The Complete Guide to On Location Lighting for Portrait Photography

Portraits shots are some of the most common and difficult photographs to take, for both amateur and professional photographers. Capturing your subject and their environment takes skill, but with some creative use of lighting, anyone can take striking portraits no matter where they are. If you’re looking to take your pictures to the next level, here is a starting guide for lighting your subjects to perfection.

Nadya By christianyves

Make One Light Work for You

  • Show the Surroundings – No matter what your portrait focus is – your child, a pet or a model – you want to show some of the model’s environment in the portrait to help show the depth and shape of your subject. Showing the background at varying depths of field can enhance the subject in the frame.
  • Go Beyond the Flash – Using a bounce card with the on-camera flash can help your subject stand out from the background, but lighting from the front with the single light source can make your model appear flat. Lighting your subject at 45 degrees with an off-camera flash can help create vibrant, cinematic images.
  • Expose the Background Properly – With the one light from the side, you’ll want to give a good depth of field to show your subject’s background to show them interacting with the environment.
  • LED Light Panels Can Replace Other Lights – Using an LED light panel on a hotshoe or on a camera pistol grip can help you light your subjects even if they are on the edge of the framing, or if you want to supplement a side lighting source like a lamp or window. These are perfect for night shots with backlighting.

Everything by colinlogan

If you want a video tutorial of these tips, there is one available here.

Using Dark Backgrounds

  • Black Reflectors – Adding a black reflector to your light sources can help your subject stand out, especially on a dark background. Rather than reflecting light, they are used to absorb light. Since the dark background will stay dark even with lights, your subject will always be the focal point of the picture. Without the reflectors, many naturally dark backdrops, like wooden walls or doors, will reflect light back onto the subject, creating images that look unnatural.
  • Use Back Lights for Showy Images – Adding a back light to the model’s far right, with a key light to the top left, or using a back light as a hair light can help you snap great model portraits using only two lights, rather than a full lighting array.
  • Create Space from Your Backdrops – Having your subject directly against the dark backdrop will create shadows from your key light on the backdrop and leave a lot of your model in shadow. Try to create space between your subject and the backdrop for nice, clean images.
  • Make Action Photos Stand Out – Combining a dark backdrop and a studio umbrella for your key light will allow active subjects to stand out by merging shadow and action. Cluttered backdrops like a room full of objects or people can cause your subjects to become lost in their own action.

I come alive in the night time by Shandi-lee

There is a video of these tips available here.

Reflecting Light Indoors and Outdoors

  • Never Leave Home Without It – No matter what your shoot, always have a reflector on hand. Reflectors will always work in situations where a fill flash will cause glare, harsh shadows or simply wash out the image.
  • Add Depth and Shadow – Play with your off-camera flash and reflectors to create different effects. Place a flash behind the subject with a reflector to the side to create a soft and polished look, or to provide direct but subtle light to one side of your subject.
  • Use Portable Flashes – Not everyone has an assistant to lug around extra flashes and reflectors, so portable flashes with remote triggers can help you set up terrific shots in outdoor areas or spaces with limited area.

Down the Line by Auzigog

If you want to see a video demonstration of these tips, there is one available here.

About the Author
Mike Cushing is a freelance writer for Gadget Infinity, your online resource for digital camera accessories to help your next big photo shoot.

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