Portrait Lighting

November 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Portrait Lighting

 

Ratios and their effects:

 

1:1 - Key and fill lights are the same intensity (f11 / f11).

  • widens a narrow face and provides a flat rendering that lacks dimension.
  • produces soft, even lighting.

 

2:1 – Key light is one stop greater in intensity than the fill light (f11 / f8)

  • most preferred for color and black and white because it will yield an exposure with excellent shadow and
  • highlight detail.
  • shows good roundness in the face and is ideal for rendering average-shaped faces.
  • most widely used ratio for portraits.

 

4:1 – Key light is two stops greater in intensity than the fill light (f11 / f5.6).

  • useful when a slimming or dramatic effect is desired.
  • shadow side of the face loses its slight glow and the accent of the portrait becomes the highlights.
  • appropriate for low-key portraits which are characterized by dark tones and usually a dark background.

 

8:1 – Key light is three stops greater in intensity than the fill light (f11 / f4)

  • considered almost a high-contrast rendition.
  • ideal for adding a dramatic effect to the subject and is often used in character studies.
  • shadow detail is minimal and is generally not recommended unless the only concern is highlight detail.

 

Note: The higher the ratio, the higher the contrast.

 

Note: To maximize the effect of your lighting ratios, ensure your lights are 45 degrees or more from the camera. The greater the angle the greater the contrast.

 

Note: Try and keep the subject at least 6 to 8 feet from the background to provide separation.

 

Set-Up Steps (example for 2:1 portrait lighting ratio):

  • Meter the key light (f11).
  • Meter the fill light (f8).
  • Meter towards the camera to get the combined meter reading and set camera to that particular setting.

 

Lighting Schemes:

 

For three or more light setups, ratios are only represented using the key light to fill light.

 

​​​​​​​Commonly Used Portrait Lighting Set-ups:

 

Paramount Lighting

 

Commonly called Butterfly Lighting is a glamour lighting that is traditionally used on females. It creates a butterfly-like shadow beneath the subject's nose. It is at its best on lean subjects with high and pronounced cheekbones and tends to emphasize high cheekbones and good skin. It became a staple pattern for the Hollywood photographers of the 1930's.

 

Less commonly used on men because it tends to hollow out cheeks and eye sockets too much.

 

The key light is placed above the face and tilted down, typically 25 to 70 degrees and in line with the direction in which the face is pointing. The fill light is placed at the subject's head height directly below the key light.

 

 

Loop Lighting

 

Loop lighting, which is named for the loop-shaped shadow that it creates under the nose is one of the most commonly used lighting setups. Ideal for people with average oval-shaped faces and is considered to be a relatively flattering and adaptable pattern that lights most of the face while imparting a sense of depth. It is produced by placing the key light above the face, tilted down typically 25 to 60 degrees and somewhat to the right or left of the direction in which the face is pointing, typically 25 to 50 degrees. It is very important that the fill light not cast a shadow.

 

 

Rembrandt Lighting

 

Rembrandt lighting is named after the famous Dutch painter of that name. The lighting is similar to loop lighting, but with the key light moved higher and further left or right of the face. It creates a strong pattern characterized by a small triangle of light that appears under the eye on the shadow side of the face, along with a nose shadow that nearly extends to the corner of the mouth. This is not an all-purpose lighting and is probably best reserved for character studies and moody fashion work. It is very dramatic and most often used with male subjects.

 

Commonly paired with a weak fill light to accentuate the shadow-side of the subject.

 

 

Split Lighting

 

Split lighting, though not usually considered a general-purpuse lighting, can be quite useful. With split lighting, half of the face is lighted and the other half is in shadow. It is an ideal slimming light and 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, it can be used with no fill. It is produced by placing the key light to the right or left of the direction in which the subject is facing, typically 90 to 120 degrees, with the light at or slightly above face level.

 

 

Short Lighting

 

Lighting is said to be short when the light source illuminates the side of the head not visible to the camera. In the example below, the key light was placed to the left of the camera and illuminates the side of the head away from the camera. The shadow pattern shown on the face is a variation of loop lighting. It is probably the most commonly used lighting position and works well with a variety of faces. It is often the choice for narrowing the face.

 

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Broad Lighting

 

Lighting is said to be broad when the light source illuminates the side of the head visible to the camera. In the example below, the key light was placed to the right of the camera and illuminates the side of the head facing the camera. The shadow pattern on the face is a variation of Rembrandt lighting. It is a very useful lighting position but not as popular as short lighting. It can make a face look fuller and is useful for eliminating eyeglass glare because the direct reflections from the light source are directed away from the camera.

 

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Profile Lighting

 

Also called Rim Lighting, it is used when the subject's head is turned 90 degrees from the camera lens. It is a very dramatic style of lighting and produces a very stylish portrait.

 

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