Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flattering Light For Portraits

Let’s get one thing straight: There’s no simple formula for portrait lighting.
By William Sawalich Published in Shooting
Flattering Light For Portraits
Above, From Left to Right: Butterfly, Split and Rembrandt

6. Maintain Shadows

While a little bit of soft light can be flattering, too much can be flattening. It’s easy to overdo soft light and obliterate the shadows. Shadows provide shape, and shape creates interest and emotion. Too much fill light or camera-axis positioning of a soft key can overly flatten features and make faces look wide, flat and shapeless. To avoid this, position your soft light source at a 45-degree angle to the camera or even to the side of the subject.

7. Avoid Raking Light

When positioning a light toward the side of a subject, you’re flirting with dangerous raking light. This is bad, especially if your subject’s skin is textured. Side lighting (or even top lighting) that rakes across a face will accentuate every blemish, wrinkle and flaw. If you’re seeing too much detail, move the light closer to the camera.


8. Watch For A Catchlight

Wherever your light is positioned, try to create a catchlight in the subject’s eyes. The catchlight is the reflection of the light source glistening off the shiny surface of the eye. It’s what subconsciously alerts viewers that a subject is alive. If you move your lights too high or too far to the side, the catchlight can disappear. (Catchlights are also a great learning tool. Look for them in portraits you admire to get an idea of the sources and positioning the photographer employed.)

9. Warm The Light

One of my favorite portrait light sources is a softbox lined with gold panels. The subtle warmth created by the gold interior adds enough glow to keep skin from looking pale and pasty. The same principle applies to fill light, as well; a gold reflector adds warmth to skin and often is very flattering. Even if you’re limited to zero lighting gear, you still can warm your portraits by choosing to shoot during the magic hour’s natural golden glow or in midday light that’s made warm by adjusting the white balance to a higher color temperature.

10. Try Natural Light

Open shade under a tree is an underutilized, but consistently excellent portrait location. So are interiors lit by indirect window light, particularly from north-facing windows. These natural light sources offer some of the most flattering portrait light possible. It’s the kind of light photographers with expensive studios full of gear are constantly trying to emulate. Take advantage of those beautiful portrait lighting opportunities wherever you find them. The airy feel imparted by soft natural light is almost always an added bonus.

Multiflash Setups


To achieve sophisticated portrait lighting, you’ll need more than one light source. Flash units designed to work in groups, like the Nissin Di866, make it easier to control multiple light sources working in concert.

The Di866 is compatible with Canon E-TTL and E-TTL II systems, and Nikon i-TTL, and can be used with Canon and Nikon flash units, either as a master or slave. Compatibility with TTL (through-the-lens) metering allows your camera to control flash output and will automatically balance exposures.

The Di866 also features a smaller flash below the main flash, ideal for use as a fill to soften shadows when you’re bouncing the main flash. The flash head tilts up to 90 degrees, and rotates 90 degrees to the right and 180 degrees to the left. Estimated Street Price: $299. Contact: Nissin, www.nissindigital.com.

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