Four Light Studio Portrait Tutorial

Lighting ratios are sometimes overrated. They only work when the distance from the light to the subject is precise. In this candid demonstration, Karl Taylor uses one of his studio lighting scenarios and explains why he thinks looking at the light and the result is much more important than concentrating on lighting ratios:

If you look at the picture used in the video, you’ll notice that certain areas on the model’s body are well-lit—her right arm, right cheek, parts of her forehead, and her right knee. Some portion of the cushions are also well lit and so is the wooden area that is visible in the image. However, other areas, such as the model’s left arm, left cheek, and torso are comparatively in shadow.

Taylor used a total of four lights to illuminate this shot.

Key Light

The key light, a 30″ x 120″ softbox, was set up on a giraffe stand high up over the subject’s head and at an angle. Coming in from behind the model’s head, this light illuminates her right hand, right cheek, and parts of her forehead. This light was also responsible for illuminating the model’s right leg. Due to the inverse square law coming into play, the light on the model’s leg was slightly softer than the high intensity on her right hand and other areas.

studio lighting arrangement

Key Light

Second Light

The second light in this setup was illuminating the chair. This was produced by a standard gridded studio light with a reflector set up on the floor on a low stand.

Karl Taylor, Studio lighting tips

Second Light

Third Light

A third light was set up on camera right just above the floor, illuminating the left leg of the model. It was yet another studio light with a barn door set up on a low stand.

Fill Light

The final light in this lighting setup was a fill light placed above the camera position. It was fitted with a honeycomb grid. This light was aimed toward the model’s torso.

studio lighting arrangement

Complete lighting diagram

The background for this shot was grey paper rolled out from behind and onto the floor.

One thing to note about this image is the general detail that is perceivable in otherwise what should have been detail-less shadow areas. Taylor reveals that he achieved this by firing fill light, aiming for the ceiling and the walls of his studio. He sometimes also uses big polyboards positioned behind the camera and fires light at them to bounce off and create a giant fill light.

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