Portrait Lighting Patterns and Tips You Should Know

To light a subject properly, the key is finding the proper balance between lighting the subject and the background. In portrait photography, this is known as the key light and fill light. You need a key light to define the subject’s shape and the fill light to create depth and contrast in the portrait. But a good background light can soften the shadow, add interest to the portrait, and draw attention to the subject’s eyes.

Natural Light vs. Studio Portrait Lighting

Studio lighting is the only type of lighting that allows for complete control of the amount of light that reaches the subject. This allows the photographer to place the lights where the light is most flattering to the person and to create shadows in places where the shadows naturally fall.

Natural light is the type of lighting that results from daylight coming through windows and skylights. The light is uneven and can result in shadows falling where the natural light doesn’t reach, as well as causing harsh highlights on the face.

What are the pros and cons of using a studio lighting kit?


* You can adjust the angle of the lighting to give you more control over the light.

* Using studio lighting kits means you have a wider range of professional lighting options available to you.


* Some photographers say that using studio lighting kits is an expensive and time consuming task, as you will need to use several lights, a reflector and possibly a white wall or flash head.

* You need to be able to set up and operate the equipment quickly and accurately.

If you use studio lighting, the subject will not be able to move around while the session is taking place.

Suggestions for getting a good studio portrait lighting session

Use a large softbox, a large umbrella or a softbox for general light placement. A softbox is a diffuser that is used to soften the light. It comes with a diffuser attached to the front of the light and usually a grid inside the front so that you can control where the light falls.

A large softbox, umbrella or a softbox is useful to give a diffuse, even light. Use it to control where the light falls in the image.

Place the light close to the subject to soften the harshness of direct sunlight. If you are using a white wall or flash head, be sure that you put it as far away from the subject as possible so that the shadows cast by the light are not on the face.

If the subject is looking down, use a flash head instead of an umbrella to avoid shadows on the face.

What is a key light?

A key light is a special kind of light that illuminates the subject’s face and head. It’s usually the main light source in a portrait, but it can be used to provide fill light, too. The key light defines the shape and shape of the head. It also helps to separate the subject’s head from the background.

What is a fill light?

Fill light is a type of light that fills in shadows. It adds dimension to the subject’s face and creates interest in the portrait. It also helps to soften the shadow in the background.

How do you set up your key light and fill light?

There are several ways to set up your key light and fill light. Here’s a few examples:

* Spot (or Tungsten) lighting—This is a special light with a single, bright, point source. It’s used when you need the light to be on just one spot, such as the eyes.

* Softbox (or Umbrella) lighting—It is a soft box with a single opening. This type of light gives you control over the shape and size of the light, which can be shaped to illuminate the subject.

* Floodlight (or Overhead) lighting—This is a large softbox with a larger opening. You can adjust the light to create any shape.

 Portrait Lighting Tips

Here are some tips for creating a natural-looking portrait.

1. The ideal situation is to have plenty of natural light. This means you need to position the subject to receive light from the side, so that the shadowed areas of the face do not have a dark appearance. The subject’s head should be toward the sun or away from any light sources to allow for correct exposure. It is also good to include a bright sky in the background. A diffused background, such as the use of a softbox, softbox plus a grid, or large-format, can give you the look of a beautiful, natural light situation.

2. Position the light source close to the subject, and if possible, position the subject so that the eyes fall on the middle of the face. The light should hit the subject’s face at an upward angle.

3. Look for a natural pattern of light. If the subject’s skin appears gray, the lighting needs to be more directional; this means the subject should be facing the light source and the light should hit the subject at an angle. If there is no color, then it is probably an overexposed shot. The light needs to be on the subject for a few seconds. If the light is a constant, the exposure is too long and the subject is overexposed.

4. If the light is coming from above, or from a spot where the subject has no skin tone, the light needs to be bounced into a diffuser or a softbox. The light that bounces off the subject should illuminate the subject’s face and hair, but not the background. A simple grid can create a soft, diffused light.

5. When you are using flash, use the ambient light to set the scene and to show the mood of the subject. If you use a strobe, use it as a fill light and a key light, and do not place it directly on the subject’s face.

6. Use a wide-angle lens, like a 50mm or 85mm. This will make the background appear much larger than it actually is. It will also make the subject stand out. For a more flattering, “beautiful” shot, you should move the camera closer to the subject’s face. In this case, you want to use a medium telephoto lens, like a 135mm or 200mm.

7. Use a polarizing filter to bring out the contrast of the subject’s eyes and skin. Polarizing filters are available for most lenses, and they cost only $25 to $35. The polarizing filter is placed over the lens, which changes the appearance of the subject’s eyes and skin. This will make the subject look more beautiful. The filter is also available for a 24mm lens, and it costs about $100.

8. A polarizing filter is not recommended for portraits of a small child. The polarizing filter creates a darker appearance in the eyes and skin, which is not appropriate for a baby.

9. If you want a soft, diffused look, you can use either a large-format camera (like Hasselblad), a softbox, or a softbox plus a grid. You can also use a flash diffuser and the flash as a fill light. The flash should be used as a key light. The flash diffuser is used to direct the light, and the flash is positioned so that the flash goes into the subject’s eyes and highlights the hair.

10. You should have a tripod. This will stabilize the camera and prevent camera shake.

11. The easiest way to focus the camera is to move the camera a little above the subject’s head, and to zoom in on the subject. Focus on the eyes of the subject, and the depth of field will be about half the distance between the camera and the subject’s face.

12. Don’t forget to include a background. It will give you the chance to show the mood of the situation.


In conclusion, the key to looking beautiful is proper lighting. This means understanding how to light your subject properly so you can capture their best features. This is especially true in portraiture.

The best way to learn how to light your subject properly is to study the work of famous photographers. This way, you can see what kind of lighting works best with the subjects that you want to capture.