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Ed Veroskys

Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography

Lighting Guide
For Portrait Photography

(Previously Titled: Basic Lighting)

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography

Light Sources and Gear ...........................................................7

Three Types of Light............................................................................................... 8

Basic Lighting For Any Budget............................................................................... 10
Light Stands .......................................................................................................... 28
Lighting Modifiers................................................................................................... 29
Starting Points........................................................................................................ 35
Backgrounds.......................................................................................................... 42
Light Meters........................................................................................................... 43

Portrait Lighting Basics...........................................................49

Lighting For Faces................................................................................................. 49
The Five Basic Lighting Patterns........................................................................... 50
Flat vs. Dimensional Lighting................................................................................. 54
Background and Environment Considerations....................................................... 55
What Else Makes A Good Portrait?........................................................................ 59

Dramatic Portraits....................................................................60
Everything Starts with One Light............................................................................ 61
Adding Fill Light..................................................................................................... 65
Adding Hair Light................................................................................................... 66
Adding Background Light....................................................................................... 67

Side Lighting.............................................................................68
Single Side Light Profile......................................................................................... 69
Split Light............................................................................................................... 72
Two Side Lights...................................................................................................... 73
Adding Fill Light..................................................................................................... 75
Halo/Hair Rim Light................................................................................................ 75

Full-Length Lighting.................................................................78
One Light From Above........................................................................................... 79
Two Lights for More Coverage............................................................................... 82
Big Softbox without the Box................................................................................... 84
Wall Bounce for Bigger Light.................................................................................. 85
Another Solution: Move The Light Farther Away................................................... 86

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography

Contents continued...
Lighting For Headshots...........................................................88

It Begins with One Light, But You Already Knew That............................................ 89

The Fill Light ......................................................................................................... 92
The Hair Light........................................................................................................ 94
The Background .................................................................................................... 95
Clamshell Lighting................................................................................................. 100
Headshots come in many styles .......................................................................... 104

The White Background...........................................................105

White Backgrounds Are Easy............................................................................... 106
A White Background Isnt Always White............................................................... 107
The Basic White Background................................................................................ 107
Wrap-Around Lighting........................................................................................... 110
The Light Source As Background......................................................................... 111
One Light Can Work.............................................................................................. 112

Freestyle Lighting....................................................................113
Additional Resources ........................................................................................... 116

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Introduction

Lighting can be one of the most
challenging aspects of photography, but something every photographer should strive to learn
more about, no matter what their
skill level. Ive written other books
to address the desire to learn
lighting theory and the technical
aspects of lighting and exposure,
and I feel that a solid understanding of lighting and exposure is
crucial to being a well-rounded
photographer. However, I also
think theres much to be gained
from just jumping in and creating
good lighting from wherever you
are in the learning curve. Producing great portraits is the goal after
all, but getting somewhere with your work right now is also encouraging.
Knowing that you have it in you to create good images will only make you
want to improve your technique and understanding as you move forward.
This book is designed to lead you on a path of learning by doing. The examples I ask you to follow are organized so that you can create great images right away, and its my hope that youll gain some important insight as
you move through them. Every step of the way, youll pick up a new technique or principle, possibly use it in another example, and before you know
it, youll be applying these techniques to your own lighting combinations!

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Introduction

Theres a tendency to want to fill up a book like this with some of my favorite
stylized examples for each lighting setup, but I went the other way this time.
Instead, I made the decision to stick with basic, no-frills images that would
serve as instructive templates to work from. The images showing some of
the lighting setups and gear, and the perspective diagrams were also considered carefully. For the sake of uniformity and simplicity, the illustrations
mostly feature main and fill lighting represented by small flash units modified
with shoot-through umbrellas. However, any of the light sources can be replaced by other types of lighting and modifiers to suit your particular needs.
I think Ive struck a good balance with all of the visuals in order to communicate the concepts Im trying to teach. Hopefully, youll agree and find the
presentation easy to follow and straight to the point.
Finally, I recommend you not only use these examples to learn where to
place your lights, but also how to control their output manually, as opposed
to limiting yourself to using automatic technologies like E-TTL II or i-TTL as
they are available with small flash units. This isnt to say I dont want you to
use TTL at all, I just want you to learn how to mange your lights and cameras manual features, too. These are going to be very important later.
Well get started first with some basics about the type of lighting you can
use, the portraiture lighting patterns you should be familiar with, and then
move on to the examples you can follow to create your own impressive

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear


Light Sources and Gear

No matter what your budget or
how limited your work space or
experience level, you should be
able to use this book to create
great portrait lighting immediately. Although you wont need
studio strobes or shoe-mount
flash units to create the lighting
patterns Im going to cover in
Figure 1.1. Portrait lighting setup. From left to right:
this text, I strongly recommend
softbox, hair light, fill light, and background light.
that you invest in some type
of flash/strobe lighting for your portraiture work. As I explain below, this will
afford you the most control and versatility with your lighting (see Figure 1.1).
Still, its the way light and shadow fall across
your subject that matters most; the type of
light being used is less important to the final

Figure 1.2. A room filled with window light is great for natural light

So, if all you have to work with are household lamps and/or natural light (Figure 1.2),
use your creativity to direct your light where
its needed to approximate the examples in
this book. By doing so, youll improve your
portraiture as you learn the principles that will
guide you should you eventually choose to
include flash/strobe lighting in your work.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Three Types of Light

For the purposes of photography, lighting can be broken down into three
main categories: constant, natural, and strobe. Understand that youll occasionally have to deal with mixed lighting scenarios, but for now, well discuss
each type of light individually in the list that follows:

Constant Lighting
Constant (or continuous) light is artificial light that is produced for a duration
that lasts much longer than the average exposure. Examples of this type
of light source are household light bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs),
flashlights, video lights, street lights, car headlights, any neon or electronic
screen illumination, candle light or light coming from a bonfire. Constant
lighting is generally less powerful than strobe, but arguably easier to control
than natural light. As with natural light, one of the great advantages to working with constant light sources is that you can see and somewhat control the
effect of the lighting on your subject in real-time.

Natural Lighting
When we talk about natural light, were usually referring to the light produced by the Sun. Natural light is the constant ambient light that surrounds
us outdoors and makes its way indoors via windows and skylights. Sunlight
can be harsh when striking your subject directly, or beautifully diffuse (e.g.
on cloudy days). Lets not forget the Golden Hour, that time just before
the sun dips below the horizon, or just after it rises in the morning, when the
sunlight passes through the atmosphere in such a way as to create a less
intense, warm glow.
Many photographers think of natural light as the easiest type to work with
and it can definitely seem that way. As with other types of constant lighting,

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

natural light allows you to see where the light and shadows fall across your
subject in real-time, giving you a pretty good idea of how theyll appear in
your images. But much of the perceived simplicity of working with natural
light has to do with our limited ability to actually control it; its not like you
can alter the Suns output or move and position it around your subject the
way that you can with lamps, flashes, and studio lights, so when working
exclusively with natural light, there are fewer settings and pieces of gear to
concern yourself with.
Of course, having less control over your lighting can also be limiting, but
under the right conditions natural light can be a pleasure to work with for
creating beautiful portraiture.

Flash and Studio Strobe Lighting

Flash and studio strobes are among the most powerful and versatile lighting
sources you can use, but theyre also the most misunderstood. The challenge of working with flash or any strobe lighting has to do with the relatively
short duration of the light output and its variable intensity. A single burst
of light produced by a strobe occurs for only a fraction of a second. This
makes it difficult to see and judge the light prior to reviewing your shots on
your cameras preview monitor. Managing a strobes intensity and/or balancing it with the output of other strobe units (in a multi-light setup) can also
be frustrating. Things can get even more complicated when mixing strobe
with constant or ambient light sources. These are more advanced topics
well only briefly mention in this book.
Although working with strobe lighting can initially be more complex than
working with natural or continuous light, the benefits are certainly worth the
effort. And once you gain some experience with strobe lighting, its actually
quite simple to use. In fact, many photographers feel that working with

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

strobe lighting is easier than working natural light. Fortunately, you can
learn to create beautiful portraits with strobe even before mastering (or completely understanding) how flash works. Automatic flash exposure systems
like Canons E-TTL II and Nikons i-TTL can do much of the complicated
work for you, allowing you to concentrate more on the position of your lights
than on their power settings and metering. As you progress in your understanding of flash and its more advanced techniques and uses, youll likely
want to control the light output manually for most portrait work.

Basic Lighting For Any Budget

If youve made the effort to acquire a DSLR and a computer for your photography, Im assuming youre also willing to invest in some flash or studio
strobe units, or at the very least, a low-cost continuous lighting solution. On
the other end of the spectrum, theres high-end studio lighting, but for basic
work the costs of top-of-the-line lighting might greatly outweigh the benefits.
Perhaps your comfort zone is somewhere in the middle, where good quality
for typical use is often reasonably affordable. Here are a few suggestions
for putting together your own affordable basic lighting kit:

Clamp Light Kit

Clamp lights are those inexpensive work lights shaped somewhat like a
bell (see Figure 1.3). These are essentially utility lights for workshop and
household use but they can be an excellent source of light for your photography, too. Youll find that theyre made up of four basic pieces:
Light receptacle
Light bulb/CFL

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

The three pieces that make up

the clamp light hardware are
usually available for purchase
as a unit. You can use regular
incandescent light bulbs but
I prefer compact fluorescent
lights (CFLs) because they run
cooler and provide plenty of
light to work with. CFLs cost
more than standard light bulbs
but what you can save on the
energy and replacement costs
will more than make up for the
initial expense over time.

Figure 1.3. Clamp light with CFL.

A CFL that uses 42 watts of power can provide as much illumination as a

150 watt incandescent bulb. There are in fact CFLs that can produce light
equivalent to a 500+ watt incandescent light. The amount of light youll
need will depend mostly on your cameras handling of noise at higher ISO
settings. As long as you can achieve your preferred shutter speed and aperture setting, your clamp light kit is producing enough light to work with.
Since the setup described here does not employ three-way or dimmable
lights, youll have to make one or more of the following adjustments to control lighting intensity and/or lighting ratios (where lighting intensity varies in
the scene):
Number of lights. Just as with any type of lighting, the number of lights
you use will determine where the light falls and how much light appears
in your shot. Using more lights from a single position will naturally produce more intensity from that position. You can think of a tight grouping

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

of lights as single light source. Conversely, removing lights from that

position will make that light source dimmer.
Position. By increasing the distance between light source and your
subject, youll decrease the intensity of that light as it appears on the
subject. As a matter of fact, just moving your light a few feet can dramatically diminish its intensity. Bringing a light in closer to your subject,
as you might guess, will increase the lights intensity on the subject.
Angle. This is related to position, but here were dealing more with a
technique called feathering. If you leave your light in the same position
in relation to the subject, you can still decrease the intensity of that light
on the subject by angling it off to one side. As you turn the light farther
away from a straight-on orientation to your subject, youll decrease the
amount of light reaching the subject from that light source.
Modification. A light modifier is anything that changes the quality, effect, or angle of a light source. You can modify clamp lighting much the
same way as you can any light source if you have the equipment and
accessories to do so. For example, Ive occasionally used a clamp light
hung from a light stand with an umbrella modifier, instead of my usual
studio or flash unit (see Figure 1.4 and Figure 1.5). Just make sure you
arent placing anything flammable directly against the light or hot parts of
the hardware. Continuous, or hot lights, can be a fire hazard, so take
precautions when working with these lights.
I would like to point out that the adjustments described above make use of
fundamental lighting principles that youll learn more about as you progress
as a photographer. So, keep in mind while youre making any adjustments
to the lighting setups, that most of what you do with constant light sources
can be applied to strobe and other types of lighting.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Figure 1.4. Clamp light on a stand, with

umbrella modifier.

Figure 1.5. Portrait using clamp light with

umbrella modifier and reflector for fill.

Facts About CFLs

Using CFLs over standard incandescent light bulbs is recommended (see
Figure 1.6). If you decide to use this type of lighting, you might be interested in knowing the following facts:
It can take at least 30 seconds for a CFL to reach its maximum and most
consistent light output level. The type of units with a cover over the bare
tube can take longer to warm up and reach full output.
CFLs produce less heat and use about 75% less energy than their incandescent counterparts.
You can choose CFLs with the color temperature (Kelvin scale)
that matches your needs; 2700K-3000K for incandescent-like color,

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

3500K-4100K for
whiter color, and
5000K-6500K for daylight-balanced color.
Dimmable and threeway units are also
available but not
recommended for
standard clamp light

Figure 1.6. CFL.

You should discard old CFLs responsibly because they contain a small
amount of mercury.
Whether you decide to use regular incandescent bulbs or CFLs, make sure
to use the same type and brand throughout in order to keep the lighting
color consistent between sources. Cost per light, including CFL bulb, can be
under $10, making this an extremely affordable solution. A clamp light kit,
just like any continuous lighting does have its drawbacks: bright, continuous
(and often hot) lights can make a subject uncomfortable and create some
degree of eye squinting and the look of constricted (small) pupils. And, without modifiers, the light can appear rather harsh. Commercial continuous
lighting kits that use CFLs are also available.

Studio Strobes
If youre willing to invest a little more, you might consider a basic studio
strobe kit. It might surprise you to know that top-of-the-line small flash units
made by the likes of Canon and Nikon can be much more expensive than
their budget studio strobe counterparts. This isnt to say you shouldnt use

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

shoe-mount flashes--they offer lots of advantages over studio strobe lighting--but if budget is an issue studio strobes might be a better option for your
There are several reasonably priced studio strobes that offer good, consistent performance. While not all of these will necessarily fit into everyones
idea of budget-priced, many of the photographers I know have been very
happy with the performance of these products despite the fact that these
arent high-end solutions. If youre interested in investing in pricier gear and
prestige brands, I have listed a few at the end of this section.
Here are some of the brands and models that many new, as well as some
seasoned pro photographers swear by:
Alien Bees. Paul C. Bluff has designed and manufactured several reasonably-priced lighting solutions including the White Lighting, Einstein,
and Zeus lines and their respective
accessories and modifiers. Buffs
Alien Bees line of monolights has
become especially popular over the
years (see Figure 1.7). These units
are easy to use, dependable, and
relatively inexpensive. Alien Bees
come in several colors and three
basic versions: the B400, B800, and
the B1600. More info: http://www.
Novatron. For some seasoned
professionals, units like the Novatron

Figure 1.7. Alien Bees B800 monolight.

Image: Paul C. Buff, Inc.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

M500 (see Figure 1.8) and M300 make for solid workhorses without the
weight and hassle of larger lights. More info:
RiME Lite. These are available in most areas under the name RiME
Lite (see Figure 1.9), and in Canada as Lightrein brand strobes and accessories. These units can handle 300 watt modeling lamps and some
models boast impressive digital features. ( &
Other Brands. The following brands are also favorites with many of the
photographers I know: Calumet Genesis (http://www.calumetphoto.
com), Photoflex StarFlash (, Photogenic
(, and Elinchrom D-Lite RX4, which is an
entry-level Elinchrom unit that packs lots of features including EL-Skyport functionality. (
Prestige and High-End Brands. Some brands like Elinchrom have entry-level products as well as higher-end models. Along with Elinchrom,
professional photographers also use Profoto, Bowens, Broncolor, and
Hensel among others.

Figure 1.9. Rime Lite Fame 4.

Figure 1.8. Novatron M500.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

When shopping for a studio strobe kit, Id suggest sticking to the brands and
models that are equipped with modeling lamps. Modeling lamps are essentially continuous light sources provided as a useful feature on some strobe
units. These modeling lights provide two advantages: they help you visualize lighting ratios and where shadows will fall, and they can serve as lighting
sources all on their own, for continuous light photography.
Keep in mind that some studio strobes are flash heads that need to be
powered by external power packs, while others are self-contained units.
Either way, these lighting kits will require an AC power source or limited
capacity battery pack to function.

Small Flash Units

Although theyre not considered professional studio lights, shoe-mount flash
units, such as the one shown in Figure
1.10, can be just as expensive as budget studio strobes, or more so. So you
might wonder, why spend more money
on smaller, less powerful flashes? As
I stated earlier, small flash units offer
many advantages over larger studio
strobes; theyre more compact, lighter,
operate on convenient size-AA batteries, and theyre actually very powerful
for their size. They also give you the
option of using newer automatic flash
metering technology (e.g. Canons
E-TTL II or Nikons i-TTL) and simplify
flash ratio control. Many photographers

Figure 1.10. Canon Speedlite 600EXRT. Small flash units like these are very
portable and pack great lighting power for
their size.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

prefer them for their size and portability. There are also many light modifiers
and other accessories for these types of strobes making them very suited to
portrait work.

Off-Camera Flash Triggering

Using a flash mounted directly to the camera via the hot shoe has its advantages, but this book is about working with lighting setups, specifically
addressing off-camera lighting. So now is a good time to cover the various
ways you can trigger one or more remotely positioned flash units. But keep
in mind that there are big differences between each method with regard to
effectiveness and functionality. For example, one thing that often comes as
a surprise to photographers who are new to off-camera flash is the fact that
through-the-lens metering (E-TTL II and i-TTL) and automatic flash output
control arent available in every scenario; some of these solutions require
you to use manual camera and flash settings.
Heres a breakdown of the major off-camera flash syncing methods:

E-TTL II and i-TTL

If you use either the Canon or Nikon flash system youre probably familiar
with their respective versions of automatic flash exposure control (E-TTL
II and i-TTL/CLS). Essentially, these systems allow the camera and flash
to work together to maintain proper flash output. Each time the shutter release button is depressed, and just before the shutter is released, an almost
imperceptible preflash is fired allowing the camera to calculate the flash
output necessary for the actual exposure. When the flash is mounted to the
camera, the camera sends communication signals to the flash via electronic
contacts located on the cameras hot shoe and on the foot of the flash.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Whats great about these systems is that some of the flash units can, aside
from their ability to fire a preflash, also send E-TTL II or i-TTL control signals
to remote flash units via flash pulses. This means that higher-end flash
units and some built-in (pop-up) flash units can serve as master flash
controllers to remote slave flash units. These systems can work great in
normal shooting situations, especially indoors, but can suffer from spotty
signal reception where there are line-of-sight obstructions or very bright daylight conditions to compete with the signals. Whats also interesting to note,
is that even though these systems were designed to make automatic flash
output control possible with remote units, they can also be used to trigger
flash units set to manual mode giving the photographer more precise, direct
control over flash output. I recommend that you use your flash units and
camera in manual mode as you progress through this book.
Canon and Nikon have other ways to control remote units using their proprietary flash systems, including dedicated sync cords, special transmitter
units (see Figure 1.11) and Canons new radio transmitter/receiver capabilities of the Speedlite 600EX-RT and the ST-E3-RT unit. Radio options
eliminate the line-of-sight limitations of the standard E-TTL II and i-TTL light
pulse communications
between master and
slave units. Although at
the time of this writing,
Nikon does not have an
integrated radio option,
as youll see later, other
companies have provided
work-around solutions to
the problems associated
with native optical transmission. More on Canon
Figure 1.11. Canon ST-E2. Speedlite Transmitter unit capable
of sending E-TTL II signals to Speedlite slave units.
and Nikon later in this

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Dedicated Sync Cords

Dedicated sync cords like the one shown in Figure 1.12 are brand-specific
and configured with electronic contacts that match up to your camera and
flash. Essentially, these extend the connection necessary for the camera
to relay automatic
output control messages to the flash.
This way, your flash
can be positioned
within arms distance of the camera,
or even farther with
longer cords or by
daisy-chaining two
or more cords.

PC Cords

Figure 1.12. Dedicated sync cord.

While not a wireless

solution, and certainly not E-TTL II/iTTL compatible, the
PC cord, as shown
in Figure 1.13, (and
having nothing to do
with personal computers) is a quick
and easy way to
sync your camera to
a manually set flash
Figure 1.13. PC cord attached to Canon Speedlite.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

unit located somewhere away from the shooting position. If your camera
has a PC connector terminal or a hot shoe adapter that provides this type
of connection, you can plug a PC cord into it, and plug the other end into
a flash with a similar connector or adapter. PC cords with the screw lock
feature are less prone to accidentally detaching from their terminals than
their more basic counterparts, but they still have a reputation of being unreliable. This, and fact that theyre a wired solution, makes them more prone to
accidents and failure and somewhat restricts the photographers movement
during shooting. Also, its not always possible to reliably hook up more than
one flash unit at a time using PC cords. The one advantage a PC cord (or
any simple cord connector) has over optical wireless transmission is that
there is no line-of-sight signal problem to contend with.

Optical Slaves
If youre looking for a very simple low-budget wireless solution for syncing
any number of manually controlled flash units, optical slaves might be a
good option. These are typically small units that connect to your flash (See
Figure 1.14), either
directly or via a hot
shoe adapter. An
optical slave flash
trigger is essentially
an electronic eye
that responds to
the flash burst from
a master flash or
other flash in your
setup by sending an
electric signal to the
Figure 1.14. Sonia brand optical slave attached to Canon Speedlite.
This model is specially designed for use with Canon EX-series flashes.
flash its connected

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

to, causing that flash to also fire. So, when you take a picture and the flash
connected to your camera fires (or any flash fires), each remotely positioned
flash, equipped with an optical slave, will also fire. This happens instantaneously so all flash units contribute to the exposure. There are a couple of
important things to be aware of when using optical slaves:
1. Do not use E-TTL II/i-TTL or any automatic feature that creates a
preflash or otherwise uses a connected flash for anything but the actual
exposure. Since any flash-type pulse of light will trigger a standard optical slave, the remote flash will likely fire during the first pulse it sees. In
the case of preflash, the optical slave will react to the preflash, causing
the remote flash to fire and end before the shutter opens. Of course,
this means the remote flash wont have enough time to recycle and fire
during, or contribute to, the actual exposure. Some optical slaves are
designed to take preflash into account, ignoring a first pulse, and triggering on the second pulse (presumably the flash of the actual exposure).
These however, have received mixed reviews from users. Its just best
to set the camera for manual flash when using optical slave triggers.
2. Make sure you use an optical slave that is compatible with your specific type and/or brand of flash unit. When using Canon Speedlites, for
example, its recommended that you attach optical slaves that are explicitly compatible with the EX series of flashes.
Of course, there will still be a line-of-sight limitation, as with any optical wireless transmission/reception solution, but, again, you wont have a problem
with most close-quarters indoor shooting because even if your optical slaves
arent directly in-line with your master flash, theyll likely pick up the light
pulse as it bounces off other surfaces (i.e. walls) and fire at the appropriate
time. Outdoors in bright daylight, might be more of a challenge.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Radio Triggers
Although Canon
now has a radio
solution to the lineof-sight problem
associated with
the optical wireless
transmission of
E-TTL II signals,
third-party radio
solutions have been
available for quite
Figure 1.15. PocketWizard Plus X and Plus II transciever units.
some time. RadioPopper, PocketWizard and others have come up with ways to capture and relay the proprietary
optical signals from Canon and Nikon cameras to their Speedlite/Speedlight
There are many basic radio triggering solutions available for non-TTL applications, including the PocketWizard X, PockeWizard Plus II (see Figure
1.15), and other PocketWizard models, and many low-cost triggers from
other manufacturers. One note of caution: before investing in a set of radio
triggers, make sure you do your research and look for models with good
reviews. A lower-priced set of radio triggers might sound like a bargain until
youre having to deal with frustratingly unreliable flash syncing.
Next, well talk about the flash units available from Canon and Nikon. There
are other viable flash units available from manufacturers such as Sigma,
Bower, Metz, and Yongnuo that you might also want to consider.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Canon Lineup
Canon has several quality flash units perfect for small studio work and outdoor shooting. Off-camera units can be mounted to light stands and positioned anywhere around the scene and controlled with E-TTL II, Canons
version of through-the-lens automatic flash metering and output control.
Of the models listed below, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II (as well as its predecessor the 580EX) and the 600EX-RT, can be mounted onto your camera
and serve as master controllers for any of the units listed here when those
units are set to slave mode.
Here is a list of some of models you might find useful:
270EX II. While this models flash head doesnt rotate (it only tilts vertically), that becomes much less of a limitation when remotely mounted to
a light stand and/or swivel adapter; in that case, the flash head can be
positioned as needed to point light in any direction. The settings for this
unit are limited and can only be adjusted via a direct camera connection
or E-TTL II optical wireless master. Unfortunately, it has limited use in
multiple light setups where youd want to control it as part of a designated group; it only operates as a member of E-TTL II Group A and will
fire regardless of the channel setting on the master controller. This unit
is the smallest and least powerful in this group, but it can still serve as
a good secondary light. Ive found it especially useful as a hair light or
rim light. This Speedlite is best used as part of an E-TTL II configuration
and not a fully manual setup.
320EX. This is an interesting model that boasts a built-in LED light
which can be useful for some DSLR video recording when better light

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

is not available. The LED can also serve as modeling lamp and focus
assist. As an off-camera slave unit, it allows you to manually adjust
the Speedlite group and channel you wish it to operate on. As with the
270EX II, its great for use in an E-TTL II setup, but it will be of limited
use in a fully manual setup.
430EX II. For more serious off-camera shooting, Id recommend going
with no less than the 430EX II. Unlike the 270EX II and 320EX, the
430EX II will allow you to make important settings adjustments directly
on the unit, including manual output control. Its easy to navigate its
menu with the LCD monitor and a few simple buttons. The only major
things setting this unit apart from the big players listed next are the fact
that it is not as powerful and cannot serve as a master controller.
580EX II. The 580EX II (discontinued) can remotely control all other
units in this lineup via optical wireless transmission using E-TTL II.
When connected directly to your camera, the 580EX II can be setup
as the single master controller to any number of remote slave units.
These units can all be set to fire off of one of four selected channels (1,
2, 3, or 4) and can split into three groups (Groups A, B or C) with each
group being controlled as a single unit. This setup allows you to control
the ratio of light output between Groups A and B, with Group C firing
independently, with its output controlled via Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) for that group, for example.
600EX-RT. This is the first Canon Speedlite capable of radio wireless
transmission to slave units as a built-in feature. Of course, this requires
the use of slave units capable of receiving radio transmission from the
master unit, and as of now, the 600EX-RT is the only Speedlite with this
ability. So, if you want to use the 600EX-RT for radio wireless control of
slave units, those slave units must also be 600EX-RTs. You also should

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

be aware of the fact that some of the more advanced features of this
unit cannot be used with Canon DSLR models introduced prior to 2012.
If you do have a 600EX-RT you can still take full advantage of Canons
standard optical wireless system, because this unit can do everything
the 580EX II does in that regard.
The 580EX II and 600EX-RT (see Figure 1.16) can be set to operate as
on-camera master units without emitting flash that contributes to the actual exposure. This is helpful if you dont want part of the lighting on your
subject coming in from the camera position. Two special master control
units that dont actually produce flash and offer a much lower profile than
the 580EX II or 600EX-RT are the ST-E2, which provides optical wireless
control of all Speedlite models, and the ST-E3-RT, which only provides radio
control when used with 600EX-RT slaves.
Finally, Canon DSLRs with built-in (pop-up) flashes, beginning with the
introduction of the 7D, are equipped with integrated Speedlite transmitters,
meaning those cameras and their built-in flashes can control remote/slave
Speedlite units. Ratios and other settings are controlled
via the cameras
menu system in this
case. This feature
is similar to Nikons
Commander mode
which has been
available for several
Figure 1.16. Speedlites 580EX II and 600EX-RT.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Nikon Lineup
Just as with Canon Speedlites, Nikons Speedlights (note the subtle difference in spelling) also give you the advantage of automatic flash exposure
through the i-TTL/CLS system. Speedlights are controlled via optical
transmission much the same as Canons. Here are a few Nikon models of
interest, excluding the ones that cannot reliably be used as wireless slaves.
Note that the first three listed here (models SB-600, SB-800 and SB-900)
have been discontinued but are still available as used items through various
retailers and on-line sellers and auctions:
SB-600. The Speedlight SB-600 (discontinued) has a flash head that
tilts but does not rotate, however that is not a limitation when its attached to a light stand with a swivel/umbrella adapter. This unit can
controlled by i-TTL/CLS remotely, operating on any of the four channels
(1,2,3 or 4) and three groups (A, B, or C). To use the flash in manual
mode using Nikons SU-4 mode, an SU-4 mode adapter must be used.
Of course, a compatible basic radio or optical slave trigger will also
SB-800. This unit (discontinued) can operate
as a master in wireless
Commander mode
when mounted onto
a compatible Nikon
DSLR. It can also
serve as a remote slave
in i-TTL and fully manual modes using a radio
trigger or SU-4 mode
(adapter not required
as an optical slave is

Figure 1.17. Nikon Speedlights SB-700 and SB-910.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

SB-700, SB-900 (discontinued), and SB-910. Increasingly sophisticated, these are the latest Speedlights in the Nikon line (see Figure 1.17)
which can perform master and remote/slave functions while taking full
advantage of the latest CLS features.
Even with all the great on-going improvements in through-the-lens automatic flash metering and output control technologies, it should be noted that
any good flash unit capable of being set to manual mode and triggered via
optical or radio sync will do the job. As a matter of fact, for any shooting
situation where your light and subject placement will remain fairly static for
several shots, manual camera and flash settings will often give you the most
predictable, consistent results. So, you dont need to use the features of
E-TTL II or i-TTL to get great portrait lighting. However, those automatic
features can be useful when you are going to be moving lights around frequently, or in fast moving shooting conditions (like event photography).

Light Stands
Whether youre using clamp lights,
strobes, or small flash units youll need
a convenient way to vary the height and
position of your lights in order to take full
advantage of your setup. Not only are
light stands (see Figure 1.18) a good
place to mount your lights, but they also
make it easy to use light modifiers in
various configurations.
I suggest you have a light stand and the
necessary adapters and attachments for
each light in your setup. If youre just

Figure 1.18. Light stand.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

using clamp lights, this isnt as important, but where strobes and flash units
are concerned, these additional attachments come in very handy. On the
low end, you can look to spend about $40 per stand and basic swivel adapter for umbrellas and similarly attached modifiers, with better combinations
running over $100 per stand setup.
As I like to travel light, Ive used various low-budget stands and can recommend Impact brand and the light stands sold by Paul C. Buff, Inc. for their
quality at reasonable price points.
Other lighting accessories include umbrella adapters, shoe adapters, and
adapters for syncing and securing your lights to stands and modifiers. See
my book, Ed Veroskys Mini-Guide to Off-Camera Flash for quick and easy
details and specific items you can use to put your own off-camera flash
stands together.

Lighting Modifiers
The look of your portraits is affected not only by the type and intensity of
your light sources, but also by the quality of the light they produce. Think
about a lamp with a bare bulb versus one with a lampshade attached; without the lampshade, the light produced is harsh and direct, whereas with the
shade, its softer and more pleasing. Light modifiers for the light sources
in your photography work to produce more pleasing light in much the same
Most of the modifiers used are of the diffusion type; fabric panels often
made of translucent nylon are commonly used for softboxes and photographic umbrellas to transform the illumination from a small flash or strobe
into a much larger light source relative to the subject. There are modifiers
that can bounce, focus, block, color, and shape light to your needs. In this

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

book, Ill cover the basic

modifiers youll need for
many of the looks Ill show
you how to create.
Here are some commonly
used light modifiers you
should be aware of, and I
encourage you to take the
time to get familiar with:

The Basic Foam

Bounce Card

Figure 1.19. Foam bounce card. Positions shown for use with
both horizontal and vertical shooting.

These are almost exclusively for use with shoe-mount flash units (as a matter of fact, Ive never heard of bounce cards like this being used with any
other type of photographic lighting). The idea behind this ingenious little
DIY crafting foam attachment (see Figure 1.19) is that you can secure it to
your flash head when its pointed straight up in the 90 degree position and it
will reflect light off of the card and onto the subject.
The advantage here is that the surface of the bounce card (essentially a
mini-reflector) is larger than the surface of the flash head lens. When your
flash fires this makes the effective relative size of your light source larger
than it would have been, and larger light is often better light. Further adding
to the overall size of your light source is the way that your flash is pointed
toward the ceiling when using this modifier. As you might know, bouncing
that additional light off the ceiling creates yet another light reflector situation
where the ceiling and subsequent scattering of light around the room can
make for beautiful soft and even lighting.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Since most of the setups discussed in this book are going to be about setting up light sources rather than using on-camera flash, we wont cover the
use of this type of modifier in any more detail, but you should get familiar
with it as a great way to create better light when you have minimal time and
gear to work with.

Diffusion Attachments
Plastic diffusion attachments, such as the STO-FEN brand shown in Figure
1.20, can also be handy for throwing light from the flash head around the
room. These translucent plastic caps work by sending light into many directions so that it strikes walls and the ceiling, thus making the light scatter and
more diffuse so that your subject is being illuminated more evenly. These
are not useful outdoors if there are no surfaces to bounce the flashs light off
of. Again, this type of modifier is included here for completeness and because of its wide use and effectiveness
in fluid indoor shooting scenarios (e.g.
wedding and event photography).

Bounce Panels
& Reflectors
Reflectors are one of the true secret
weapons of photographic lighting. With
them, you can create and direct nice
light anywhere you want it. White, silver, and gold surfaced reflectors are the
most commonly available. I sometimes
think of reflective surfaces as virtual light
sources because they can provide additional illumination for your subject.
Figure 1.20. STO-FEN Omni-Bounce
for a diffused bare-bulb effect.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

In real-world situations, you can use a

white wall, a sidewalk, or any surface
that bounces light onto a subject as a
reflector/light source in your setup. But
you can also use foam core panels,
white poster boards, or commercially-made photographic reflectors (see
Figure 1.21) to get the results you want.
Reflectors and bounce panels are most
often used to reflect light back onto the
shadow side of the subject to cut down
on contrast and provide fill light.

Figure 1.21. A gold reflector is used to

bounce warmer tones onto the subject.
Image: Paul C. Buff, Inc.

Standard and shoot-through photographic
umbrellas are an affordable solution that
can give you the benefits of reflectors and
diffusers (for softer main lighting and/or
fill lighting), but in a more controlled and
focused way. Using an umbrella in the
traditional way, a strobe is pointed away
from the subject and into the umbrella.
The light from the strobe is reflected off
the inside surface of the umbrella creating a larger light source, relative to the
subject, so that the subject benefits from
a nice, wide circle of illumination.

Figure 1.22. Shoot-through umbrella.

Another way to use an umbrella is the

shoot-through method (see Figure 1.22)

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

whereby an umbrella made of translucent fabric is positioned with its top,

rounded area pointed toward the subject. In this configuration, the flash is
still pointing directly into the umbrella with the round diffuse fabric between
it and the subject. The result is similar to what you might get from a softbox
of approximately the same size, without the box. Is an umbrella used like
this just as good as a softbox? Sometimes, yes! But it allows much of the
light to escape out of the back side away from the subject and into the room.
This can be a great advantage or a hindrance, depending on the look youre
trying to achieve.
However, compared to softboxes, umbrellas can be much cheaper to replace and much easier to transport, setup, and take down. There are also
hybrid solutions; umbrellas that have opaque backs to them, essentially
turning them into round softboxes.

Some photographers consider the softbox (see Figure 1.23) an indispensable
studio item. They come in all sizes and
dimensions, but one things for sure,
people love the light they produce and
the control they offer. They are so popular that when working with small flashes
for serious portraiture hit its stride a few
years ago, manufacturers scrambled to
produce everything from mini-softbox
attachments to full-out softbox solutions
for them. Softboxes dont tend to run
cheap, but theyre well worth the money
if you like the look of the light you can get
from them.

Figure 1.23. Softbox mounted to an

Alien Bees strobe. Image: Paul C. Buff,

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Keep in mind that just because a particular modifier might technically qualify
as a softbox, the very small ones (namely the type designed for use with a
flash unit mounted to a camera) arent likely to produce the quality of light
one might expect. This is because, as a light source, those types of modifiers arent very big; its the larger light sources that will give you softer light
after all. If youre looking for ways to get that softbox look, Id suggest going
with an off-camera softbox that is no less than 2 x 2 for a single subject.
And even with a softbox that size, youll need to move it in very close to your
subject to take full advantage of its effect.

Snoots & Grids

For dramatic looks and in order to focus smaller pools of light onto the subject or background, you can use a snoot or grid (see Figure 1.24) to do just
the opposite of what reflectors, umbrellas and large softboxes do. Snoots
and grids narrow the beam of light which makes them perfect for lighting
small areas and background accents.

Finally, there are
ways to use your
lights with gels or
color filters to create
color effects, or to
balance the color of
one light source with
another. For example, its common
to stick an orange
gel over a flash,

Figure 1.24. Snoot and Grid.

Image: Paul C. Buff, Inc.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

as shown in Figure
1.25, so that the
light it produces will
be in the same color
temperature range
as the surrounding
ambient light (where
the ambient light is
mostly incandescent). Gels of other
colors can be used
for background color Figure 1.25. Gels are used for color balancing flash to other light
sources and for background and special effects.
effects and for any
creative uses you can come up with.

Starting Points
I highly recommend that you find and use some simple starting points for
your current lighting setup; some initial setup configuration and camera
settings that you know will work from the moment you start shooting. From
there, of course, youll find that making adjustments is easier than if you had
started off from no real reference point. I often refer to this as standardization: your personal, predetermined system of default settings and lighting
configurations. This topic is covered extensively in my book, 100% Reliable
Flash Photography.
Here are some examples of lighting setups to get you started. For each that
you plan to use, position the lights, do some tests until you find a combination of light positions, power settings, and camera settings that produces
results that youre happy with, and write these down for future reference.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

For each type of setup, youll know what

you need to do to get good exposures on
your next shoot without taking too much
time on initial test shots.
Ill provide three example setups and
settings next, but use whatever you have
and create your own starting points for
each type of lighting scenario youll use:

Clamp Lights:
Two-Light Setup
As noted earlier, putting a clamp light kit
together (see Figure 1.26) is probably
Figure 1.26. Clamp light on a stand.
the most economical way to go, but it
can also be somewhat limiting in terms of
output power and making adjustments to achieve desired lighting ratios and
other effects. However, knowing the limitations of your gear can help you
make good creative decisions and allow you to use them to your advantage.
I often use clamp lights to produce harsher lighting for dramatic effects
because the quality of this type of light and reflector are suitable for such
looks. This isnt to say you cant use clamp lights for traditional portraiture,
which is what the following example configuration might be useful for. Note
that extension cords will probably be necessary.
Two Clamp Lights. Bare bulb (no reflector), CFL equivalent to 100 watt
incandescent bulb.
Two Light Stands. Capable of at least 8 height.
Camera Settings. ISO 1600, f/4.0, shutter speed 1/100 sec.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Hang the clamp lights on each stand, and turn on only the first light. This
will be your main light and will be positioned approximately 1.5 from the
subject, 45 degrees to the subjects right or left as shes facing the camera,
and approximately 45 degrees above her head.
The second light will serve as the fill light and it will be positioned directly
opposite of the main in front of the subject. This light however will be 3
from the subject so that it will provide less illumination than the main (remember, as distance from the light source to the subject increases, the
lights intensity on that subject decreases).

Small Flash Units: Two-Light Setup (Manual Flash)

Ive used this setup (see Figure 1.27) for several years and, for me, its
proven to be a great place to start with everything from editorial portraiture
to Boudoir. The main light is the most important thing to concern yourself
with, as it is with most any setup. The second light can be used for fill or as
a rim/hair light. The
benefits of modifying
these lights with
shoot-through umbrellas include the
diffusion of the main
light on the subject,
and the additional
light spread around
the room, as light
not only gets thrown
onto the subject, but
Figure 1.27. Small flash unit light stand setup. Shown are the flash,
also bounces out of
shoot-through umbrella, umbrella swivel adapter and PocketWizard
radio trigger receiver all mounted atop a light stand.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

the umbrellas which can give you some added fill and pleasing background
illumination. Again this setup is covered extensively in some of my other
books, but generally, heres what I use:
Two Flash Units. 580EX II units. I set these to a power of 1/8 initially
and approximately 3 from the subject.
Two PocketWizard Radio Trigger Receivers. These are the basic
versions, not the E-TTL II or i-TTL type. Since this setup uses manual
flash and camera settings, I wont be using any automatic flash output
features. PocketWizard Plus X models are combination transmitter/receiver units that will automatically switch to receiver mode when another
PocketWizard Plus X is acting as transmitter.
One PocketWizard Radio Transmitter. This slips onto the cameras
hot shoe. Again, a PocketWizard Plus X unit will automatically assume
the role of transmitter when used as such.
Two Light Stands. Impact brand light stands capable of at least 8
Swivel/Umbrella Adapters. Manfrotto brand, coupled with cold shoe
mounts to attach the flash units.
Two Translucent Shoot-Through Umbrellas. These will be attached
to the swivel umbrella adapters and will modify the light emitted by the
flash, effectively making the light source much larger in proportion to the
subject at closer distances.
Camera Settings. With a Canon 7D, my settings are Manual, ISO 100,
f/4.0, shutter speed 1/250 sec.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

For a similar setup that takes advantage of automatic flash (E-TTL II), I use
the following:
Two Flash Units. 580EX II units. Set to E-TTL II (reads ETTL on the
flash menu).
One ST-E2. This is Canons optical master transmitter that controls remote slave units. It allows you to make simple lighting ratio adjustments
between Groups A and B via buttons located on the unit itself. Note that
the 7D Im using can control remote slaves with its integrated Speedlite
transmitter (via pop-up flash), so the ST-E2 isnt necessary for that. But
Id rather not have the 7Ds built-in flash firing during a portrait shoot so
I prefer to use the ST-E2 and its infrared-filtered flash to communicate
with the slave units.
Two Light Stands. Impact brand light stands capable of at least 8
Swivel/Umbrella Adapters. Manfrotto brand, coupled with cold shoe
mounts to attach the flash units.
Two Translucent Shoot-Through Umbrellas. These will be attached
to the swivel umbrella adapters and will modify the light emitted by the
flash, effectively making the light source much larger in proportion to the
subject at closer distances.
Camera Settings. With a Canon 7D, my settings are Manual, ISO 100,
f/4.0, shutter speed 1/250 sec. Yes, even though your camera is set to
manual mode, giving you full control over your ISO, f-stop, and shutter
speed, E-TTL II (or in the case with Nikon, i-TTL) can still handle your

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

flash exposure automatically. You might need or want to make some

adjustments to the flash output using the Flash Exposure Compensation
(FEC) controls, or by some other means, but you wont have to concern
yourself with manual flash settings.
The benefits to using E-TTL II or i-TTL for flash control include not having to
make manual adjustments to flash output settings, as the flash and camera
work together to adjust for changes in flash to subject distance. This might
make it easier to move lights around because the flash output will adjust to
the changes automatically.

Studio Strobe Two-Light Setup:

If your lights are going to stay in one place, or youre OK with schlepping
around some heavier gear, studio strobes might be the best choice. Small
flash units are more than adequate for most portrait photography, but theyre
battery-powered and require longer recycle times; theyre just not built for
faster continuous shooting like the more powerful strobes are. I tend to
like the monolight variety because theres no big heavy power pack to deal
with and each light has its own self-contained power source (it must still be
plugged into a battery, generator, or wall outlet).
Im going to describe my Alien Bees setup here (see Figure 1.28 and 1.29),
because thats what Ive used extensively in the past. I like many of the
other brands offerings, though so dont take this as an endorsement for one
brand over another. I will often use studio strobes with umbrellas, in much
the same way as I described their use with small flash units, but here Ill
change out the main lights umbrella for a softbox:
Two Strobe Units. Alien Bees B800s. I set these to a power of 1/8
initially, about 3 from the subject. These units are equipped with built-in

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Figure 1.28. Alien Bees B800 unit on a light

stand with softbox modifier, triggered by a PocketWizard Plus X.

Figure 1.29. Alien Bees B800 unit on a light

stand with umbrella modifier, triggered by a
PocketWizard Plus X.

optical slaves, so they can be triggered without the radio triggers listed
below. However, the radio triggers will offer more reliable triggering,
especially in cases where a strobe units optical slave is somewhat obstructed from detecting the main triggering flash.
Two PocketWizard Radio Trigger Receivers. These are the basic
versions, not the E-TTL II or i-TTL type. Since this setup uses manual
flash and camera settings, I wont be using any automatic flash output
features. PocketWizard Plus X models are combination transmitter/receiver units that will automatically switch to receiver mode when another
PocketWizard Plus X is acting as transmitter.
One PocketWizard Radio Transmitter. This slips onto the cameras
hot shoe. Again, a PocketWizard Plus X unit will automatically assume
the role of transmitter when used as such.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Two Light Stands. Impact brand light stands. Alien Bees arent designed to fit on a swivel umbrella adapter, and one is not needed; the
Alien Bee has a built-in swivel mechanism and an umbrella shaft holder.
One Translucent Shoot-Through Umbrella. This will be attached to
the umbrella slot on the B800, and it will modify the light output, effectively making the light source much larger in proportion to the subject at
closer distances.
One Photoflex LiteDome Q39 Medium Softbox. This attaches to the
B800 via a Photoflex Speed Ring adapter.
Camera Settings. With a Canon 7D, my settings are Manual, ISO 100,
f/8.0, shutter speed 1/250 sec.

While not part of the lighting gear,
free-standing and other placed backgrounds are often an integral part of the
portrait setup. Well refer to seamless
backgrounds later in the book, but in
case youre not familiar with what that
is, Ill go over it now. Seamless backgrounds are essentially large paper rolls
which are available in different colors
and sizes (see Figure 1.30). These
are distributed by companies such as
Savage. A pole or background cross42

Figure 1.30. Roll of white seamless background paper.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

bar is inserted through the cardboard tube or spool of the paper roll and
placed between two background stands. Its then raised and the paper is
unspooled to the floor, or even farther so that it covers an area of the floor
toward the camera. This creates a nice floor/background surface with minimal shadows and distractions. Cloth and vinyl backgrounds are also available from various suppliers. They do have a tendency to wrinkle but theyre
reusable, unlike paper which is easily soiled and needs to be frequently

Light Meters
Hand-held light meters like the one shown in Figure 1.31 are not relied on
as much as they were in the days of film photography. Digital photography
and the LCD preview monitor on
most cameras have made it easy
to quickly evaluate the effects of
lighting, and changes in lighting, in
a scene without the use of an external light meter. However, a light
meter can still be a valuable tool
for certain types of photography,
including studio work with strobes
where it can help maintain lighting
consistency and aid in determining
specific lighting ratios (see Are
Lighting Ratios Important? below).
Even where off-camera metering
isnt technically necessary, some
photographers prefer to use a light
meter according to their working

Figure 1.31. Sekonic Flashmate L-308S light/

flash meter.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Are Lighting Ratios Important?

Lighting ratios are very important in photographic lighting, but not necessarily important to quantify. In other words, you can achieve a good lighting
ratio visually, without using the numerical data from a light meter. A few
test shots to guide some simple adjustments to your lighting can yield great
results, too. In this book, we dont cover the advanced and varied ways to
express and arrive at traditional lighting ratios; were more concerned with
building up good lighting visually. But the basic understanding and application of ratios, in the sense that youd want one light to be a stop or two lower
than another, is important. And using a light meter can be very helpful in
that regard.
If youre unfamiliar with these devices, a light meter (or exposure meter) is
a tool used for measuring light and calculating exposure settings for photography. Light meters are very useful when shooting with cameras that
dont have working exposure meters, in film photography where instant
image previews arent available, and in studio work, especially where strobe
lighting is used. Before using a meter, you should become acquainted with
what stops are and the basic math of photographic lighting and exposure.
If you need to learn more about this topic, please take a look at DSLR: The

Two Types Of Metering

Light meters usually allow measurements to be taken in two general modes:
Reflected Metering and Incident Metering.
Reflected (or Reflective): This mode of metering is essentially the same
as what the cameras internal light meter does. The light meter measures
the light being reflected off the scene or subject from the perspective of
the camera. The area being measured can be large which will give you an

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

average reading. By placing the meter closer to smaller areas of the scene,
the meter will measure those smaller areas individually giving you similar
functionality to a cameras spot metering.
I personally dont use an external light meter for reflected metering when
shooting with a camera with a built-in meter as I find it redundant.
Incident: This mode of metering is not available in the camera. With incident metering, youre using the light meter to measure the light that is
striking the subject, not the light that is being reflected off the subject. In
other words, it measures the light coming from the light source directly. This
is useful for flash/strobe photography. It allows you to measure the light
coming from individual light sources, or the combination of more than one
light source. When using a light meter in Incident mode, a white dome-like
surface is used over the meters lens (electronic eye). This allows the meter
to read light coming in from a wide angle.

The Meter Is Accurate, Not Perfect

Something to keep in mind is that whether youre using a hand-held light
meter, or relying on the one in your camera, metering does have its limitations. Most importantly, light meters are calibrated to assume they are
metering for a standard, middle-of-the-road tone and reflectance, but not all
subjects and scenes fit neatly into that category. If your subject is an even
gray or something similarly neutral, no problem. Youll get a very accurate
suggestion for your camera settings. However, if your subject is mostly very
dark, or light, the light meter will provide you with exposure settings that will
render the blacks as too light, or the whites as too dark, respectively. Also,
in some cases, its a good idea to calibrate your light meter to your cameras
response (see your meters manual for more information). So, while it can
be very accurate, the light meter might be thought of more as point of reference from which to base your final exposure settings.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Using A Light Meter

Of course, you should consult the documentation for your model of light
meter to learn how to use it for your needs. But, Ill give you the general
idea here:
As stated earlier, I dont find much reason to use my light meter for reflected
metering. I know some photographers who swear by it for their style of
shooting. Start by making sure your light meter is set to Reflected metering
mode. To get an average measurement for exposure, just stand near the
camera and point the light meters lens (without the dome cover) toward
the scene and click the measuring button. If the scene is not too bright or
too dim, the meter will give you a suggested aperture and/or shutter speed
setting based on the ISO setting youve provided. Of course, you can adjust one or more of the settings up or down to get different corresponding
settings for the same exposure. You then just have to adjust your camera
settings to match the suggestions provided by the light meter to get the
suggested exposure.
Incident light metering, used with flash photography, places the meter not
at the location of the camera, but at the location of the subject. Start by
making sure your light meter is set to Incident metering mode. Metering is
achieved by placing the light dome cover over the meters lens, holding the
light meter very near the subject, and pointing it back toward the camera.
Clicking the measuring button will tell the meter to wait for a flash of light,
which it will measure when you set off the strobe(s). What youre attempting to measure is the light at the point where youre holding the meter. Depending on where you place your meter, youre trying to get an idea of how
the light is affecting your subject and other areas of the image, including the

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

Assuming a portrait setup with a key light, a fill light, a hair light, and one
additional light on the background, we might observe a photographer using
a light meter in the studio in the following sequence. It should be noted that
turning all lights off, except the current light being metered, will give you
more accurate results:
1) The photographer places the meter near the subjects face, pointing the
light dome in the direction of the key light and triggers the flash. The meter
reads 8.0 for an ISO of 100 (shutter speed is not really an issue here, but
will generally be set to the cameras x-sync). However, the photographer
wants to use an aperture of f/5.6, so he dials the key lights power down one
stop (say from 1/4 power to 1/8 power), takes another reading which does
say, 5.6 this time.
2) Since the photographer is looking for the fill light to be one stop less than
the key light, the meter, still at the subjects position, is now aimed toward
the fill light when the strobes are fired. The combination of distance from
subject to light source, and the power setting on the light source is giving a
reading of 4.0 on the meter (f/4.0), which is right on the money. No changes are necessary.
3) The hair light, which should be a little hotter than the main light is measured next giving a reading of 16 which is three stops higher than the main
light. The photographer wants good highlights in the hair, but this is probably too much. The hair lights power is adjusted down to give a reading of
9 (f/9.0) on the meter which will give some nice bright highlights in the hair
(technically a small overexposed area of the image).
4) Finally, the photographer holds the meter against the background at an
area where the background light strikes the backdrop to take a reading.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Light Sources & Gear

With any final adjustments, the photographer now knows the relationship
between all the lights and can use this knowledge to avoid spending a lot of
time with trial-and-error testing.
You can see how this can be helpful with maintaining a consistent look or
quickly achieving a desired, predetermined lighting ratio. For photographers
who need to get their portrait lighting setup quickly, a light meter may be
indispensable. I should note that some photographers prefer not to point
the meter directly at the light source to take measurements, and methods
exist that involve taking readings off of the main and fill at the same time, so
use whatever method works best for you.
Of course, a light meter isnt always necessary, even when using strobes on
manual settings. For example, my usual setup is so simple and standardized that I usually only need to take a couple of test shots to know I have it
all working. If my setup is more involved, I might use a light meter, especially if I dont have time to shoot and evaluate several test shots.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics


Portrait Lighting Basics

Have you ever noticed how some images are just so much better than
others, but you cant quite explain why? Point a camera at someone and
snap the photo and you might have a pleasing image, but it doesnt look like
the better photos youve seen elsewhere. What makes one photographers
images look so much better than anothers? Is it better cameras and lenses, or better photo editing techniques, experience, or skills that you havent
yet mastered? Well, the answer is that all of the above can contribute to the
quality of a photographers images. But theres one thing that you can do
right now that will improve your photography more than any piece of equipment or any other skill set; learn how to light effectively.
With an understanding of the basic principles youll learn in this chapter and
as you progress through this book, the quality of your gear, your post-processing skills, and your experience wont hold you back from making beautiful portraits. It all starts with the basics of lighting for the human face. Thats
the key to good portraiture.

Lighting For Faces

Most people just starting out in photography concentrate on getting a good
photo in terms of what they see through their lens. But they see their subjects with their minds and emotions first and may not even think about how
the resulting image is going to look as a frozen moment in time. They dont
consider the effect of the way the light and shadows fall across the face.
So, they often end up with photos that just dont look right or arent flattering
to the subject. But when you start looking at the scene and subject in front
of you in terms of shape and form, light and shadow, youll learn to see

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

the potential of light in a whole new way. Youll learn to change the angle
of your subjects head for the best look given the light youre working with.
And in situations where you have some control over the lighting and its
position (for example when working with studio strobes or small flash units)
youll be able to apply basic portraiture lighting principles to create outstanding images.

The Five Basic Lighting Patterns

In portraiture, there are five traditional ways to light a face. These are not
the only ways, of course, and we dont always strive to apply these methods
precisely. They are simply guidelines and often good starting points for
setting up portrait lighting. Ill describe them here as basic examples using
a single light, where the main light (or key light) is the only light source were
concerned with. Quite often, one light is all you need when applying these
patterns to create classic portraits, but photographers will commonly add
one or more lights to the mix for specific reasons which well get into later.
For now, I want you to go through the five lighting patterns that follow, then
practice duplicating them. You can do this indoors with any simple light,
including a clamp light or household lamp. I actually recommend you start
with such a light, instead of a flash or strobe, so you can see the effect of
the light and shadows in real-time. As you practice, strive to place the light
and pose the subject in such a way as to identify the catchlights in the eyes
at the 11 oclock or 1 oclock positions. These catchlights (reflections of the
main light in the subjects eyes) add life and interest to the portrait.

Pattern #1: Short Lighting

Short lighting is often used as a corrective technique to help make rounder
faces look a little thinner. In this lighting pattern the main light illuminates
the subject on the shorter side of the face (see Figure 2.1), where the distance seems shorter from nose to ear (or nose to the edge of the cheek),

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

from the cameras perspective. Another way to think about this is that
when the subject has her head turned
to one side, you are lighting the side
of the face that is farthest from the
When viewing a portrait, our attention
is first given to the details we can
see and to the brightest parts of the
picture. Shadows recede and brighter
areas are predominant. On a two-dimensional plane, there is actually less
surface area visible on the side of the
face turned away from the camera.
With short lighting, this is the area that
is highlighted with illumination from
the main light. Since more attention
is given to the narrower surface area,
a visual illusion is created that makes
the subjects face look thinner.

Figure 2.1. Short lighting.

Pattern #2:
Broad Lighting
Here the main light illuminates the
subject on the broadest area of the
face, from the cameras perspective.
When the subject has her head turned
to one side, you are lighting the side of
the face that is closest to the camera
as shown in Figure 2.2.


Figure 2.2. Broad lighting.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

This lighting pattern simply places visual emphasis on the area of the face
turned toward the camera--the area more in-line with the camera axis. On a
two-dimensional plane, there is more surface area visible on the side of the
face turned toward the camera, as opposed to away from the camera. With
broad lighting, this is the area that is highlighted with illumination from the
main light. Since more attention is given to the larger surface area than the
narrower one on the side of the face turned away from the camera, a visual
illusion is created that makes the subjects face look wider. Broad lighting is
sometimes used on subjects with narrower or thinner faces as a corrective

Pattern #3: Rembrandt Lighting

This lighting pattern, named after the Old Master painter, has a very classical look (see Figure 2.3). The main light is positioned high and to one side
of the subject creating a shadow from
the nose that meets with the shadow
from the side of the face opposite the
light. The generally recognized definition of Rembrandt lighting, where
photography is concerned, prescribes
the use of the main light on one side of
the subjects face in just the right position as to create a triangle, or diamond
shape, of light on the shadow side just
underneath the eye, to extend down
toward the mouth.
This pattern tends to result in a portrait
with very strong contrast, but that isnt
a requirement. Loop lighting is a vari52

Figure 2.3. Rembrandt/Loop lighting.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

ation on this pattern wherein the triangle of light is broken, or opened up.
In this case the shadow of the nose is
shortened so it does not extend into
the main shadow on the side of the
face opposite the light. Rembrandt
and loop lighting create a very classical, often dramatic look which is very
dependent on the quality and size of
the light source, and the use of fill and
background lighting.

Pattern #4: Split Lighting

Here, the main light is positioned to
Figure 2.4. Split lighting.
illuminate one side of the head while
casting a full shadow on the other side
as shown in Figure 2.4 (think of the
center of the nose as marking the border). Split lighting visually divides your
subject into light and dark areas of the image. If your subject is facing the
camera directly when split lighting is employed, her face is likely to have a
distinct shadow cutting vertically right down the center. The effect is rather
dramatic and a low-key but high-contrast image is the typical result. Of
course, you can change the ratio of the split by altering the position of the
light or camera. Contrast can be adjusted, too, but as you increase the fill
lighting, or widen your tonal range between light and shadow, youll lessen
the effect of the split.

Pattern #5: Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly lighting is identified by what is often referred to as a butterfly
shaped shadow that appears directly beneath the subjects nose (see Fig53

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

ure 2.5). Its reminiscent of Old Hollywood glamour photos and can be very
dramatic. The main light is placed in
front of, and somewhat above the subject in order to create this look. This
type of lighting is sometimes referred
to as Hollywood or Paramount lighting
because it has similarities to some of
the glamour lighting styles perfected
by Hollywood movie star photographers. This technique is especially
effective and dramatic on subjects
with pronounced cheekbones. Since
the light is coming in from high and
in front of the face, shadows drop in
Figure 2.5. Butterfly lighting.
under the cheekbones and the chin.
This also tends to visually bring the front of the face forward, set the neck
into shadow, and cause other areas of the visual space to be downplayed.

Flat vs. Dimensional Lighting

The goal of many portrait photographers is not only to capture a likeness,
but to create a sense of physical dimension in their images. But trying to
express a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional medium (a print
or a screen) can be challenging. Fortunately, with the right approach to
lighting youll be well on your way to creating images that give the viewer
a good sense of the textures and forms depicted in them. An approach to
lighting that is counter to the goal of creating a strong sense of shape and
detail, is flat lighting; very even lighting that tends to create minimal, if any,
shadows for spatial reference. Flat lighting (see Figures 2.6 and 2.7) helps
minimize the shapes of features and downplays texture, and is sometimes

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

Figure 2.6. Strong fill lighting is used in this

example to lessen the shadows produced by
the main light.

Figure 2.7. Bold, contrasting colors can

add interest to flat lighting.

a desired effect, but it can also result in uninteresting portraits. On the flipside, Figures 2.8 and 2.9 show how light and shadow can work together to
create sharp, defining contrast as well as convey visual information about
the shape of your subjects face.

Background and Environment

Another important thing to consider when setting up for a portrait is the
background or environment that will be depicted in the image. Sometimes
this is simply darkness, where all of the visual information in the image is
made up of the subject and surrounding negative space or shadow. Other
times, minimal but useful background information is provided in order to
make the image more interesting. The use of color or texture alone can

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

Figure 2.8. As the main light source is

moved farther from the camera-to-subject
axis, more shadows become visible.

Figure 2.9. Highlights on the subject (in this

case a hair light) and background lighting
help create a sense of dimension.

create a reference point so that your subject wont just appear to be floating
in an empty space. As much background information as you want can be
included in order to ground the subject visually in an atmosphere or identifiable environment. Background can help tell the story by framing the subject
in context.
The main considerations when including backgrounds in your portraits are
Distractions. Make sure your background provides just enough, but not
too much, visual detail and information needed to tell the story or highlight
the subject. Dont let the background become a distraction as in Figure
Illumination. The way the background appears in your image is going to
depend largely on the lighting its receiving in the shot. If the lighting is too

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

Figure 2.11. Shadows blend into the background. A rim light on the subject or illumination on the background would improve

Figure 2.10. Distracting background.

low, the background might fade off

into darkness (see Figure 2.11). If
there are bright spots, they might pull
the viewers eye away from the subject (see Figure 2.12). The creative
use of background often goes handin-hand with a thoughtful approach to
background lighting.

Figure 2.12. Bright areas in the background

can distract the viewers eyes from the subject.

Balanced Lighting. The idea of balancing your lighting comes into play
here also. Lighting the background
is a separate issue from lighting the subject, so light them separately, but
keep things in balance. This is not only important when it comes to light

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

intensity for both parts of the image,

but also where the color of the lighting
is concerned. Be sure to check your
white balance settings on your camera
and adjust accordingly to reproduce the
light in the colors you want.
Figure 2.13. Flash and ambient light mix.
You may have to use lighting gels/filters
Image has been balanced for flash.
when using flash or make selective
adjustments in post-processing to fix
color balance issues (see Figures 2.13
and 2.14). However, remember that
accurate color isnt always the most
important consideration. Sometimes
getting the colors that simply feel right
is the way to go. For example, backFigure 2.14 Flash and ambient light mix.
ground ambient indoor lighting (usually
Ambient lighted areas have been selectively
incandescent bulbs) often turns out
altered in post.
warmer or more orange in images than
it appears to your naked eye, while your subject (illuminated by flash) appears natural. That is sometimes a desired look not requiring any special
changes to be made.

Focus. Imagine a busy background setting, like a busy workshop environment, where the subject is in sharp focus, but so is everything else in the
shot. This is another way that the background can become a distracting
element rather than an appealing one. By adjusting your camera settings
you can insure that your subject remains in focus while the background has
just the right amount of blur (being out of focus). Larger apertures (e.g. f/1.8
or f/2.8) will narrow the depth of field in your portraits so that your subject
stands out as the clear focus and center of attention.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Portrait Lighting Basics

A good use of depth of field, and creative lighting for both the background
and subject will give your images a better sense of place and dimension.
Figures 2.15 and 2.16 are examples of how depth of field can change the
look of the background-to-subject relationship.

What Else Makes A Good Portrait?

In this book were focusing primarily on lighting setups, but portraiture is
about much more than lighting. As you move forward youll want to learn
more about things like:
Which lenses work best for certain types of portraits
Posing and directing your subject
Composition and cropping (where
best to crop in a portrait)
Post-processing and retouching
The creative application of lighting is
the most important thing you can learn
when starting out with portraiture. With
a confident approach to lighting, you
can direct more of your attention toward your subject and spend less time
making trial and error adjustments that
break the flow of your session. This
follows with the standardization principle I talk about in other texts; a way
to minimize the guesswork and enjoy
consistent quality by developing and
standardizing your preferred lighting
setups and camera settings. Of course,
finding out what your favorite lighting
setups are begins with exploring several options. Thats what well do in the
following chapters.

Figure 2.15. At f/4.0, depth of field in this

image isnt shallow enough to prevent the
background from competing with the subject.

Figure 2.16. At f/1.8, the background drops

into a more pleasing blur (bokeh) while the
image still retains its sense of environment.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits


Dramatic Portraits

he following examples illustrate the power of using a single light,

at a position high and to one side of the subject, to convey a
sense of mystery or profundity in a portrait. This lighting technique
is commonly used in commercial and editorial portraits of authors, entertainers, political figures, and the like. In keeping with the dark and serious
feel of this type of image, the role of backgrounds and secondary lighting

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

is downplayed and the images fall almost exclusively into the category of
low-key. This isnt to say that only one light is ever used; subtle fill and
background lighting definitely have their place here. So, in this section
well also discuss adding fill light to cut down on contrast, hair light to help
separate the subject from the background, where needed, and background
illumination. As you progress through this book, youll see how many of the
fundamental strategies presented in this chapter actually play an important
role in most every type of portraiture.

Starts with
One Light
The dramatic portrait,
as Im describing it, is
essentially a very simple, if not minimalist,
approach to classical
lighting (see Figure
3.1). We start here to
prove that a single light
source and a general
understanding of the
effect of its placement
in relation to the subject
is all you need to create
good portrait lighting.
In fact, with most portraiture, any other lighting that comes into play
will be built around the
concept and application

Figure 3.1. One light used for a dramatic portrait.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

of this main light. In effect, the main (or key) light is the most important and
defining illumination in any portrait. Its the light that casts the predominant
shadows across the subjects face and form while all other lights illuminating
the subject simply reduce contrast, or add highlights. Thats why this is a
good place to start; dramatic portrait lighting can be both easy to accomplish
and highly effective.
Working with a single light this way is also very instructive when youre just
beginning to work with portraiture lighting in a serious way. Rather than
dealing with a three- or four-light kit from the start, where it might be hard to
determine whats throwing off your results, you only have one light to concern yourself with here. Youll know if and why something doesnt look right
and be able to quickly make adjustments to correct it.
Start by having your subject pose as shown on the previous page (Figure
3.1). The orientation of the face in relation to the light is key to creating the
correct shadow pattern. Turning more to toward the camera, a Rembrandt
pattern becomes visible. As your subject turns more toward the light, a short
light pattern emerges. Sequence (Figure 3.2) shows the changes in the
lighting pattern as the subject turns her head increasingly toward the light.

Figure 3.2. As the subject turns toward the light source, the lighting changes from a Rembrandt to a short light
pattern. Varying the pose helps you discover the best look for the shot, and have variations to choose from.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

For this example, were using an Alien Bees B800 with a 2 x 3 softbox
attached and close to the subject, which gives us a pleasing transition from
light to shadow, despite the fact that using a single light in this way is going
to create a good degree of contrast overall. Heres how to setup this shot:

The Setup
Place the main light approximately 45 - 60 degrees to one side of the
camera-to-subject axis as shown in Figure 3.3. Adjust the height of the
B800 unit so that it is approximately 24 taller than the subject (about 2ft
higher than the subjects head). The surface of the umbrella or softbox
should be approximately 2-3 from her, angled down toward the face at
approximately a 45 degree angle. This lighting position is often referred
to as the 45/45 position for the sake of simplicity.
In this example, a darker background was produced by positioning the
subject 5ft from a Savage Thunder Gray seamless background with no
additional light sources added to the setup.
My Settings: Main light (B800) was set to 1/8 power. This gave me a
working aperture of f/8 at ISO 100. Shutter speed was set to my cameras x-sync speed of 1/250 sec.
It should be noted that while any type of light will allow you to produce good
results, it will likely need a little help in the form a modifier to keep contrast
under control. Generally speaking, larger, modified light sources positioned
closer to your subject will create softer-looking light. An unmodified clamp
light, for example, will create hard shadows, just as any flash or studio
strobe will do without some type of modifier to diffuse/spread the light over
a larger area around your subject. Where studio lighting is being used, an
umbrella or softbox is a good choice for your main (and fill lighting).

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

Foundation of the Setup

The following illustrations detail the basic setup for a dramatic portrait. Figure 3.4 features a multi-light variation.

Main Light

Figure 3.3. Main light is positioned approximately 45-60 degrees off the camera-to-subject axis

Hair Light


Main Light

Fill Light

Figure 3.4. White foam panel added to reflect main light into shadow areas, providing fill. Background and hair
lights also shown.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

Adding Fill Light

As you can see in the image that opens this chapter, one light coming in
from the classic 45/45 angle creates a great deal of contrast and shadow.
This is perfect for a moody or serious look, but it might be too much for the
feel youre trying to achieve. In Figure 3.5, you can see how we add in
some fill light to soften the contrast and lighten the mood a bit.
Fill light can be added any number of ways. As shown in Figure 3.6, I
secured a panel of foam board to a light stand with an A-clamp. I then positioned it approximately 1.5 - 2 from the subjects face, on the side opposite
the main light. The distance and angle you use will determine the amount of
fill and its effect as shown in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.5. Fill light added to lower the contrast.

Figure 3.6. Foam core panel reflects main light onto

opposite side of subject to produce fill lighting.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

Figure 3.7. The amount of fill light will change as you change the distance from the subject to the reflector or
foam core panel. These examples show the panel placed 1ft, 1.5ft, and 2ft away from the subject.

Adding Hair Light

With darker backgrounds, part of the
subject, especially the side opposite
the main light, can get lost in the shadows. This may very well be a desired
effect, but if you want to give the subject a bit of separation from the background as shown in Figure 3.8, you
can bring in another light positioned
from above and behind the subject to
produce a highlight on the subjects
hair. This is called the hair light and it
can be placed on a lighting boom arm,
mounted to the background stand, or
simply placed on a light stand just out
of the frame. Well discuss hair light in
more detail later in this book.

Figure 3.8. Hair light added to the setup.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Dramatic Portraits

Adding Background Light

Finally, its easy to control the visibility of the background by simply positioning the subject and entire lighting setup either closer to, or farther from, the
background (see Figure 3.9). If your subject is sitting just a few inches in
front of a wall or backdrop, there will naturally be some light spilling onto it
from the main (or other lights), just past the subject. However, if youd like a
little more control over the way the background is illuminated, your subject
should be several feet from the background and another light added for
desired effect as shown in Figure 3.10.
A subtle use of background illumination can help create a sense of atmosphere without diminishing the dramatic look of classical lighting. Here, you
can replace a heavy darkness with a more stylish or painterly look.

Figure 3.9. Background visible because subject

and main light are close enough for it to record
during exposure. With more distance, the background tends to go completely dark.


Figure 3.10. Background illumination added with

a Canon 580EX II flash mounted to a light stand
and pointed toward one side of the background
from approx. 5.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting


Side Lighting

ontinuing with the idea of using a single light, off to one side of the
subject, we explore the concept of side lighting. Here, we present
some examples of using light at relatively extreme angles to produce looks that one doesnt often associate with the typical modern portrait.
Lighting primarily from the side, rather than from the front, you can model
the subject in a way that brings out the shapes and details not possible with

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

a straight-on lighting approach. You might notice in the example above that
side lighting for a subject that is facing the camera produces the split lighting
pattern detailed earlier in this book. Again, its not only the position of the
light that determines the look and lighting pattern of the image, but also the
position of the subject and the cameras perspective. As you try out these
lighting setups, experiment with variations on all three elements (lighting position, camera position, and subject pose and angle of the head/face). Also,
realize that the lighting effects youll see here can be combined with other
lighting to emphasize detail and highlight the subjects form/edges. Youll
learn that lighting from
the side and even further
behind the subject can
create interesting portraits alone, but this type
of lighting is also used
frequently as secondary
lighting for effect.

Single Side
Light Profile
Before we talk about
side lighting, I want to
discuss this variation
that essentially results in
rim lighting (see Figure
4.1). The placement of
the light and the orientation of the subject and
camera give us the effect
we see here. Although

Figure 4.1. Side light used as a rim light for this profile shot.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

this technique might at first appear to use the same placement of the main
light as we used to create the dramatic portrait (while the subject merely
faces the light giving us a profile), there is an important difference; the light
is positioned lower so as to be more even with the subjects head. This is
because the intention here is not to provide the classic portrait lighting using
the 45/45 position, the emphasis is on form, rather than face. The traditional above and to the side lighting is thought of as more naturally occurring
and tends to model the face in a way that we are wired to recognize it. With
side lighting (and rim lighting), we are more interested in detail, texture, and
outline more than natural light placement and subject modeling.

The Setup
Place the main light so that it comes in at approximately 45 degrees
from the back side of the subject (same side the subject is facing) as
shown in Figure 4.2. The camera-to-subject axis is in line with the subjects profile. Adjust the height of the light (and in this case, modifier) so
that light is centered and even with the subjects face. The surface of
the modifier should be approximately 3 - 5 from her depending on the
amount of contrast youre trying to achieve. Note that in the diagram,
the setup is not in line with the background. As with any lighting setup,
you are free to orient the entire setup in any way that makes good use of
the background and the way the light spills onto it. Paying attention to
the light cast from the modeling lights, or using test shots, youll be able
to quickly determine the best angle to use considering the background.
My Settings: Main light (Speedlite 580EX II) was set to 1/4 power. This
gave me a working aperture of f/8 at ISO 100. Shutter speed was set to
my cameras x-sync speed of 1/250 sec.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

Foundation of the Setup

The following illustrations detail the basic setups for side lighting.

Main Light
(Rim Light)

Main Light
(Side Light)

-Subject Axis

Figure 4.2. Light is positioned to the side and

farther back from the subjects position.

Figure 4.3. Light is positioned approximately 90

degrees off the camera-to-subject axis

Double Main Light

(Side Lights)

Figure 4.4. Two side lights.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

As with many lighting setups involving extreme angles, slight changes in either the light position or subjects pose can create an entirely new look from
shot to shot. Its also important to note that any part of the subject that is
just a few inches closer to the surface of the light modifier will be noticeably
brighter than other areas. To avoid this you can angle the modifier to even
out the distance to all areas of the subject as much as possible. In many
cases, this might mean the modifier will need to be tilted slightly away from
the subject so the distance from her torso to the light, and her face to the
light, are approximately the same.

Split Light
If you started with the previous example for rim lighting a profile, were now
going to move the light to a basic side light position as shown in Figure 4.3.
Once its there, simply have the model turn to face the camera directly for
a classic split light. While this comes closer to a traditional classic portrait,
the light is still hard and unforgiving at this angle.
The split light has its uses, however; its very dramatic and conjures up
notions of dichotomy; part is revealed and part is hidden, light and shadow,
yin and yang, if you like. This type of light, especially when built upon with
clever background and secondary light, is perfect for Noir and cinematic
effects. Just remember that its not for everyone as lighting at this angle will
bring out every detail.
To achieve this look, simply start with the sidelight position described earlier
and have the subject face you straight-on. Move the light as needed to create the desired split, and consider whether or not youd like the background
to be affected by this light. In Figure 4.5, you can see that as the light and
subject are at enough of a distance from the background, light falloff is
enough so that it fades into darkness. Figure 4.6 shows how placing the

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

Figure 4.5. Split light with darkened background.

Figure 4.6. Split light with visible background.

light and subject closer to the background allows it to receive enough light
spill to record in the exposure. Of course, as youve seen before, you can
always add more background illumination with one or more lights if you like.

Two Side Lights

By simply introducing a second side light opposite the first as shown in
Figure 4.4, an entirely new dynamic is created; we now achieve a much
bolder showcasing of the form. This is a favorite technique for highlighting
a well-toned physique or simply emphasizing the shape and details of the
subject. An important thing to keep in mind when working with lights at
arguably unnatural angles to the subject is that unusual shadow patterns will
result. Sometimes these shadows wont matter because they fall outside
of the composition (frame), other times youll find ways to counteract them
(e.g. using flags as shown in Figure 4.12, and quite often, you may not care

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

that they are there at all. Just as the

unusual lighting pattern is a feature of
the overall look, you might argue that
the way the shadows are thrown is
also an acceptable feature.

Depending on the contrast youre
trying to achieve, youll have to decide
whether to use straight flash or shootthrough umbrella (or softbox) modification. Try both, and at different distances from the subject to see what works
best (see Figures 4.7 and 4.8). Less
contrast will be achieved with modified
light that is closer to the subject. Youll
see more contrast as the distance from
the light to the subject increases.

Figure 4.7. Two Alien Bees B800s with standard

7 reflector (essentially directed bare bulb lighting).

Place two lights at 90 degrees from

the subject-to-camera axis, one at
either side, with or without modification.
My Settings: Using Alien Bees
B800s, I start at 1/8 power with the
lights approximately 5ft from the
subject, centered to the subjects

Figure 4.8. The same two light shot, modified

with shoot-through 42 umbrellas on each light.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

Adding Fill
One of the defining characteristics of this type of lighting
is how the main shadow area
appears at the center region
of the subject. Fill light, while
perfectly reasonable to use in
this situation will diminish those
defining shadows, thus lessening the contrast and overall
effect of this lighting pattern.
If you decide to add fill light,
keep this in mind.

Rim Light

Figure 4.9. A fun, if not subtle, use of halo lighting in combination with the two side light setup. When using a hidden
light stand with this technique, watch for shadows projected
off the light stand and onto the background, produced by the
main lights.

This effect (Figure 4.9) can be

used as an obvious throwback
or homage to the 80s or, more
subtly for a little extra pop and dimension. Note that we are making no attempt to conceal the light stand nor its near visible shadows in this example

Place a flash unit on a stand just behind the subject, out of the cameras
view, and pointed straight at the back of her head. I used a Speedlite

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

580EX II, unmodified at 1/4 power

for this shot. Higher power settings
will naturally result in a brighter rim
or halo; you should experiment to
see what looks best against the
subjects hair volume and color.

Watch for Shadows on the

In Figure 4.9, you can see how the
light stand is placed behind the subject
and could be hidden from view of the
camera (with darkness, tighter cropping, etc.). While this solves one problem with regard to light placement for
an even halo effect, it leads to another
issue; undesired shadows cast by the
flash and light stand as the illumination of the main lights is able to reach
them. You can see this in Figure 4.10.

Figure 4.10. Shadows cast on the background

by the light stand located immediately behind the

Flag The Lights

Figure 4.11 below shows the effect
of flagging the side light located on
camera right. By blocking the light
from reaching the hidden light stand,
the shadow is no longer cast on the
background on the opposite side. The
light on camera left is not flagged yet,
so a shadow is still cast on the right

Figure 4.11. Side light on camera right is flagged

so there is no shadow cast on the left side of the
background. Light still reaches the subject.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Side Lighting

side of the background. Figures 4.12 and 4.13 illustrate where the flags are
placed to prevent the shadows from appearing.
Small and large flags are routinely used to block shadows, light spills, and
prevent flare effects where part of the light could reach the camera lens.

Flagged Side Lights

Hair/Halo Light

Figure 4.12. Two light setup including a halo light on a stand behind the subject. Flags are used next to each of
the side lights to prevent shadows from the light stand being cast onto the background.

Figure 4.13. Wide view of a simple

flag setup. An A-clamp holds a piece
of foam board and is hung on the top
collar lock knob of a light stand. This
light stand and board is positioned
in a way that blocks part of the light
from reaching the light stand near the


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting


Full-Length Lighting

hen lighting for headshots and 3/4-length compositions, a

main light modified with an umbrella or medium-sized softbox
is adaquate for most one- or two-person portraits. And this
light is usually positioned close to your subject providing soft and controlled
illumination. But what about wider shots and full length portraits? Move that
same light farther from the subject, and the result will be a wider angle of
coverage, but youll also notice an increase in contrast (fine control of light
falloff is lessened). Theres more than one way to light a full-length portrait,

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

and in this section well present several techniques and solutions. Well begin,
as we have in previous sections, with one light to explore its effects. Then
well move on to discuss full-length coverage using additional light sources
and modifiers as well as easy ways to light a scene when you simply want to
produce a good full-length shot.

One Light From Above

Before we discuss the relatively even coverage we usually associate with
full-length lighting,
well explore a simple
one-light setup that is
visually powerful and
suited to some types of
fashion, theatrical, and
figure study work (see
Figure 5.1). Your light
will be placed at a steep
angle to the subject,
pointed down so that the
illumination is featured
predominantly on the
upper part of the form,
and somewhat along the
This setup is also very
instructive as we can
readily see the effect of
the lights proximity, and
its position, on various

Figure 5.1. One light positioned just above the subject.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

parts of the subject. When the light is at a distance relatively close to your
subjects head, for example, her legs and feet are far enough away to receive only a fraction of the intensity of light that her upper body receives. As
the distance increases from the light source to various areas on your subject, the intensity of that light decreases rapidly.
We can use this to our advantage as we control light falloff on the subject as
well as the background. Because of the position of the light, the subjects
pose will have a great effect on which parts of the body are going to receive
any direct light at all. And as you can see in the sequence in Figure 5.3,
as the light is positioned farther away from the background, it receives less
light, a fact that easily allows us to control background illumination. We can
make the background lighter or darker without involving flags (to block part
of the light) and without bringing in additional light.
Keep in mind that this light doesnt necessarily have to come from directly
above the subject and it doesnt have to point straight down. Experiment
with the high-and-above position to create different looks. Being able to
move the light slightly to one side or directing it more or less toward the
background gives you many creative options.

The Setup
For this sequence, I mounted a Speedlite 580EX II almost directly above
and slightly in front of the subject. I modified it with a Lastolite EzyBox
Softbox (18 x 18) on a boom arm mounted to a heavy duty light stand
(see Figure 5.2). The softbox is approx 2.5ft from subjects face.
My Settings: Flash was set to 1/4 power. Aperture was f/8 at ISO 200.
Shutter speed was set to my cameras x-sync speed of 1/250 sec.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

Figure 5.2. Main light is positioned above the subject using a boom arm mounted to a heavy-duty C-stand.

Figure 5.3. As the subject and light are moved farther from the background, the background becomes darker.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

Two Lights for More Coverage

The previous lighting setup gave us a good example of how quickly light
can falloff with distance. Even if a light is placed at a lower angle to the
subject, light falloff can become a problem with full-length shots. If you
need more lighting coverage for your subject and would like to retain the
advantage of controlled light falloff (using lights close to your subject), one
option is to simply bring in additional light sources. Here, a second umbrella
is added to the first creating a stacked light source (see Figure 5.4).

The Setup
At this point youll be using two lights and modifiers to create a small
wall of light next to your subject.
Stack two umbrellas or softboxes
(or combination of the two) to
appro imate the surface area of a
single large light.
Place the bottom light low enough
to illuminate the legs and feet, and
the top light just above it, avoiding
any large gap between the two.
My Settings: Two 580EX II units.
Upper light at 1/4 power, lower one
adjusted to taste. This gave me a
working aperture range of f8 - f/11
at ISO 100. Shutter speed was my
cameras x-sync, 1/250 sec.

Figure 5.4. Two lights stacked to create the

effect of one large light. Note that the upper light
is in the typical portrait light (45/45) position here.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

Watch the Ratio Between Upper and Lower Lights

It would be easy enough to say that the two lights should be set to the same
output, but the beauty of this setup is that they dont have to be. You can
adjust them independently, making this a highly customizable setup. In the
sequence shown in Figure 5.5, you can see how different power settings on
the lower light affect the overall look. One thing in particular that youll want
to avoid is an under-lighting effect on the face. This occurs when a light
below the subjects face is noticeably brighter than lighting above or directly

Figure 5.5. This sequence shows the effect of the lower light at the following settings (left to right, top to bottom):
1. lower light off, 2. 1/16 power, 3. 1/8 power, 4. 1/4 power, 5. 1/2 power (even), 6. full power.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

in line with her face. This will cast shadows in an upward direction, which is
often associated with horror movie lighting and not particularly flattering to
most subjects.

Big Softbox without the Box

Another way to create a small wall of light is by modifying one or more lights
with a large panel of translucent material to help diffuse the source. In effect,
this approximates the quality and light output youd see from the front panel
of a large softbox. My low-cost version is described here, but commercial
diffusion/scrim panels (can be used as reflection panels, too) are also available.

The Setup
I placed a white nylon shower curtain liner (70 x 72) between two Alien
Bee B800s and my subject (see Figure 5.6). You can use a shower
curtain liner like this, or a similar white transluscent material secured to
a background stand/cross bar. Place the two lights approximately 2 - 3
from the material,
side by side, or one
above the other
My Settings: I
started with an with
a power setting of
1/8 on each unit
and adjusted as
appropriate to match
my camera settings
of f/11 at ISO 100.
Shutter speed was
1/250 sec.

Figure X.X. Nylon shower curtain liner used as a modifier with two
Alien Bees B800 light sources.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

Wall Bounce for Bigger Light

Perhaps the easiest way to create a large,
beautiful wall of light with virually any light
source (even from your on-camera flash) is
to use an actual wall (see Figures 5.7 and
5.8). By simply bouncing a powerful enough
light off a large white wall you can flood an
area of the room with soft, even light. This
isnt going to provide you with the precision
youd expect from a light on a stand, but it
can do the job when you need full-length
coverage in a pinch.
Figure 5.7. Full length coverage via wall
bounce technique.

Figure 5.8. Use wall bounce lighting for full-length shots--or any shots--when you need a large area of soft even
lighting but dont have the time or gear necessary for a more involved lighting setup. Here, I used one light aimed
at the front area of my studio. For the actual shot, I positioned myself near the end of the black bench on the right.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

Another Solution: Move

The Light Farther Away
If youre familiar with the Inverse Square Law as it pertains to photography,
youre aware that the relative distance from the light to the subject determines the intensity of the illumination on that subject. If you place your light
within a couple of feet of your subjects face, that light is relatively far away
from your subjects feet, for example.
A full length shot in that
situation will clearly
show a huge difference
betwen the exposure of
the face and the feet.
This is something we
discovered with the One
Light From Above example earlier in this chapter.
However, by simply moving the light farther away,
youll get results similar
to Figure 5.9.
By positioning a modified
light source across the
room (say at least 7
from the subject), the
relative distance between the light and your
subjects face is about
the same as it is from

Figure 5.9. Full-length coverage accomplished with single-light setup.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Full-Length Lighting

the light to her feet. This means both

areas will receive about the same
amount of light.
The upside to this is that you can
acheive the lighting necessary for a
full-length portrait with only one light
and a large modifier (e.g. a 42 or
larger umbrella). The downside is
the light will likely be a little flat and
there will be an increase in contrast
due to the distance because, as
youll recall, an increase in distance
will result in higher contrast lighting.
Nevertheless, this is a good soluFigure 5.10. Same main light as previous, with
tion and one that is often applied.
additional rim lighting for effect.
Combine this with the rim lighting
techniques youve already been introduced to, as well as some additional background lighting, and youll be able
to create some impressive full-length shots.

The Setup
For this shot I place a single Alien Bee B800 modified with a 42 shootthrough umbrella 7ft from the subject. Additional lights can be added to
enhance the shot as shown in Figure 5.10.
My Settings: The light was set to full power giving me an aperture of f/11
at ISO 100. Shutter speed was my standard 1/250 sec.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots


Lighting For Headshots

any of the principles we touched on in the Dramatic Portrait and

other examples, are revisited and expanded upon here. One of
the reasons we began with dramatic/classic portrait lighting earlier in this book is because the techniques described in that chapter make it
very easy to create impressive portraits. The basic classic portrait can be
accomplished with one light, and here there are no real rules; what looks

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

good, is good. But headshots and contemporary portraiture require more

precise handling. Depending on their use, headshots come with the expectation of a more recognizable, if not somewhat commercially produced,
depiction of the subject (see Figure 6.1). In this section, we look at how to
create basic headshots to achieve this goal.

It Begins with One Light, But

You Already Knew That
If youve been paying
attention, by now you
know that your main
light (key light) is almost
always the most important light in your setup,
hence the name. Its
the most defining illumination for your portrait
because it supplies the
visual information that
gives the viewer an
idea of the shapes and
details that make up the
subjects face. And its
not just where the light
hits the subject, but also
where the shadows fall
that complete the depiction.
Figure 6.1. Headshots begin with a single main light but more lights are
added (e.g. fill, hair, background) to complete the look.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Naturally, this means that everything from the position of the light in relation
to your subject, the relative size of the light, and your subjects orientation
(pose) to the light all have a direct effect on the modeling of the subjects
face and form.
Looking in on an experienced photographer, one might think that all the
lights in a headshot setup are placed and up and running at the same time.
In fact, this is probably the case, but usually only if that photographer has
been using that particular setup for awhile, and has already worked out the
steps of building the setup light-by-light (see sequence Figure 6.2). Even
then, adjustments often have to be made as no two individual subjects are
alike. Those with lighter hair may require the hair light to be set to a lower
output. Those with narrower faces might benefit from a pose or light position change that creates a broad light instead of a short light pattern.
But no matter how a photographer seems to be setting up their lighting,
the principles are the same: you start with the main light (see Figure 6.3)
to make sure you have the foundation of your portrait lighting set, then you
build on it, as youll see in the sections on fill, hair, and background lighting
that follow.

Figure 6.2. This sequence (from left to right) shows: 1. Main light, 2. Main and fill, 3. Main, fill, and hair light.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

The Setup
Well break down the setup into individual lighting elements, starting here
with the main light:
Place the main light with modifier approximately 45 degrees to one side
of the camera-to-subject axis as shown in Figure 6.4. Adjust the height
of the light so that it is slightly higher than the subjects head. The surface of the umbrella or softbox modifier should be approximately 2-3
from her, angled down toward the face.
My Settings: Main light is an Alien Bees B800 set to 1/4 power. This
gave me a working aperture of f/11 at ISO 200. Shutter speed was set
to my cameras x-sync speed of 1/250 sec.

Figure 6.3. Main light is applied first, generally in

a short light configuration.

Figure 6.4. Light in the standard 45/45 position.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Figure 6.5. The main light in the same short light position and distance from the subject (approximately 2ft) with:
1. No modifier, 2. Shoot-through umbrella, 3. Softbox.

The amount of contrast produced by the main light will vary with the type
and relative size of the light source modifier used (see Figure 6.5). In the
case of an umbrella or softbox, the closer the surface of the light modifier to
the subject, the softer the contrast will be. It should be noted that despite
the modifier used, contrast will still increase as you move the light farther
from the subject.

The Fill Light

The fill light is often the next element added to the lighting mix. Because
one light, coming from one single direction can produce more shadow areas
and contrast than might be desired, some secondary illumination is often
used to fill in the shadows a bit, softening the overall look by cutting down
on contrast.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Figure 6.6. Shown here from left to right: 1. No fill light, 2. Fill light modified with shoot-through umbrella at one
stop under main, 3. Fill light at two stops under main.

In real-world conditions, fill light is everywhere. Outdoors where the sun

is your main and generally only source of light, that light bounces around
and off all reflective surfaces (building exteriors, sidewalks, even natural
objects and the ground). This creates plenty of fill light which is why its not
completely dark under the shade of a tree, for instance. Even in the studio
environment, white walls and other surfaces will bounce some amount of fill
light onto the subject, even if barely noticed, when only a main light is used.
Youll recall in a previous example, that we used a 20 x 30 piece of white
foam board to bounce some of the main light back onto the subjects shadow side. This gave us a good amount of fill light to work with. Using a white
surface or standard photographic reflector is very practical, but now were
going to bring in a second light to do the same job, if not in a more precise
and controlled way.

The Setup (Fill Light)

Place a light and umbrella modifier in a similar position as the main light,

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

but on the front opposite side of the subject. Placement and power
output for this light is lower than the main. Youll determine whats best,
but in the example here, Im placing the surface of the umbrella approximately 3ft from my subject, in line with her face, and at most 1/2 the
power of the main light (see Figure 6.6 examples).

The Hair Light

When you hear someone talking about three-point lighting, this usually
refers to a setup that includes the main light, fill light and the third point of
light, the hair light. The hair light provides a subtle separation of the subject
from their background. It not only provides a highlight in the hair, but often
on the shoulders, too. A hair light is often most effective when its not calling
attention to itself (see Figure 6.7), so dont overdo it on a standard headshot. The sequence in Figure 6.9 features hair light at various intensities.

Figure 6.7. Hair light added to the setup.

Figure 6.8. Hair light mounted to boom. A softbox is positioned above and slightly behind the subjects position.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Figure 6.9. Hair light at various intensities. In this case, (from left to right) the 580EX II used was at 1/8 power,
1/14 power, 1/2 power.

The Setup (Hair Light)

Place a light and umbrella modifier or softbox just above the subjects
head. Adjust the output so that the hair receives a pleasant amount of
hair light (not too hot). With the softbox modifier, I used a power setting
of 1/8 power on my Speedlite 580EX II at a distance of 2 just above,
and slightly to the rear, of my subjects head (see Figure 6.8). You might
also consider flagging off this light or using some other type of focused
modifier, like a grid, snoot, or barn doors, if you would like to keep it
from spilling on the background or find that it is flaring into the camera.

The Background
Moving beyond the basic three-point lighting mix of main, fill, and hair light,
we can consider the background illumination, too. In all honesty, there are
times when the background seems to just take care of itself. If your subject is sitting or standing just a couple of feet from the background the light
spilling off of the main and/or other lights may be all you need for a pleasing

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

background illumination (see Figure 6.10), and you can always add more
light if necessary (see Figure 6.11).
However, as shown in the illustration and sequence in Figure 6.12, using
another light to throw a pattern or splash of illumination onto the background
can be a very effective way to enhance a headshot portrait when properly
I like to think of this type of background lighting as separate from the rest
of the lighting setup. In fact, I treat the background as its own subject, with
its own lighting. Backgrounds, whether flat seamless, walls, or three-di-

Figure 6.10. Background visible because subject

and main light are close enough to it to record
during exposure.

Figure 6.11. Subject is much farther from the

background which would render it very dark,
but this time illumination has been added to the


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Figure 6.12. Various background light placements and the result. From left to right: 580EX II placed on floor behind subject and angled correctly produces gradient effect. Next, a small softbox positioned on a boom creates a
light-to-dark graduated circle of light. Finally, a 580EX II is positioned on a stand with its light zoomed and aimed
through a cookie (panel with cut-outs/holes) to produce a pattern against the background.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

mensional environments can be illuminated any number of creative ways,

including with gels and ambient light sources. Of course, the background
and its illumination must be taken into consideration where the exposure
and composition are concerned. That being the case, you might want to
determine your light and camera settings for the subject, prior to setting up
your background lighting, then adjust the output of the background light(s) to
match your working camera settings.
When building up your lighting like this, thoughtfully considering your background lighting and exposure, make sure that the main, fill, hair, and other
lighting arent spilling onto your background to significantly alter its appearance in the final shot (see Figures 6.13 - 6.15).

Figure 6.13. The background benefiting from light spill off the main lighting

Figure 6.14. Background with

dedicated red gelled lighting.
Spill from other lights in the main
lighting setup is reaching the
background, thus contaminating
the overall look.


Figure 6.15. Lights in the main

setup are flagged so as not to
interfere/overpower the background lighting effect.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Foundation of the Setup

The following illustration details the basic setup for a headshot (all lights).

Background Light

Hair Light
(softbox on boom)

Main Light
Fill Light

Figure 6.16. Basic headshot setup featuring main, fill, hair, and background lights.

Again, for simplicity our diagram (see Figure 6.16) represents the light
sources as basic shoe-mount flash units with the main and fill lights modified with standard shoot-through umbrellas. The main light is on the right
and together with our subjects head turn gives us a short light portrait
pattern (when the camera is positioned front and center of the setup). The
fill light, shown here on the left, is usually going to be set to throw no more
than half the amount of light on the subject as the main light. Its job is to
simply fill in the shadows just enough to cut down on the contrast. The
hair light can be placed on a boom arm which allows you to raise it directly
above the subjects head without having to worry about a light stand getting
in your shot. Of course, this can be achieved any number of ways, but a
boom arm can make things easier. Finally, a simple flash can throw some
extra light onto any part of the background; just zoom or narrow the beam
and direct it as you wish.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Clamshell Lighting
For many types of portraiture and headshots, placing the main light to one
side of the subject and the fill on the other is standard practice. The lighting
pattern youll get tends to mimic what we generally accept as naturally occurring light; the main light is up and to one side and the fill light comes in
from another angle, just as it would be under sunlight with natural ambient
light bouncing around. This notion is reasserted by the main lights reflection in the eyes where we usually aim for a 11 oclock or 1 oclock position.
But another lighting setup is also very popular, especially where the look
desired is along the lines of beauty, glamour, or an obvious commercial
application. We call this clamshell lighting because the orientation of the
lights looks somewhat like an open clam shell (see Figure 6.17 and the result,
Figure 6.18).

Figure 6.18. A portrait produced with the setup

on the left. In this case, top light is at 1/4 power,
bottom light at 1/16 power (2 stops difference).

Figure 6.17. Two lights modified with shoot-through

umbrellas in a clamshell lighting setup.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

This setup essentially turns standard main/fill lighting on its side. This can
produce a very even, almost shadowless pattern that is great for minimizing
details (like bumps and what some would consider feature flaws). The overall look is luminous and acceptably, if not expectedly, artificial.

The Setup
To create the classic clamshell look as shown in Figure 6.19 the main
light, often modified with a shoot-through umbrella or softbox, is positioned above and to the front of the subject as if the intention was to
create a butterfly lighting pattern, but it can be placed a little lower, too
(see Figure 6.20).
The fill light is positioned below the subject and angled up toward her. A
matching modified light, other light, or even a simple reflector can work.
But using a light with variable output control will give you more options.

Figure 6.20. Softbox as upper light, shootthrough umbrella as lower in this clamshell setup.

Figure 6.19. Clamshell portrait.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

My Settings: Ive included examples here using Speedlites and Alien

Bees units with both umbrellas and a softbox in a couple of combinations and various lighting powers. Whats important to know is that the
upper lights output is what I was most concerned with. I set it to match
my exposure settings of f/11 at ISO 100, using my standard flash sync of
1/250 sec. The lower lights output was simply adjusted until I achieved
the amount of fill lighting I wanted from it. If you add too much extra
lighting however, you run the risk of overexposure.

Watch the ratio between top and bottom lights

As you can see in the sequence in Figure 6.23, the actual lighting ratio is
less important as a number than as a visual result. So, youll have to determine what works best by adjusting the power of the lower light and taking
test shots (see Figures 6.21 and 6.22 where the upper light is set to 1/4
power). Try to avoid strong under-lighting effects, keeping in mind that the
best looks tend to be where the upper light is at least slightly stronger than
the lower.

Figure 6.21. A couple of test shots helped me zero

in on 1/16 power for my lower light for this shot.

Figure 6.22. At 1/4 power the lower light begins to

overpower the shot, and my exposure settings.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Figure 6.23. (Top left to bottom right): 1) Top light 1//4 power, bottom light off. 2) Top light 1/4, bottom
light 1/8 power. 3) Top light 1/4 power, bottom light 1/4 power (even). 4) Top light 1/4 power, bottom light
full power.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Lighting For Headshots

Headshots come in many styles

In this chapter, weve covered several lighting techniques used to create
basic headshots. However the term, headshot, does not describe any specific lighting style, composition, or usage. Its an umbrella term that is used
to describe portraits intended for commercial or promotional applications.
Actors use headshots as a tool for casting and for promotional purposes,
executives use them as professional portraits for trade publications and as
part of a companys efforts to present itself to the public, and just about any
professional and entertainment personality can make good use of a headshot, especially for their on-line profiles, where theyll be seen by potentially
thousands of people each day (see Figures 6.24 and 6.25).

Figure 6.24. Model, Kelly Grace

Figure 6.25. Musician, Gary Clark, Jr.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background


The White Background

he basic white background seems like it would be simple enough

to master, but its a frustrating challenge for many. In this chapter
were going to discuss the reasons why attempts at images featuring solid white backgrounds often fail. Ill show you how to successfully
create simple clean backgrounds as well as wrap-around lighting and ethereal effects by employing a few simple techniques.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

White Backgrounds Are Easy

If you think about it, theres nothing mysterious about creating a basic white
background. After all, what makes a solid white space in any image but the
lack of detail in a highlighted area? And whats the easiest way to achieve
that? Overexposure. If you simply wanted an image of solid white (without
a subject), all youd have to do is point your camera at a clean white wall or
seamless background
and leave the shutter
open long enough to
blow out any detail.
If youre using flash,
you can maintain your
cameras flash sync
(x-sync) and just blast
the background with
enough light to achieve
the same result. Yes,
creating a solid white
background might be
easy, but things get
more complicated
when using one in a
portrait (see Figure

Figure 7.1. Basic white background. Note in this sitting position, we allow
the floor to retain detail. This keeps the subject grounded and avoids the
artificial floating in white space look.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

A White Background
Isnt Always White
If youve ever wanted to duplicate the look of a solid white background in an
image youve seen elsewhere, and thought all youd need was a clean white
roll of seamless background paper, you were probably surprised at your
initial attempts to recreate the look. More often than not, first tries at this
result in dull gray backgrounds or uneven hot spots. Perhaps you remedied
this in Photoshop, but still wished you could capture an even, clean white
area across the entire background.
Reasons why white doesnt always show up as white have to do with simple
exposure. As stated earlier, a lack of detail in white can easily be accomplished with overexposure. It makes sense then that as we move away from
settings that produce overexposure into settings that start to reveal some
sense of detail, we lose pure white and get something just a little less white
(and quite often, this is best). Continuing on this trend our white background
will begin to look light gray, then darker gray, and eventually we would make
our way to the other side of the exposure scale and end up with a completely
dark background. Thats right, your bright white background can reproduce
as pure white, pure black, or any shade of gray, even all within the same
image; it all depends on light coverage and exposure.

The Basic White Background

There are plenty of ways to achieve a white background in your portraits.
There are shortcuts and tricks and one can always fall back on in post-processing to drop in a white background where it failed to be recorded in-camera. But I want you to learn how to do it the right way from the start. Under
the best conditions, youll have the proper space and lighting to work with.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

But even when you dont, youll be able to take these principles and make due
with what you have to get the best possible outcome.
Well start with a basic white background lighting setup as shown in Figure
7.2. The idea here is to cover the background evenly with enough light to
overexpose the background (should we choose to go that far with it) using
camera exposure settings that would be standard for our usual portrait photography (regardless of the background).

The Setup
Place two lights out of frame, on either side of the background, preferably a few feet behind the subject to help avoid light spill onto her. The
lights should be pointed toward the background at approximately 45
degree angles. The idea is to spread and feather the light evenly across
the width of the background.
You may want to flag the lights to prevent light spill and possible flare
into the camera, depending on the angle and position of the lights.
Place your main light (and fill) as needed for the angle of coverage
youre shooting for on your subject. For full length shots, this will likely
be several feet in front of the subject, producing a result similar to Figure
7.3. For headshots, you might want to bring the lights in closer (see
Figure 7.4). Remember, these are the lights you are most concerned
with as they relate to your camera settings, because these are the lights
that pertain to your subject.
My Settings: f/11 at 1/250 second at ISO 160. These settings are
based on the main lighting for my subject (they do not take the background into consideration at all). The background lights should then be

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

Background Light

Background Light


Main Light

Figure 7.2. White background setup using two lights, flags, and a main light.

Figure 7.3. White background, fulllength.

Figure 7.4. Headshot on white background.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

adjusted and evenly powered to an output just enough to overexpose

the background itself. Find this power setting by making incremental
adjustments to the lights output and taking test shots. A look at your
cameras highlight alert feature might also help.

Wrap-Around Lighting
The basic white background provides us with a clean, crisp way to present
our subject. As youve
seen, as long as the background lighting is even and
just crosses into the overexposure zone, youll have
a true white background.
Go much beyond that, and
youll get something a little
less crisp and a little more
ethereal (see Figures 7.5
and 7.6).

Figure 7.5. Background light wraps

around subject for an ethereal look.

Figure 7.6. Background is completely blown-out. Detail near the

edges of the subjects hair and form are overpowered by the light.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

Wrap-around lighting gets its name from the way light seems to reach
around from behind the subject to wrap itself around her. This effect becomes visible as your exposure settings allow more light to bleed around
the edges of your subject in an overexposed, back-lighting scenario. This
is a mood effect, and can be accomplished with or without the use of main
light on the subject.

The Light Source As Background

Another way to create a bright, white, or blown-out background is to simply
use a light source itself (rather than its reflection on the background). A
potential side effect is flare. Even natural window light, coming in from
directly behind the subject can work. Again, this is an effect that perhaps
has limited use for most portraiture, but can sometimes come in handy (see
Figures 7.7 and 7.8).

Figure 7.7. Softbox as background without any

main light on the subject.

Figure 7.8. Softbox as background with main

light added for proper exposure of the subject.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography The White Background

One Light
Can Work
If you have only one light to work
with (see Figure 7.9), you can still
produce interesting white background
portraits, especially in smaller rooms
with light-colored walls where reflected light (bounce) can be used to an
advantage. By simply blasting the
background behind your subject (from
either side), and adjusting your exposure settings as shown in Figure 7.11,
you can overexpose the background
and bring out your subject at the same
time. Alternatively, a main light can be
used (see Figure 7.10).

Figure 7.10. lnstead of adjusting overall exposure using ISO, a main light is brought in for


Figure 7.9. Only one light is used for background

illumination (camera right). No main light on

Figure 7.11. ISO adjusted for better exposure of

subject and overexposure of entire background.
Adjust levels and contrast in Photoshop to taste.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Freestyle Lighting


Freestyle Lighting

ighting for photography, as you can probably tell after working your
way through the examples in this book, is much less about obeying
specific lighting rules as it is about making creative choices that
work. Variations on the classic lighting patterns presented in Chapter 2
can certainly be identified in many of the images youll find in commercial
portraiture, fashion, and advertising. But what about all of the great images

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Freestyle Lighting

that seem to work outside of the traditional lighting methodology, or seem

to have no discernible approach or intent other than an apparent disregard
for thoughtful lighting altogether? Sure, lighting isnt everything in a photograph, but its almost everything. It alone doesnt define a subject, action,
emotion, or story; inferior lighting can often be overcome by whatever
makes the image otherwise interesting. However, the skilled application of
lighting would make such an image even better. That being said, skilled
application doesnt necessarily mean traditional, or even anything generally
regarded as so-called good lighting.
For instance, the intentional application of lighting to produce an amateurish or snapshot-style photograph might result in something that looks
like poor lighting, when it could be exactly what was needed to elicit the
desired response from the viewer. Things like lens flare, harsh contrast,
ghosting (flash with blur), or under-lighting while often avoided, might also
be successfully used to create a look the photographer intended. And even
when a photographer adept at lighting is shooting without consciously and
methodically constructing lighting for scenes, you can bet that at least an
unconscious recognition of good lighting patterns is guiding the choices as
the flow of the shoot progresses. This instinctive style of shooting, as well
as the loose, inexact placement of lights to achieve a look is what I call freestyle shooting. When shooting this way, the photographers concentration is
focused much less on the specific lighting setup than it is on subject, flow,
and mood.
Bear in mind that a claim of artistic intent, after the fact, is no excuse for
poor or unconsidered lighting, just as a bad image isnt made good simply
because the photographer says he was thinking outside the box, breaking traditional rules, or using some other form of artistic license. Freestyle
lighting is about good photography and the instinctive application of lighting
that produces results the photographer actually intended. Happy accidents
will certainly occur, but most of the work produced when shooting freestyle

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Freestyle Lighting

should be deliberate. As you continue to learn more about lighting, and gain
more experience with it, youll find that youre applying the basics of lighting
even when youre not thinking about them. Youll develop and eye for good
lighting and eventually see a personal style emerge. Theres always more to
learn and more to experiment with. So, take what youve learned so far, and
have fun!

Figure 8.1. Window light (back lighting).

Figure 8.2. Single light (dramatic lighting).

Figure 8.3. Household lamp lighting was all that was used for back lighting/rim lighting and the main light in
standard position for this character-driven shot.

Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Conclusion

Id like to thank you so much for choosing Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography. Its my sincere wish that it has helped you gain more confidence with your
photography, no matter what level you are at in your career. Im a firm believer
that learning anything from more than one source is the best way to acquire
knowledge that will sink in and stay with you. So, I ask you to read this book, as
well as others on the subject, and keep learning.

Thanks to Paul C. Buff, Inc. for images provided (Alien Bees and related products). POCKETWIZARD is a
trademark or registered trademark of Lab Partners Associates, Inc. d/b/a LPADesign. Adobe, Acrobat, Photoshop, Lightroom and Reader are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in
the United States and/or other countries. Canon and Canon product and services names are the Trademark or
Registered Trademark of Canon Inc. Nikon name/symbol is a registered trademark of Nikon Corporation in Japan
and the USA. Clients and friends have graciously given us permission to use the photos shown. Some photos
may not have been created using the exact method shown, but they were chosen as good representations for the
techniques they illustrate.

Unless supplied as stated above, text and Images Copyright 2013-2014 Ed Verosky
Do not duplicate, or make this copy available on file sharing services.


Ed Veroskys
Lighting Guide For Portrait Photography Conclusion