When you light a subject for a portrait or fashion image, you should be critical about what you are trying to achieve with your lighting. What are you trying to say? There is no such thing as ‘correct’ lighting. The appropriate lighting will vary from subject to subject and from shoot to shoot, all depending on the look you are trying to achieve. Don’t feel confined by lighting diagrams and setups that people have shown you, learn to feel the light and play around.
Look at the first two images here, the same model and the images taken just a few minutes apart. Which one is ‘right’? The answer is… both! The first image is bright and more pinup in feel. The second is more dramatic with a film noir feel. Both are right, depending on the mood I was trying to convey.
Do you want the image to be dark and foreboding?
Do you want the image to be happy and glowing?
Really focus on what you want to communicate with your images and that will help you decide which type of lighting to use in your images.
If you want your images to be more dramatic, here are a few tips:
- Contrast makes images more dramatic. Try silhouettes or sharp highlights again black backgrounds.
- Try extreme angles with your lights. Extreme angles help increase shadows and define features. If you raise the light up, shadows become heavier and more defined. If you move the light to the left or right of the camera (or even behind the subject), the light will get more dramatic.
- Consider harsher light modifiers. Try a silver reflector dish or a snoot to get very harsh, dramatic lighting.
If you want your images to be happier and lighter, here are a few tips:
- Reduce or eliminate shadows. By reducing shadows you give a brighter and happier feel to the image.
- Light from (near) the front. Frontal lighting gives a brighter and less dramatic feel to the image.
- Consider adding more highlights. If you add highlights to the side of the face or light the background, you will give a brighter and more polished feel to the image.
- Try more ‘gentle’ light modifiers like a large softbox or beauty dish. A softbox is very gentle and forgiving light. If you use a beauty dish and want a ‘glowing’ light effect, consider using fill cards to reduce shadows.
If you want your lighting to appear more ‘raw’, use fewer lights. You can get a more raw effect by using a single light. If you want the image to look more polished and refined, consider adding multiple light to add highlights and give more control.