Studio Portrait Light to Dark Techniques

Studio lighting often means our subject may feel that they must stay in exactly one spot. While this is helpful when setting up a lighting rig, immobility can make a subject feel rigid and uncomfortable when posing, which could make the images appear unnatural and stiff. Photographer Daniel Norton from Adorama shares an interesting technique for separating the subject from the background while still giving them space to move and be more natural.

While using a hair light is a common and effective way to create a separation between the subject and the background, it also requires precision. This is why the subject gets a very narrow window to move around in.

Norton’s idea is to light the background with a gradient going from dark to light. Make sure the lit part of the subject’s face is in front of the dark part of the background. Similarly, the side of the face that’s in the shadows is best placed in front of the bright part of the background.

“By combining this, we’ll get kind of a three-dimensional feel and we won’t have to worry about the subject’s position.”

Further into the video, Norton also shares how exactly you can set up the lights for the subject and background. He shares the gear he uses for this purpose and also gives practical examples of the process.

As you can see, this is a very useful way to create separation between subject and backgrounds. A bigger window to play around in means more freedom to produce natural results.

What do you think about this lighting style? Don’t you think it is more versatile than just using a rim light?

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