Direction of the Light

Today's post comes from the book Lighting Techniques for Photographing Model Portfolios by Billy Pegram. It is available from and other fine retailers.

In addition to its quality, you must also consider the direction of the light. As noted above, light that comes from overhead is usually not flattering, because it creates dark shadows on the eyes. Instead, look for light that strikes the subject from another angle.

Front Light. Light that comes from directly in front of the subject is commonly used in beauty photography because it tends to smooth the skin and flatter female faces. However, it can also flatten the features and create a lack of depth in your image.

Angled or Side Light. Light that strikes the subject’s face from an angle puts highlights on one side of the subject (the side closer to the light) and shadows on the other side of the subject (the side farther from the light). This adds a sense of depth and helps show the shape of the subject. As a result, it is a great lighting choice for images designed to showcase the model’s body (such as fitness shots). Because light from the side accentuates texture, it also works well for clothing shots where texture needs to be visible. One downfall of this lighting is that the model’s face will be shown with texture, as well. This can be effective with men’s facial structure, but it is not normally as flattering to a woman’s face.

Light that skims across the body from the side is great for highlighting a toned physique.

Backlight. Backlight occurs when the light source is directly behind the subject and directed toward the camera. One thing to watch out for when using strong backlighting is lens flare. This occurs when light shines directly into the lens and results in a loss of contrast and color saturation, and in some cases the creation of bright geometric artifacts (reflections off the elements within the lens itself).

In this image, Backlighting created highlights to separate the subject from the background.

When paired with some kind of stronger front or side light, backlighting can add impact and separation to a photograph by accenting the edges of the subject, an effect called rim lighting. In the image above, a light placed at an angle to the subject illuminated her from the front. Two lights behind the subject created bright highlights (rim lighting) along the edges of her body, separating her from the background. In this case, the lights themselves also formed a compositional element in the background.

With a weaker (or nonexistent) front or side light, backlighting can also allow you to create silhouette (or semi-silhouette) effects. Experimenting with this technique you can achieve some amazing photographs. In the series of photographs below, I focused on the model. Her body shielded my lens, and I had her move slightly to my left so the sun would just break past her body. I varied the output of my flash for each photograph, achieving a variety of different exposure and results. Who is to say which exposure is correct?

Different flash settings combine with backlighting to produce a variety of effects.


No comments:

Post a Comment