Alternative Beauty Lighting Techniques for Portrait Photographers

Lighting is an important aspect for creating the perfect image. Whether you’re taking photos for commercial, advertising, or even personal images, the intricacy of your lighting options are up to you. However, most photographers typically work with the “less is more” theory. To show how you can create the ideal lighting options for your photo shoot, photographer Wayne Johns offers this helpful tutorial on lighting techniques for your beauty shots:

This ten minute tutorial breaks down how you can create a great lighting setup with only a few simple tools. In the video, Johns uses two key lights and softboxes, but the same principles can also be applied for use with umbrellas and speed lights. The overall challenge when creating your lighting setup is to ensure your key light(s) and/or reflector(s) are using the correct angle, height, and distance to provide enough fill light for your model.

key light softbox

Image captured with key light and softbox

When working with a softbox, you have to determine the correct height, angle, and distance. For portrait images where your model is seated and cropped at the waist, Johns suggests placing the bottom of the softbox in line with the model’s eyes or just a fraction above it. This will help provide a nice catch of light in their eyes.

fill light silver reflector

Image captured with large silver reflector

To avoid the main softbox lighting from going directly into your model’s face, place your angle around 45 degrees and distanced just past the length of your model’s arms. The softbox provides fill light for both the model and your background. The distance determines the background shade. For example, if you want a lighter background, place the softbox closer to your background. For darker backgrounds, move the softbox farther away.

white reflector

Image captured with large white reflector

Fill reflectors are typically utilized in one of three colors: white, silver, or gold. The type of fill reflector determines the overall appearance of your image. For instance, a gold reflector creates a warmer tone, while a silver reflector boosts highlights in lower areas.

golden reflector

Image captured with large golden reflector

When working with reflectors it is important to remember the height of the reflector. In the video, the model is seated, and Johns crops the image at her waist. With this setup, he’s able to rest the reflector on the model’s lap to get the fill light he is looking for. The downfall to working with reflectors is the limited life, especially when it comes to the placement options.

fill light softbox

Image captured with fill light and softbox

If the fill reflector isn’t quite creating the overall look you are trying to construct, try using an additional light. By swapping the fill reflector with an additional light, you can create a more controlled fill light. This is due to having more control over the output of your fill light, while your initial issue will be trying to figure out the correct exposure levels. For example, if you use the same exposure level for both your key light and fill light options, your lighting can appear very flat. However, if you slightly reduce the power of your fill light, you can create a visually appealing image with a soft, gradual tonal range. Just be careful to watch your output ratios. If you use too much power, it will typically make the shot appear unappealing.

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