Best Tips and Ideas for Creating Dramatic Lighting in Portraits

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography. It can make or break a portrait, and it’s also one of the most challenging things to get right.

If you’re looking to learn some of the best techniques for creating dramatic lighting in portraits, this article will be a great resource to get you started.

Here are some of the most common techniques photographers use when they want to create dramatic lighting in their portraits:

Use Light From Above

Lighting from above is one of the best ways to create dramatic lighting in portraits because it creates shadows under the subject’s eyes and nose. This can make your subject look more serious or mysterious, which is perfect for portraiture.

If you want to create this type of lighting with natural light, you’ll need to shoot around noon on an overcast day. Take your pictures during golden hour (when the sun is just below the horizon) if possible — this will give you even more options for shooting at different times throughout the day.

Start With The Right Equipment

You don’t need to spend thousands on lighting equipment to get started. A simple set of studio lights will work just fine, but if you want your photos to look professional, you should invest in a good camera and lens as well as high-quality equipment such as reflectors, diffusers, gels and softboxes.

Create A Visual Connection With Your Subject

Your subject doesn’t have to be an actor or model in order for you to create dramatic lighting; anyone can benefit from this type of setup. However, it does help if they’re comfortable being photographed and know how to pose themselves properly so that their face appears more flattering than usual. If you’re working with someone who isn’t used to being in front of a camera, then practice some basic poses with them beforehand so that they’ll know what works best for them.

Use window light.

A bright window can provide the perfect soft source for portrait photography. To make the most of window light, shoot during the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. This will minimize harsh shadows and give you more even illumination on your subject’s face.

Use a reflector to bounce light into shadow areas.

If your subject is backlit by a bright window, use a reflector to fill in shadows on their face and body. You can buy a collapsible reflector for about $20 at any photography store, or make one out of white poster board and tape it together with duct tape.

Use a diffuser over your flash if you’re working indoors with artificial light sources.

A diffuser (also called an umbrella or shoot-through) softens harsh shadows caused by flash and helps create more flattering light on your subject’s skin tone while still providing adequate illumination for shooting close-ups in low-light conditions. You can use an inexpensive white sheet as a diffuser around your flash when shooting in small rooms.


Lighting your subject from behind makes it stand out from the background and gives you control over what you want the viewer to see first. It’s also a good way to highlight details like hair or clothing.

Side lighting.

Side lighting creates shadows that define your subject’s features. It can make someone look older or younger depending on their skin tone and how much light is hitting them. Side lighting can also be used as a subtle way to make someone look more feminine or masculine if they have softer features than usual — just aim the light at their face from the left or right side instead of head-on!

Top lighting.

Top lighting (or “key light”) is often used in commercial photography because it helps create a flat look that’s flattering to most faces, but personally I don’t like this technique because it doesn’t show any depth or dimension in a photo — it just makes everything flat and boring!

Natural light can be used to create dramatic portraits as well. If you want to use the sun for your portrait shoot, there are several different techniques that you can use to increase the drama in your photos.

Use a rim light

A rim light can help separate your subject from the background and make her stand out more dramatically. It also creates some nice catchlights in the eyes, which will make them pop in the photo. Keep in mind that a rim light is only effective when combined with a darker background behind your subject. If there’s too much contrast between her and her background, the rim light won’t be visible at all!

Use a hair light

A hair light helps illuminate your subject’s face without reducing the contrast level in the rest of the image too much (which could make things look flat). It also tends to create more flattering shadows in people’s faces, which makes them appear younger and healthier than they would otherwise be perceived as looking like in low-contrast lighting situations where shadows aren’t visible at all.