5 Easy Lighting tips to take better portrait photos

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5 Easy Lighting tips to take better portrait photos

How to add depth with lighting to take better portrait photos

Making a portrait photo look more than a flat, two dimensional image can be harder than it looks. But with these tips you can take better portrait photos! 

Jiggie Alejandrino gives his step by step tutorial in this video for portrait photos, using different types of lighting and exposure settings to make the photo appear to have a lot of depth and shape.

If you want to learn how to create amazing portrait lighting, follow the tips below!

Take better Portrait photos – using lighting to create depth

Depth is creating the appearance in the photo of separation between background and foreground using light and shadow. 

Using lighting, you can create shapes and depth in the portrait to appear more than a flat two dimensional image.

Shadows and highlights are the elements that create the appearance of depth. The photo will appear more three dimensional with good lighting which creates these elements. 

Portrait Lighting tip #1: Some element of natural light as a starting point will set the scene. 

If you have windows in the area of the portrait setting, you can utilize this light source. Natural light gives photos a soft and natural look.

Angle the photo setting so that the natural light source is directed on the subject from the direction you want all lighting to come from.

If they are all coming from a similar angle it will give the portrait a singular lighting feel. Natural light is a great first layer to start with because it is soft and light.

The photo below is the first setting for this portrait by Jiggie with only the natural lighting:

The first portrait photo just using natural light source

Better portrait photos Tip #2: Spotlighting will create a strong light source angle and shadows

Natural light is great, however using a spotlight on a stand will let you point the light source onto the subject where you want it to be.

The light being on a stand will allow you to change the height as well as the angle of the light.

The scene being well lit by a spotlight will make the subject ‘pop’ in the photo.

Jiggie uses a Nanlite Forza 60 spotlight for his.

This will also create the shadows in a particular direction of your choosing.

The next photo is the second photo Jiggie took with both natural light and the spotlight:

The second portrait taken using natural light and a spotlight

Lighting for Portraits Tip #3: A softbox light gives an even and soft lighting source to soften the highlights and shadows

A softbox is a commonly used studio light for portraits or product photography. It’s a box of thin material with a light inside of it, usually positioned on a stand and can be angled different directions.

This light inside a softbox gives the scene a level, consistent and soft light different to spotlight or flash. 

Pointing this light at the scene will add a softness to the shapes created by the shadows and light.

Check out this soft box lighting kit for portraits.

This photo includes the natural light, spotlight and soft box lighting for the portrait

Portrait photo lighting Tip #4: Using off camera flash to get the lighting perfect

Off camera flash is a light either on a stand or held by someone off camera which flashes whenever your camera takes a photo. This lets you get the effect of camera flash but the light flashes from a different direction than where the camera is. 

You can use the off camera flash at different heights and angles to light the photo exactly how you want it. 

The angle of the off camera flash will affect the natural, softbox and spotlight sources and tie them all together.

The last portrait shot using natural light, spotlight, soft box, and off camera flash

Take better portrait photos Tip #5: Underexpose the photo from the camera settings

The exposure setting on your camera affects how much light the camera lens is going to capture.

Using a principle of Jiggie’s called ‘focusing by light’, underexposing everything to try to adjust the light around the subject creates more of a visual focus on the subject. 

Once all of your lighting is in place, try using a lower exposure setting to create the feeling of depth in the portrait.

These two photos side by side show the original setting with just natural light, and the final photo using natural light, spotlight, soft box, off camera flash, underexposing and minimal editing:

Lighting the scene with these tips will help to give your portrait photos more depth and shape.

You will need the find the right balance between the different light sources and exposure settings for your setting. Try out different lighting angles and settings to get the right amount of depth.

Which of these tips will you use to light your next portrait session?

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