Adapting Portrait Lighting for Smooth vs. Weathered Faces

Lighting is one of the factors that can transform an image and greatly improve it, if applied correctly. In fact, most bland pictures can be transformed into stunning shots by changing nothing but the lighting. Choosing the right settings can come from a combination of trial and error and learning established techniques from others. In this video, Joe McNally explains how he chooses the lighting according to the subject’s face:

McNally identifies two types of faces: a smoother face and a rougher, more weathered one. He then shows us how to adapt the lighting conditions for each of these types so that their best features are highlighted.

He advises the use of a smooth light for a smooth face and an edgy light for the rougher looking subject.

Tips for Lighting a Smooth Face

portrait lighting tips

For this particular image, McNally used a 3′ x 3′ softbox in front of the model’s face to camera right. The larger the light source, the softer the light. Soft light accentuates the softness of the skin.

Tips for Lighting a Weathered Face

portrait lighting rough face

For a rougher face, when you want to highlight the details of the skin, it’s better to use a smaller light source. McNally used a ring flash positioned right around the lens of his Nikon D4S for the photo above. It offered a pure,¬†shadowless light that highlights all the edges and wrinkles of the subject’s face.

All in all, in order to apply McNally’s knowledge, you need to remember to look at the subject’s face and adapt the lighting to the predominant features—smoother faces require smoother lighting, and vice versa. As he says in the conclusion:

“A smooth light for a smooth face, but a light with more pop and edge for a face that has character.”

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