Portrait photography is all about the lighting in order to establish the desired mood, highlight the features, and capture the subject’s essence and character. Based on this theory, I have decided to share some essential lighting setups for portrait photography that might assist your photography:

 Natural Lighting

  • Use natural light from a window or open shade – make sure that there is no direct sunshine that will create unwanted shadow or dappled light.
  • Place your subject near the light source, but ensure that you create a diffused mood from the light in order to avoid blow out or over exposure which is often a challenge when editing as you cannot bring out detail that does not exist in an over exposed image .
  • Position your reflectors  to bounce light back onto the subject’s face to fill in shadows and light. Using the white side is normally best. You might find the other colours, such as gold will create a false temperature and effect your white balance.

One-Light key light Setup: (main source of light)

  • This is when you make use of a single off-camera speed light or studio flash head as your main light source , this is referred to as the key light.
  • Position the angle of the light with the soft box at a 45-degree angle to the subject, slightly above eye level of the person. This ill help define the jaw line and is often complimentary to those people with “double chins” as it will cast a shadow of strength across the neck under the chin. (think about it… selfies are normally captured when the person holds the mobile from above aiming down at the head)
  • Make sure to use a soft box or a white umbrella, or diffuser on your speedlight to wash the light. This will help avoid unwanted shadows or glare.
  • Adjust the distance and power of the light so the intensity of shadow and the contrast is within the mood of the look you are wanting. Remember that there are many different interpretations of portraiture.

Two-Light Setup using a Key and a fill Light:

  • By adding a second light source ( your fill light), will help reduce shadows on the opposite side of the key light, most likely your backdrop or infinity curve. That way the subject will “pop”. The result is very “clean”
  • You can lower power of the fill light opposite side of the key light should you require a less stark effect.
  • You can also make use of a reflector or a softer light as an way to create a gentle fill without harsh shadows should you only have a key light on hand). This will achieve a similar mood.

Three-Light Setup using a Key, a fill Light and a hair light:

  • In addition to the key and fill lights, you can make use of a third light source (this would be the hair light or a rim light, depending on what you wish to achieve).
  • Place the hair light behind the subject to create a look that separates the subject from the background. This will make the image “less flat” giving some depth and dimension. The subject will look “proud” from the background.
  • In order to create a subtle halo effect on the subject’s hair or shoulders, adjust the power of the hair light from the side or from behind the subject. This works well as a lighting setup commonly used in portraiture..

It is important that you realise these are the basic lighting setups that you can use as a starting point when you are wanting a professional result. You will need to trial them and practise, be experimental and decide what works best for your portrait photography. Make use of references to build your style and taste for portraiture photography that you will find on the likes of Pinterest. Look at your subjects skin tone, their clothing and accessories, the mood you want to convey when choosing a lighting setup, and most importantly, the brief what the person has commissioned.

There are many different lighting setups the you can google and watch on you tube, but remember that all you need to do is to practice the about and understand light and how it effects the look and feel from different positions and strengths. In theory there are many lighting ups like “ the Rembrandt, the butterfly setup, loop lighting, high key and low key lighting to mention a few. My advice is not to focus to much attention and get side tracked by these names “big names” Rather go with your gut!

You will learn and see that most photographers who use lighting will create many different looks from very few and often basic lighting setups.

A good idea would be to either attend a 121 short lighting workshop that is practical and hands on, focused to your style and preference in portraiture. A good course will provide all lighting and camera gear and make this a simple and fun progression into being creative using light for portraiture as well as advise on what you will require that will meet your needs and your budget. There are many lights and lighting kits available on the market, these are costly, so make sure your know what you are looking to buy before making a random decision.

Top studio lighting brands that a professional photo studio should offer their client

A professional photo studio requires high-quality lighting equipment. This is the main investment in order for your clients to achieve the best results. A list of a few top studio lighting brands that professional photographers use would be Profoto, Broncolor, Elinchrom, Godox to mention just a few.

Technology has accelerated quality when it comes to lighting. It is important to decide if you wish to invest in battery or electric as a start. This will depend on your environment and direction of portraiture. Also consider portability from a convenience aspect, this will also effect your setup time… stands, soft boxes, unloading and all that. Lastly, take the size of your lighting kit into consideration, especially if you are going to be mobile, you might just need to trade in your car for a truck.

When selecting lighting equipment for your professional studio, consider your specific needs, budget, and the types of photography you specialise in. It’s also important to research and trail equipment to ensure it meets your requirements by providing the quality and consistency your clients expect.