Lighting: studio lighting setup – one light

Self-Portrait, 1658
Self-Portrait, 1658

In the previous blog in the series on  Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods the physics of light was discussed, now the focus is on the various lighting setups for portrait photography. Again, inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest and many blogs and tutorials I try to focus on the essence. Here is one link to an explanation I really liked, it is simple and clear: several basic lighting patterns by Darlene Hildebrandt.
The essence in my opinion is to get the right balance between light and shadows for what we have in mind. See these drawings of Palle Schmidt to understand the interplay between light and shadows.
Let me start with one light and vary the position relative to the person. Note below I used a bare light (so no soft box), this explains the harsh shadows. This gives the following lighting patterns (I used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork so simulate the various patterns) :

  • frontal lighting This is the situation where the flash is in or on the camera and the person is facing the camera. The result is a picture with no shadows in the face. It looks flat. Most snapshots are like this.frontal
  • butterfly lighting If we lift the light up a small shadow appears under the nose and sometimes also under the cheeks. butterfly
  • split lighting If I now move the light to the side of the person (90 degrees), the result is a split face: one side lighted and the other one dark.split
  • Rembrandt lighting If I move the light back to 45 degrees off the camera and up a bit, we get something called Rembrandt lighting (see the self-portrait of Rembrandt). Typical is the light triangle on the cheek on the other side of the light. The sides of the triangle are: the eyebrow, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek. It can be smaller or larger depending on the position of the light.Rembrandt
  • loop lighting If I place the light a little closer to the the camera (30 degrees), the triangle opens up, this means that the shadow of the nose does not touch the shadow of the cheek anymore.loop

For all of these lighting patterns (except the frontal one) I can use broad and short lighting. Broad lighting means that the visible ear is lighted and short lighting is that the visible ear is in the shade.
Here is a nice YouTube video by Ed Verosky that explains the various lighting patterns with one light.
In the next blog I will continue the studio lighting setup with several lights and reflectors.