Lighting Fundamentals – Improve Your Portraits with Light


Lighting Fundamentals – Improve Your Portraits with Light with David Beckham

When Ellie asked me to write for the annual “Lighting” issue, she suggested “Lighting Patterns.” My first thought was dark, gloomy closeups with sad people and of course Rembrandt. DOESN’T EVERYONE KNOW THIS STUFF ALREADY! Then I realized that every single workshop I teach on lighting I start with the basics. Albert Pujols would work on Fundamental on his swing year-round. The Ohio Classics softball team I coached would never have won a national championship if we did not spend time on Fundamental every single practice and during warm-up for every game… It’s FUNDAMENTAL that we look at lighting patterns again! We will start with a basic description and lighting setups for short, broad, split, Rembrandt, loop, and my favorite, butterfly. Then we will apply these techniques to different types of studio, outdoor ambient light and OCF lighting.  

Did you ever see a photo that catches your eye, and you just love it right away? You do not know why you like it; you just do. Chances are it probably had one of the six lighting patterns in them. All six will be using the main light to create the pattern. The direction of the light to the subject is what creates the pattern. In most cases, a model could stand in the same spot and just turn their head and rotate their body to achieve all six patterns. One of the characteristics of all these patterns is that the main light is above their eyes. If you’ve ever heard me teach lighting, you have heard me say, “The best light comes from above.” The simplest way to create a pattern is to use one light. My samples below use one, two, three, even four different lights. All are Godox AD400Pro. There are some pullbacks for them as well.  

The samples of Jessie were taken in my studio and a few outdoor locations. The ones of Bailey were all taken in a parking garage. Garages are not just a trendy place to shoot; any parking level but the top gives you every kind of light you want from hard, crisp, direct sun to filtered on the edge of the shadows, to perfect ambients for main light and back lighting for use with OCF or LEDs.

Short Lighting

The light is positioned above the subject’s eyes so that the light hits the away side of their face. Both eyes need to have catchlights. This makes for a mysterious look in a one-light setup in a dark studio. In the photo where Jessie is by the window, the shadows are way more subtle because the ambient light fills her whole face. But you can still see a brighter short lit side closest to the window. The one with Jessie on the floor has her whole body short lit. The story is in the shadows and just the left side of her is highlighted by the light source. In this case it’s with a 30×42” LumoPro softbox with no scrim or grid pointed thru a 5×7’ Falcon Eyes Scrim. Using the light this way at ½ power, and the camera at ISO 100, f/7.1 at 1/320 ss, gives us a beautiful window light feel. The one with Jessie outside has a wonderful subtle short lit feel. The shadows are soft because the Mola Demi beauty dish is close and the power on the Godox AD300Pro is exceptionally low. The finish is an intimate natural light mood. The last one features Bailey short lit from the ambient light on the north side of the parking garage.


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