Lighting styles vary through the years, but over time a few techniques and principles stand out as timeless. These proven lighting techniques have produced some of the most iconic photographs in history. The next time a client calls with a big job—or you need to photograph the neighbor's kids—have these lighting recipes in your back pocket.
1 SOFT LIGHTINGLighting all starts with one light, and sometimes that is all you need, but not all single lights are equal.
First, let's review a few characteristics of light. All light has direction, quality and color. Altering these aspects for one light radically changes your image.
Changing the light direction in a portrait produces different highlights and shadows on your subject's face. Aim your light directly at your subject and you get very few shadows. Put your light source to the extreme right and one side of your subject is lit, while the other side goes dark.
The quality of light, or how soft the light is, relates to how large the light source is relative to the subject. A large light source close to a subject produces soft, wraparound light. A small light source at the same distance produces hard shadows and is more directional.
Finally, colored gels can be used with lights for various effects. Some gels correct color, others add creative effects.
One lighting style that is simple, effective and can be mastered in minutes is using a single large light, slightly off-center and above your subject. A large light source produces flattering, soft light with minimal shadows to worry about. Any skin blemishes are nicely filled in, and the skin takes on a healthy tone. Using a large light allows your subject a little room to move around while posing, giving you and your model more flexibility to get the shot, instead of stopping the shoot to reposition your light.