Portrait shoot with continuous lights Part 2

I don’t usually shoot portraits, and when I do usually do them in fashion shoot style, that’s just me!

And I usually use flash, because I have plenty of flash heads available, but this time I thought it would be fun to use our QuadLite continuous lights instead. Basically it was 2 shoots on the same day, we started off photographing against a lit white background, and you can read about that shoot here.

We then moved to a black background, and this is the shoot that this blog entry covers.

My model is a friend who has never modelled before. Actually, it wasn’t difficult, it’s just a matter of asking her to do what she already knows how to do, and that’s to keep her feet in the same place but to move her head and body around, and to move her hands around too, and then just take a lot of shots, most of which inevitably end up in the bin – pretty much what I would do with a pro fashion model!

My job was made easier by the fact that Jessica has classical oriental looks, with high cheekbones, good

complexion and very long hair, which means that I can use hard lighting to emphasise her bone structure, and she can also change appearance simply by having her hair either up or down.


Key light + on axis fill

For the key light, I used the QuadLite in front of where her face was pointing

Lighting arrangement

Lighting arrangement

and above, and I asked Jessica to angle her face towards the light, so that the shadows that it created were in the right place, and symetrical – it doesn’t work for every shot of course, because I was also asking her to move around to get the variety of shots that I wanted, but there were enough shots that did work for this approach to be effective. The light was a bit softer than I wanted so I took the diffuser off, which solved the problem. The graphic above right doesn’t show the fill light, which of course was where the camera was, but does show you where the key and hairlights were placed. And it’s the key light that does 90% of the work – other lights may or may not help, but the overall effect is always created by the key light.

There’s the key light, positioned to camera right and a little behind her, and this is also lighting the left hand edge of her dress, which was essential as it’s a black dress against a black background, there’s a fill light on axis with the lens and there’s a hairlight too, very necessary for someone who has black hair. A bit of this light has also reached her forehead, this wasn’t intended but is almost inevitable when the model is moving around and isn’t in a fixed pose, and frankly I like it – I think it adds interest.

A hairlight must always be positioned carefully

Really bad lens flare

Really bad lens flare

It nearly always has to go where it will light the hair from above and behind, which means that there’s a risk that the light will be shining directly towards the camera lens – so always check to make sure that the hairlight isn’t creating lens flare, which can easily happen if we’re not careful

Here are a few more shots.


With hair light added

The shot on the right is similar, but with Jessica looking upwards, and with a much stronger hairlight, achieved simply by moving it closer. Some of this light is also lighting the back of her dress, to show detail and separate it from the background.

The downside of the high keylight position is that it’s sometimes putting light where I didn’t plan for it to go, but it’s also bringing out the beauty of Jessica’s  bone structure. Some people use boring flat lighting and then try to “paint” in the essential shadows in PP, but I work the opposite way round, and light for effect, and then use PP to remove light from areas that I don’t want it, including the background, and when I get round to retouching these shots I’ll do that, as well as retouching out stray hairs etc.


No hair light

The shot below doesn’t have a hair light, it doesn’t need one because  the front of the hair is being lit by the key light. Of course, I could have added a hairlight to light the back of Jessica’s head, but this would have distracted from her face.



With rimlight added to camera right, to separate dress from background

As always, I use as few lights as I need, if there’s a trick to lighting then the trick is to make sure that there are no conflicting shadows caused by different lights, so that the whole thing looks as real as possible, and the best way of avoiding these problems is to only use extra lights when we really need to, and I didn’t need to add a hairlight for this shot.



Add extra light when it’s needed

But, sometimes, we do need to add extra light and in the shot below I added an extra light in the rimlighting position (at the side and a little behind) to light the left hand edge of her dress, again to separate it from the background.

People often say that white subjects can’t be photographed against a white background and that black subjects can’t be photographed against a black background but of course they can – it just needs a bit more thought about the use of light, because lights placed in the rimlighting position will always stop black merging into black.



With rimlight added each side to separate dress from background

And here’s another example of the use of rimlighting.

For the shot below, the rimlight that’s working on the right hand side of her dress is quite far back, so that it has minimal lighting effect on her right arm but still lights the side of her dress.

One of the really frustrating things about this type of shoot, when using flash anyway, is that loads of shots need to be taken to get one with everything in the right place – this is a big advantage of QuadLite continuous lighting, because with no flash to recycle and slow things down, I can just set my camera to high speed continuous shooting and hold the button down! Doing this practically guarantees that there will be at least one shot that works from each set.

Of course, there are several different sets – hair up, hair down, changes to light position, changes to her foot position, and if there had been changes to clothes too then there would have been even more sets.

It’s worth mentioning makeup because, left to their own devices, inexperienced models usually use makeup that’s shiny – that’s fair enough because shiny makeup grabs attention (normally) but it doesn’t work for photography and it’s our job, as photographers, to make sure that the makeup is suitable for photography.
So, off with the shiny stuff and the glitter, and on with matt foundation :)