Basic Lighting: Professional Portrait Photography

Creating great lighting for portraits can be hard work, especially when you are first setting out on your photographic journey. What lights should I buy, how do I set the studio up? In this video from B&H Photographic, portrait photographer Erin Manning gives us a comprehensive guide on basic studio lighting and how to use it. Be aware that the video is 1 hour 40 minutes long, but it is packed with lots of great information. I have noted the times of the main sections to the video in the information below:

Erin breaks her tutorial into several easy to understand sections and she starts of by explaining the difference between constant and strobe lighting.

For the purpose of the tutorial Erin discuses the creative use of a constant light set up using a home studio. The two lights of the home studio are fitted with daylight balanced lightbulbs. In the first section of her lesson, at around 5 minutes into the video, Erin introduces us to some simple tips in setting up a simple home studio including:

  • Sourcing and using plenty of suitable props.
  • Hanging fabric over a fireplace to create a simple backdrop.
  • The importance of getting a catchlight in the model’s eyes, using a soft box is the best way to achieve this
  • When shooting children, give them something to play with to distract them from the photography
  • Pre-planning is very important, know which props you wish to use and how the model should be dressed.

Creative Child Portraiture

For the next section at 25 minutes in, Erin looks at how to set up your camera. Her key  points are:

  • Depending on how you wish to use the image mega pixels are not as important as you may think.
  • Set the highest quality jpeg mode or shoot raw.
  • Try to use the creative zone settings of Program/Aperture Priority/Shutter Priority and Manual. Best of all try to learn and use the Manual mode.
  • Erin also explains how to set ISO and what the trade off is between high ISO and image quality
  • Lastly, she has a look at setting the correct white balance for the situation.

The third section starting at around 36 minutes in takes a look at different types of lenses and their typical use:

  • Firstly Erin discusses the difference between fixed and zoom lenses and also what the focal length is.
  • Next she has a look at the effect of different focal lengths on bokeh and perspective
  • A quick look at filters, discusses when to use them and how to determine which filter size you will need for your lens.
  • Lastly Erin has a look at using a cheap fixed 50mm lens with a wide aperture to get great bokeh.

The next section looks at how to control the light as well as the different types of light. This section starts at around 46 minutes in:

  • Hard light, such as midday sun produces hard sharp shadows on the subject.
  • Soft light, gives a nice diffused look with some detail in the shadows.
  • Side lighting should be used to add dimension and definition to a subject.
  • Backlighting is great to bring the subject out of the background but care must be taken with avoiding lens flare.
  • Erin then discuses different types of light patterns such as short lighting, where the majority of the subject’s face closest to the camera is in shadow.
  • Broad lighting is the opposite, i.e where the majority of the model’s face is lit and there is a smaller amount of shadow.
  • Lastly Erin looks at Rembrandt lighting, a technique, which as it’s names suggests, mimics Rembrandt’s way of light his subjects.

Soft Light Portraiture

The last section from about 1 hour into the video demonstrates all these tips put together in a practical studio session, giving you a great visual reference on how to set up your own home studio.

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2 responses to “Basic Lighting: Professional Portrait Photography”

  1. Eleanor says:

    Because I live far away from the availability of in-person tutorials, these tutorials are very informative, well done, and very much appreciated. Thank you for giving those of us who aren’t able to learn in-person the advantage of viewing a well planned and useful tutorial.

  2. Ceci says:

    One of the best video tutorials on studio lighting (in small spaces as well) that I’ve seen in a long time.

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