That's a major improvement, don't you think ?
  33. Larry Ballew said
    <Hard to get the lighting just right when your subject is fighting with a squirming 7-month old dog.>

    Oh, but you did. What a great shot. Lighting and expressions are right-on.
  34. I'm glad I found this! You just covered a half semester of my color photo class in less than 15 minutes.

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