Top Portrait Photography Lighting Styles
There are many different lighting styles when it comes to portrait photography. Really, the lights can be adjusted so much, placed in so many different locations, that it just comes down to the photographer’s preference and creative vision.
But, for the photographer just getting started in a professional photo studio, whether at home or in a photography studio rental, here’s a little help. There are five basic lighting styles used in portrait photography in professional photo studios: Rim, Paramount, Loop, Rembrandt and Split.
This dramatic style is also known as profile lighting and it’s often used when your model’s head is turned at a 90-degree angle from the lens. Rim lighting is used to accent a person’s elegant features. The key light sits behind the model to illuminate their profile and to produce a highlight on the edge of their face.
In addition, the key light highlights their neck and hair. Try to make sure the center of the accent is on the face though. The fill light is placed on the same side as the key light and the shadows are filled in with a reflector. You can also use a hair light opposite the key light to separate the model’s hair from the background.
This type of lighting may also be known as butterfly lighting. It’s basically a feminine style which provides a symmetrical and butterfly type of shadow underneath the nose of the subject. It typically emphasizes the skin and high cheekbones.
Paramount lighting isn’t used often when photographing men since it can make their eye sockets and cheeks appear too hollow. In paramount lighting, you place the key light directly in front of the model’s face and high up parallel to the vertical line of their nose. The fill light should be positioned at head level of the subject and right underneath the key light.
Both the fill and key lights are on the same side of your camera so a reflector should be placed opposite them and close to your subject as this will fill in any deep shadows on their shaded cheek and the neck. The hair light is placed opposite the key light and should be used to light just the hair and not the face. The background light will be behind your subject and lower down.
This type of lighting is basically a version of paramount lighting and is often used for subjects with oval or average-shaped faces. The key light will be lower and to the side of your subject to create a shadow under their nose which resembles a small loop on the shadowed side of the face.
The fill light is positioned on the opposite side of the key light and closer to the subject-camera axis. Make sure the fill light doesn’t cast a shadow. The background and hair lights can be used the same as in paramount lighting.
This style is named after the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt, who illuminated his subjects with skylights. In portrait photography, the shadowed cheek of your subject will show a small triangular-shaped highlight. This dramatic lighting style is commonly used with male models and is often used with a weak fill light as this will accentuate the highlight on the shadowed-side.
The key light is placed further away from and lower to the side when compared to paramount and loop lighting. The fill light will be similar to loop lighting, but the hair light is generally a bit closer to your subject to create more brilliant hair highlights.
The background light will be placed in the standard position, but kickers can be utilized to delineate the sides of your model’s face and add brilliant highlights to their shoulders and face. Just be sure that the lights aren’t shining directly into the lens of the camera.
The key light will illuminate just half of the subject’s face in split lighting. This style has a good slimming effect as it can appear to narrow a wide nose and/or face. Facial irregularities can also be hidden when used in combination with weak fill light.
If you use split lighting without a fill light it can be quite dramatic. The key light will be moved further to the subject’s side and lower down. The fill, hair, and background lighting are used in the normal positions. Split lighting will basically divide the subject’s face in half with one side being shadowed and the other highlighted.