lighting - photography - portrait
these three topics combined: lighting tips for portrait photography

This is a somewhat complicated set-up and a good situation to pick up a few lighting tips for portrait photography.

Lighting portraits is a skill that takes years of experience to master. Environmental portraits, taken on location often need to create good sense of depth.  These portraits may require several lights to be used.

Lighting Tips for portrait photography on location

In this environmental portrait inside a movie theater, I used two lights.

I adjusted them to balance just right with the existing lights in the theater.

We chose this historical location inside an old movie theater to take this country singer's portrait.

Anyone can take a simple snapshot of a person.

Finding a good environment is important.

To turn that snapshot into a more meaningful portrait it must not only capture something special about your subject, but it must have proper lighting.

the 4 lighting tips for portrait photography

The definition of what is proper is very subjective, but the lighting is the most important part of the photograph. After all, if there is no light, there would be no photograph.

Here are the three things to be aware of:

The number of lights

Usually traditional portraits have 3 or 4 lights:

1. The main light, also called the key light. This is usually an umbrella light or a soft-box.

2. The fill light. This is sometimes not an actual light, but a reflector bouncing light from the key light. The fill light is usually placed on the opposite side of the subject from the key light.

3. The accent light, may be a hair light or a skim light that provides separation for the background.

4. Background light. This may be a light aimed at a backdrop or at the scenery in the background.

The kind of Lights

A big, "soft" light will produce shadows with more gradual change to highlight areas. Smaller light sources will produce sharper edged transitions from the shadows to the highlights.

Look at the environmental portrait above. My subject is a country singer posed in an old fashioned theater.

The main light on my model was an umbrella light, used to provide a soft illumination of my subject to match the subdued light of the theater.

The fill light was light from a light colored wall, off camera, to the left of my frame.

The background light was a combination of bouncing a Vivitar 285 flash off of the theater ceiling and the existing, theater's lights. Notice how the Vivitar flash lit the theater's seats behind my subject.

The key to lighting photography portraits successfully like this one is to get the light ratios just right. The background was lit to provide just enough light to create the right environment without taking away from the main subject, my country singer.

Lighting Ratio

The ratio is simply the difference between the main light and the fill. If the ratio is two to one or 2:1, this means the main light is twice as bright bright on the subject as the light that is hitting the shadow areas.

Lighting ratios of 1:1 and 2:1 are considered flat lighting. Lighting ratios of 3:1 or greater are considered contrasty lighting conditions.

lighting photography portrait - related articles:

Here is an article on Photography Lighting Kits: Photography Lighting Kits.

You may also be interested in reading photography tips on The 4 elements of Photo Lighting.

Other topics related to lighting tips for portrait photography can be found by using this search box.

Search for a different article on this site:

See the light

Shoot more photos

Watch less TV


Back to Photography Lighting 

Back from Lighting tips for portrait photography to Digital Photography Tips Home page