By professional fashion photographer Dave Kai-Piper
Portrait photography is one of the most amazing genres in my eyes. Simple on the surface, yet complex and diverse underneath. At first glance, photographing people is pretty simple, but when it’s broken down into the 4 main elements: Location, Lighting, Subject & Camera we start to understand the subtle nuances of what it takes to build up a wide and diverse portrait portfolio.
To get started with artificially-lit portraiture, there are 3 main lighting types: Rembrandt, Split and Butterfly. Each of these lighting types has characteristics which allow us to be creative. And it’s by experimenting with each of these lighting types you will learn how to control the shadow placement on your subject, and how by combining these techniques you’ll discover the art of the portrait.
Here is a quick way to identify each lighting type:
Rembrandt lighting: Light will come across the face from a 45 degree angle in an elevated position from the eye-line of the subject. The bridge of the nose should create a triangular area of light under the eye the other side.
Split Lighting: the light will hit one side of the face or part of the head creating a deep shadow on the other side. Normally the light source would be behind the eyeline of the subject.
Butterfly lighting: Commonly used in beauty set ups, the light should present evenly across the face in line with the nose and high above the subjects eye-line. Even shadows under the nose are a sign of this lighting set up.
In the example I am using here, I have mixed two of these lighting types to give me the effect I am looking for. I have also used two types of light known as Hard light and Soft Light.
Hard light creates shadows with sharp edges; it is made by using undiffused light sources such as a Speedlight aimed directly at the subject.
Soft light creates shadows with a smooth transition between light & dark; it is made by using indirect light sources or by using diffusers to scatter and soften the light before it reaches the subject.
In our example we have set up the split light to have a hard light and the Rembrandt light to be soft.
How to create ‘The shot’
Firstly I set up the ‘Key Light‘ (most important light in the shot) to the Rembrandt Lighting position using a Cactus RF60 Speedlight & a Roundflash modifier. I found the exposure setting I wanted by selecting the f-stop I wanted on the camera after setting the ISO at 200. I left the shutter speed at 1/125th of a second.
Our ‘Hair light‘ is in the Split Lighting position and is set up to be used as a hard light. In the sample for this blog we used another Cactus Speedlight but this time modified with a piece of black wrap. This is the same as cooking foil or aluminum foil that you would find in a kitchen, but is matte black. It is very common in the film industry as a quick and effective way to shape light or to block light ‘spilling’ over to an area that was not intended. Here I have rolled it up and created a homemade snoot to give me very close control of the placement of light.
I then used a V6 Cactus Trigger mounted on to the camera hotshoe to control the power output of the flashes; which were mounted on a set of tripods remotely. This allowed me to work faster and in a more controlled way. Once ready, I took three images: one of each light firing independently and then one shot with both firing together to create the final look.
The angle of the camera for this shot was placed just below the subjects eyeline to give her a powerful look, and in this example I used the XF90mm lens to get rid of any unwelcome distortion that wide angles can give.
Focal lengths from around 50mm to 200mm are good for a head shot or portrait.
My 10 top tips:
- Portraits are about timing, emotion & people, not cameras, lights or anything that is technical.
- The technical guidelines are always starting points and flexible at that.
- The bigger & broader the light, the softer the shadows will be. If you want contrast – move your light source away from your model.
- Soft defused light is better if you are trying to create a ‘beauty’ light
- Hard lights are great for creating hard edged shadows and character
- The story is in the shadows.
- When setting up your lights, use a lightmeter if you can.
- My lights are very rarely on full power, soft and subtle is the key
- Be creative, but don’t over complicate the shot.
- Avoid lighting people from below the eyeline of your subject
Here is the final resulting image which has been converted to black & white.
To see more of Dave Kai-Piper’s work, please visit: ideasandimages.co.uk
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