Portrait Light Setup

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The (good) lighting equipment is expensive. Investing in a lamp is not something we can do every month, especially if you are just starting to make your way as a professional photographer or filmmaker. That is why I have prepared this article to show you different techniques with which you will achieve 6 types of illumination with the same lamp (or the same light source).

Table of Contents

Let’s start looking at the possible lighting styles:

1. Rembrandt’s triangle

Consists in place the light at 45 ° from our subject/object of the shot (with the camera right in front). It is called Rembrandt after the Baroque painter, whose works are characterized by showing this famous lighting style in almost all portraits, where one part of the face is perfectly illuminated and the other in shadow, which forms the “triangle of light” just below the model’s eye on the part of the face that is in shadow, in the cheekbone area.

Personal trick lighting example 1

2. Butterfly

This style is achieved by placing the light just behind the camera, in front of our subject but from above. Yes:

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

It is called butterfly style because it forms a shadow under the nose similar to a butterfly. This is a type of lighting that I really like because it makes the face soft.

Now, if you don’t like the shadows that are made under the chin, in the neck area, or what we colloquially call “the double chin”, there is a solution: use a rebounder. Don’t have a rebounder? Nothing happens, and neither do I. You can create your own homemade bouncer with the following materials: a large sheet of cardboard, some masking tape, and aluminum foil. Assembling it is very simple: wrap one side of the cardboard with aluminum foil and fix it with adhesive tape. Ready! You already have your home bouncer:

When you take your shot you will be able to bounce the light that comes from the lamp above towards the person from below and thus achieve this result:

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

This type of lighting is called “Clam lighting” because it creates the shape of a clam by positioning the light up, the bouncer down, and the subject in the middle.

3. Side

As the name implies, side lighting It consists of placing the lamp entirely on one side and illuminating a single part of the subject’s face. The other part would be totally dark:

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this type of lighting. But if your goal is to generate a bit of mystery in your shot or portrait, illuminating only half of the face can help.

Also, you can take some very creative photos if you ask the person pictured to look fully into the light source. The result can be photos with a special intensity:

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

You can play with it a lot. Here is the self-portrait of Bojan Janjic an amazing photographer from Passau, Germany.

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

4. Zenith

When we place the lamp totally above (or above) our subject we speak of overhead lighting. It is certainly one of my favorites.

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

This technique is used a lot in movies. We can appreciate it in movies like The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) or The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), to name just two out of thousands of examples. In the case of The Godfather, the usage is almost over the top and you can notice how all the actors are being lit from above. In this way, Coppola managed to deepen the shadows around the eyes, darken the looks and increase the feelings of mystery and emptiness in these characters corrupted by the mafia and crime.

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

5. Backlight

As the name implies, this is when we place the light completely behind the subject and we do not have any type of frontal lighting.

These techniques will help you achieve different types of lighting using a single lamp. Read to learn?

Although the idea of taking photos “against the light” is not very popular, the reality is that it is an effect of very interesting lighting and that it can also generate an effect of intrigue or mystery.

It all depends, in the end, on what you want to do. If this is the effect you were looking for, don’t think twice: apply the backlight.

6. Personal trick

To close, I would like to tell you about a trick that I use a lot when I have a single lamp, I am in a closed place (like a room without windows) and I need to light a lot. It consists of completely removing the diffuser from the lamp and bouncing all the light off the white walls and even part of the ceiling.

When applying this trick you are going to make absolutely everything lighten up, but you will hardly notice it because the effect achieved is very “natural” lighting. Think of it as if the light is coming from a window, reflecting off the entire wall and ceiling.

The result is a very soft light, projected against the wall or towards the ceiling as if a heavenly light was “raining” on your subject.

These are my 6 tips to achieve different types of illumination with a single lamp. I hope they serve you, that you apply them and that you can capture incredible images.

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