Let’s start at the beginning by showing some of the various lighting techniques that are available and how to use them with your studio lights. While all of the lights used in the examples were electronic flash units, the techniques themselves work with speedlights, flash, or hot lights.
Broad Lighting. This type of lighting is produced when the main light is so close to the camera axis that it illuminates the side of the subject’s face that is turned toward the camera. Broad lighting can de-emphasize facial features and is used mostly to make narrow faces appear wider. I sometimes call this the “flat and boring” style of lighting, but many times it can be flattering to the subject, especially when you only have one light available.
Short Lighting. Short lighting is achieved when the main light illuminates the side of the face that is turned away from the camera. This technique is good for subjects who have a more rounded face, as it emphasizes facial contours more than broad lighting does. When you move the light farther from the subject, it will produce the Rembrandt lighting effect, which is characterized by a triangle of light on the cheek of the subject that is turned closest to the camera. There’s no Rembrandt effect shown in the photograph above, as my tiny basement space did not permit moving the light farther away from the subject.
TOP LEFT—Here a Flashpoint II monolight is placed to the right of the subject. To create broad lighting, you don’t have to place the light on a specific side of the subject; it is about the way that the subject is placed in relation to the light. Here, the monolight was placed on the right. Fill was provided by the silver surface of a Flashpoint 32-inch 5-in-1 collapsible disc reflector. The image was made in my basement studio against seamless paper. The camera was a Canon EOS 5D with an EF 135 f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/15 at f/7.1 and ISO 100. BOTTOM LEFT—A Flashpoint II monolight was placed close to the camera and was raised until the “butterfly” shadow appeared under the subject’s nose. The setup and exposure were identical to that described for the previous photograph. BOTTOM RIGHT—A Flashpoint II 620 monolight was placed directly to the right of the subject. No fill light was used in order to maximize the split lighting effect. Lighting using the standard metal reflector can sometimes appear hard (although there are times when you want that look). The image was shot in my basement studio against seamless paper. The camera was a Canon EOS 5D with an EF 135 f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/50 at f/8 and ISO 100.
Butterfly Lighting. This lighting style gets its name from the shape of the shadow that forms under and in line with the nose when the light is positioned directly in front of the subject and its height is adjusted until the shadow appears. This lighting style is sometimes called Paramount lighting (as in the movie studio), and it is a glamour style that is best suited for women.
Here is where the monolight’s modeling light really comes in handy. Most monolights feature proportional modeling, which allows you to vary the power of the modeling light to match the output set for the flash. Some monolights will also dim the modeling light after the flash is fired and bring it up after the flash has recycled to let you know you can make another shot.
Split Lighting. This technique lights half (either side) of the subject’s face, while leaving the other half in shadow. This lighting approach creates a dramatic, film noir style of lighting (sometimes called “hatchet lighting”) that may be not be appropriate for all portrait subjects. I softened the light in the setup used below and for all the previous setups by using Adorama Strobo-Socks, a nylon fabric diffuser designed for portable strobes that, with a lot of stretching, fits over the Flashpoint II’s metal reflector.
TOP LEFT—This photograph was made with a Flashpoint II monolight with a Flashpoint 5-in-1 reflector used as fill. A second Flashpoint II 320 was aimed at the seamless paper background. Since the monolight has variable power output, the best way is to start with the light at a middle power setting and slightly raise or lower it to achieve a look that you find the most attractive. The image was shot in my basement using a Canon EOS 5D with an EF 135 f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/15 at f/7.1 and ISO 100. TOP RIGHT—Here, a Flashpoint II 320 was placed low and behind the subject. A red Rosco (www.rosco.com) 24 gel filter was clipped to the reflector of the background light to illuminate the background and change its color. The setup and exposure used were identical to those used in the previous photograph (see diagram). BOTTOM LEFT—The “before” portrait shows a simple one-light setup with main light provided by a Flashpoint II 2420 monolight and a Flashpoint 5-in-1 reflector used as fill. The setup and exposure were identical to the last photograph. BOTTOM RIGHT— In the “after” shot, a Flashpoint II 620 monolight was placed high and behind the subject to skim her hair. Since light aimed at the camera can produce flare, it’s always a good idea to use a lens hood on your camera. The setup and exposure were identical to those used in the previous photograph.
Background Lighting. A background light is any light purposefully added to the setup to illuminate the photographic background (paper, canvas, or muslin) for a portrait lighting setup. (Note: The main light may partly illuminate the backdrop by spilling past the subject, but this is not a background light.) The job of the background light is to provide separation between the subject and the background. It is placed last and is usually directly behind the subject and pointed at the background. There is no magic formula for which flash setting to use since the amount of power needed to achieve the desired amount of light will vary based on the background’s color. Do you always need a background light? The answer is simple: it depends on the backdrop and the effect you want to achieve.
Hair Lighting. According to noted portrait photographer Steve Sint (www.stevesint.com), “One of the best ways to add sparkle to your portraits is by using a hair light.” A hair light is simply a small light that is placed over and sometimes behind a subject to add highlights (that may or may not add any detail) to a subject’s hair. To make the hair light even more focused, you can use a snoot to direct light to a specific area. Warning: Modeling lights heat up inside the confined space inside a snoot and can make them hot, so you might want to turn off the modeling light once you’ve got it aimed where you want it.
TOP LEFT (ONE LIGHT)—A Flashpoint II monolight was placed on camera right. The light’s metal reflector was covered with an Adorama Strobo-Socks fabric diffuser. No fill was used. TOP RIGHT (TWO LIGHTS)—A Flashpoint II 1220A monolight was placed on camera right. The light’s metal reflector was covered with a Strobo-Socks fabric diffuser. On camera left, a Flashpoint II 620A was placed near the camera with a 33-inch Adorama white interior umbrella. BOTTOM LEFT (THREE LIGHTS)—A Flashpoint II 1220A was placed on camera right. Its metal reflector was covered with a Strobo-Socks fabric diffuser. On camera left, a Flashpoint II 620A was placed near the camera with a 33-inch Adorama white interior umbrella. A Flashpoint 320A was placed to the rear and aimed at the back of the subject’s head as a hair light. BOTTOM RIGHT (FOUR LIGHTS)—A Flashpoint II 1220A was placed on camera right and its metal reflector was covered with a Strobo-Socks fabric diffuser. On camera left, a Flashpoint II 620A was placed near the camera with a 33-inch Adorama white interior umbrella mounted. A Flashpoint 320A was placed to the rear and aimed at the back of the subject’s head to serve as a hair light. Another Flashpoint II 320A was placed near the floor and aimed at the background. A red Rosco 24 gel was clipped to the reflector of the background light to illuminate the background and change its color. Do you need a background light? Does it help? The importance of the background light depends on the background used, so only you can decide.