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How To: 10 Portraits, 10 different lightings and 10 reasons to love them

One of the most important thing when you shoot portraits is knowing how to light you subject no matter what the conditions are.  Be it natural or studio , playing with light is one of the most amazing aspect of photography. So here are 10 headshots with 10 different types of lighting to illustrate what it’s possible to achieve in different conditions.

Case 1:  cloudy day, natural light, indoor

Melissa and I had scheduled that shoot in Malibu a while back and even though sun was expected (well, it’s California after all, isn’t it supposed to be sunny?!?), it barely showed up so after we tried to use umbrellas and speed-lights indoor, we chose to use only natural light, so I asked her to sit in front of the window. The result is nothing short of spectacular, the clouds and windows acted as a giant softbox and gave the most flattering light, softening the skin perfectly.

Headshot: portrait of Melissa - spokeperson, actress and CEO, Los Angeles, California | by David Giral

Case 2: Sunny day, natural light, outdoor:

After we were done shooting inside the studio, we decided to head out and take photos of JP with just natural light.  It was a beautiful day and there were just a few clouds in the sky, but there were enough of them so when one of the clouds covered the sun, I took this photo. The difference with previous case is that there is a bit more contrast and saturation due to the fact that it was a brighter day.

Headshot: portrait of actor JP Lalonde, Montreal | by David Giral


Case 3: cloudy day, natural light bounced off building, outdoor

As we were going down the stairs, I just noticed the pattern of light on Olivier’s face and asked him to sit down. That Rembrandt lighting was remarkable. Light was bounced from the nearby wall of a building. Light falloff was pretty quick due to the fact we were in the stairways. This made for a great headshot!

Headshot: portrait of Olivier - model and DJ, Montreal | by David Giral

Case 4: Sunny day, natural light + fill flash, outdoor

One of the setup I like to use when I want to travel light is a single flash on-camera with a Gary Fong diffuser. Most of the time, I use the sun as a hairlight/backlight and I use the flash with a diffuser as a fill to take care of shadows. Most of the time, it gives a really interesting result and it’s easy to work with like here with Andrea. I love the expression of happiness and spitiruality and how the light falls on the left side of her face. The flash here barely lits this photo as the light is diffused also through the leaves of the nearby trees.

Headshot: portrait of Andrea - actress, Los Angeles, California | by David Giral

Case 5 Golden hour, natural light: At sunset, there are two ways of handling the light, using it as a backlight or use it as a main light. In that example, Haylie is in front of the setting sun, which also lits the grass perfectly. There is a reason why this moment of the day is referred as the golden hour. This light is magical, especially during fall season, like on this example.

Headshot: portrait of Haylie - cheerleader, Toronto | by David Giral

Case 6: Studio, one beauty dish, butterfly lighting

In some situations, there is no need for complex light setups. One light can be more than enough. Butterfly setup is one of the lighting I prefer and to take advantage of it, using a boom is mandatory so that the light is in front of the subject, slightly over outside of the image. In that example, the light also reaches the background and allows for separation between the subject and the background to create a strong portrait of Victoria.

Headshot: portrait of Victoria Sanchez - actress | by David Giral

Case 7: Studio, one beauty dish, Rembrandt lighting

Another type of simple lighting is Rembrandt lighting, with the flash mounted with a beauty dish to camera right and up. There is some feathering here to lit the background. The proximity of the light allowed for a strong contrast and made it a really strong portrait of Olivier.

Headshot: portrait of Olivier - model and DJ, Montreal | by David Giral

Case 8: Studio, one softbox + golden reflector

For this portrait of Scott James, DJ, the main light is a softbox at camera right and the light is bounced back on the other side of the face using a golden reflector (which gives a warm tone to the skin).

Headshot: portrait of DJ Scott James | by David Giral

Case 9: Studio, 3 lights with grids

For this particular portrait, I used 3 lights with 3 grids (10, 20 and 30 degrees) to recreate lighting from the 1940s and 50s. Even if the sources of lights are not especially soft, the fact that all the face is lit from all angle gives a soft look to this portrait of Robyn.

Headshot: portrait of Robyn - hollywood lighting | by David Giral

Case 10: Studio, 3 lights (2 softboxes and 1 beauty dish)

For that last example, two softboxes were used to the left and right of the subject, slightly behind and a beauty dish in front and slightly above camera was used as a main light. This lighting gives a 3 dimensional aspect to this portrait of Ze’ev.

Headshot: portrait of Ze'ev - hypnotist, Montreal | by David Giral

Thanks for viewing!

David Giral is a published Montreal/Toronto based editorial and commercial professional photographer specialized in architecture, interiors, portrait and travel photography.

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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright David Giral (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without permission from David Giral.

David Giral
1 Comment
  • Christian D.

    I’m new to lighting so enjoyed reading through these, but was a bit confused on Case 1. Could you explain where the window was in relation to the model? Perhaps I’m a bit dense!!

    Thanks,

    2010/09/28 at 6:43 pm

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