Light Portrait Photography for Beginners

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Light Portrait Photography – Overview

The Light adds beauty to a photograph. It acts as a foundation for any photograph. The reason is simple, nothing would be efficiently visible without proper lighting in a photograph.

That’s why people are in light portrait photography. It allows them to play and experiment with light during the portrait photography sessions.

However, understanding how to perform fantastic light portrait photography might be tricky for you.

There are several things to control when it comes to lighting. You have to ensure adequate lighting in the portrait, and it contrasts nicely with the subject.

What’s more, you need proper photography equipment for light portraits. If you want to perform light portrait photography, it would be better to go for a camera rather than a mobile phone.

In a survey of 881 professional photographers in North America and Europe, 64% of respondents stated not taking professional photographs with their smartphones.

Apart from that, let’s talk about how you can take the best light portrait photographs by following these simple tips and techniques.

6 Tips for a Perfect Light Portrait Photography

You would be wondering about the techniques and ways to take perfect light portraits. Let’s check out some of the effective tips for portrait photography lighting:

1. Natural vs Artificial Lighting

The best lighting when it comes to portrait photography would be the sun. It’s a natural source of light that you can shape by using diffusers or reflectors.

However, it depends on when you are shooting the portrait. If you don’t want to rely on certain hours of the day for your portrait photography sessions, then artificial lights would be the best choice.

Artificial lights will allow you to control when and where to add lights during your portrait photography sessions. You can even shape the artificial light to fall as you like or around the subject.

For artificial lights, you have to make some investments into lighting tools for your portrait photography.

2. Hard or Soft

When you are sure of using artificial lighting, you have to select whether you will go for hard or soft lighting.

It will depend on the distance and the size of the light source. If the light source is closer, the result will be softer.

Hard light adds more shadows on backdrops in the background and the subject’s face. It works well if you want a classic portrait.

In such cases, you may need to use diffusers, softboxes, and reflectors.

3. Continuous or flash

If you want to go for simple portrait photography, then continuous lighting would be better. It allows you to shoot what you see.

However, if you want to capture movement, then you would require a burst of flash. You can also opt for a lighting tool that comes with options to perform both continuous and flash lighting.

4. Light Equipment

When you know whether you want continuous or flash lighting, you can choose the right equipment. There are three main tools from which you can choose.

The options include spotlights, strobes, and LEDs.

You can use strobes if you are shooting portraits in a studio. They are heavy and need a hefty power supply, and have an extremely harsh output.

Hence, they are perfect, but only for studio photography. You can also use Speedlight if you want portability.

However, they don’t offer outputs similar to strobe but are hard. Another light equipment that you can get are LED lights.

5. Contrast and Composition

Along with the lighting in your portraits, the composition and contrast also play a crucial role. When you capture a portrait, it should be visually appealing and eye-catching. It goes for all types of photography.

Hence, also focus on the color contrast and composition of the subject and the background. It will add more beauty to your light portraits.  

6. Styling

The styling of the subject should be in a way that matches the lighting and background. If your subject doesn’t fit in with the lights, the portrait won’t turn out to be flattering. Hence, the subject should be fully immersed in the scene.                                                                                               

Top 6 Light Portrait Photography Setups

As you know already, lighting is the foundation for any successful light portrait photography. Whether it’s a character study or a corporate headshot, there are several ways to set up lights for your portrait photography. Some of the best styles include:

1. Split Lighting

Split lighting refers to a lighting technique that splits the face into two halves- one part having a shadow, the other having light.

This type of lighting technique is best for creating dramatic images like a portrait of an artist or a musician.

Split adds more of a masculine touch to the images, which means it is more suited for men’s portraits than women’s portraits.

Light Portrait Photography Setups – split lighting

2. Loop Lighting

Loop lighting refers to that lighting where you create small shadows of your subject’s noses on the cheeks.

For this lighting, you need to place the light source or tool slightly higher than your subject’s eye levels and approximately 30-45 degrees from the camera.

It also depends on your subjects on how the position will result to be in the portrait. Loop lighting is easy to create, and that’s why it’s pretty popular when it comes to portrait photography.


Light Portrait Photography Setups - Loop Lighting


3. Rembrandt Lighting

This lighting pattern is known as Rembrandt lighting because a painter, ‘Rembrandt,’ used this pattern in his paintings. Its main emphasis is the triangle of light on the cheek of the subject.

Light Portrait Photography Setups – Rembrandt lighting

In this lighting, the shadow of the cheek and nose touches and creates a little light triangle in the middle. It adds a darker feel to the images.

Your subject needs to turn slightly away front the light source, and the light should be above the top of the subject’s head for this lighting effect.

4. Butterfly Lighting

As the name suggests, butterfly lighting creates a butterfly-shaped shadow under the subject’s nose. You have to place the primary light source above the camera or directly behind it in such lighting setups.

Such a lighting technique is mainly used for glamour shots or creating shadows under the chin and cheeks. It emphasizes wrinkles more, which makes it better for older subjects.

Light Portrait Photography Setups – butterfly lighting

5. Broad Lighting

Broad lighting is another incredible style of lighting that doesn’t exactly have a pattern. Any lighting, like a loop, split, or Rembrandt can be broad lighting.

Such lighting happens when your subject’s face is slightly turned away from the center, and their face’s side is towards the camera and broader in light.

Broad lighting

Broad lighting

Sometimes, this type of lighting is used for “high key” portraits. It will make your subject’s face look broader and wider, which will make slim people’s faces look wide.

6. Short Lighting

The short lighting technique is the opposite of broad lighting. Such type of lighting techniques are used in darker or low-key portraits.

More of the face of your subject will be in the shadow if you use this lighting technique. Hence, it’s perfect for adding a slimmed or flattering look to the model.

Light Portrait Photography Setups – short lighting


Light portrait requires patience. Finding a model who is patient would allow you to get your desired portrait more easily.

Light portrait photography’s primary emphasis is the lighting techniques or patterns.

That’s why we have added the top lighting patterns that you can add to your portraits to make them perfect. Along with that, the lighting tips for portrait photography will be helpful for you.

See Also

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