Lighting for Portrait Photography in the Studio

This page is mainly about lighting for portrait photography, although it also touches on other things. All my photo shoots are designed for individual clients. Once a client has booked we will have a “pre-shoot” consultation to talk about options. I pride myself on trying to understand what my clients want to end up with, and then delivering that to the best of my ability.

Because lighting is so important in portrait photography, and in studio portrait photography in particular, I have posted this page to help talk through lighting styles with my clients.

This page introduces the kind of terminology photographers use to describe some lighting styles.

This is not a definitive guide to the subject, but a general introduction.

Hard and “Hollywood” Lighting

“Hard” lighting means the source of the main lighting is relatively small. This means shadows on the face have relatively hard edges, with plenty of contrast between the dark and light areas. Hard lighting is not flattering on round or chubby faces. If often leads to dramatic lighting effects.

Soft Lighting for Portraits

Soft lighting is flattering for everybody if used appropriately. Soft lighting means you have a relatively large light source that gives shadows that have soft blurry edges. So you won’t find any hard edged shadows on the face.

Dramatic Lighting for Portrait Photography

Usually but not necessarily hard lighting. Often using high contrast, coloured gels, and careful positioning of the lights.

Butterfly Lighting for Portrait Photography

So called because allegedly the shadow below the nose resembles a butterfuly. The main light is positioned directly above and in front of the model in line with the camera. (Fill lights and rim lights are often added).

Shallow Depth of Field

Typically the camera focusses on the closest eye (or eyes if the model is directly facing the camera).

Tricks to Disguise a Tummy

Options include keeping the tummy out of view completely (head shots, tummy hidden behind an object, roomy clothes or scarves that hide the tummy, and turning away from the camera.

Obviously some of the models in these photos have no need to hide their tummies! The images are just examples of possible poses.

Another trick is to use deep shadows to disguise the body against a dark background.

Shooting Profiles

Variety. As in all portrait photography of course.

Images for Possible Discussion

Here is a selection of images that might be useful for discussing with clients. There are many more images on my website and in my blog of course.