How to do a 3 Light Setup for Composite Portraits

Composite photography opens up your possibilities, particularly if you’re shooting for a client who wants a very specific look for a publication. But how do you make sure you get the right shot to use? This tutorial by Aaron Anderson guides you through setting up your lights for shooting composite portraits:

Choose the Right Background

First of all, if you’re unsure about what the final product is going to look like, select a gray background. A gray background gives you the option to make it brighter or darker during post-processing depending upon your final requirements. The same way, you can also change the color of the background.

Shoot Tethered

Another thing that you need to do is shoot tethered. You would want to be able to see the images in real time on a larger screen. You would want to check the lighting and focus and make corrections as you go along. So use any software you can and connect your camera to your laptop to be able to see these images.

Use a Basic Three Point Lighting Setup

A basic three light setup for a composite portrait photo session consists of two edge lights and one top light for filling in. The edge lights are mighty important in the scheme of things, for the simple reason they separate the subject from the background.

The top light is the main light, in the sense that it is this light that helps you see the details on the subject’s face and body. The top light should ideally fall off as you go toward the bottom of the frame. This makes it look more realistic.

The light used for this particular shoot was a beauty dish. You can alternatively use a grid for your shooting requirements. This creates a nice light fall off while illuminating the subject from the top.

Set your lights one at a time. This lets you see the effects of each light before you move on to setting up the remaining lights. Of course the size and the shape of the lights will depend on the size of the working space as well as the requirements of the shoot.

how to light for a composite portrait

Use the right amount of light.

Don’t fall for the oldest mistake: not using enough lights. As demonstrated in above, turning off a couple of lights makes the subject appear dimensionless. The background also appears flat. That’s never a good thing.

Shoot From the Chest Up

Another thing to remember when shooting composite images is to shoot from chest up or waist up. This will ensure a much better time when blending your subject into the final background.

Add Details

Shooting composites allows you to capture all those small details that you otherwise have to leave out. With composites there are no compromises. In this shoot Anderson shot a couple of close-up frames where an assistant held a silver reflector close to the subject’s helmet.

composite portrait lighting tips

This helped him capture that beautiful gradient color reflection on the goggles.

composite portrait lighting tips

With the reflector

Use these tips and this lighting setup to make sure your composite photography comes out looking as realistic as possible.

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