Top 12 best tips for portraits with continuous (constant) lights
Taking photos of people using continuous lighting is easy, here are a few tips that will make it even easier.
1. Get the right lights
Choose your lighting carefully. Avoid tungsten lights (hotlights) because – well, they’re hot and uncomfortable for everyone. The best general purpose choice is fluorescent lights specifically designed for photography – household ones won’t do, and nor will security lights, they’re cheap for a reason. According to magazine reviews, including this one in Advanced Photographer magazine, one of the best combinations of quality and value is the Lencarta QuadLite.
2. Use any camera
Literally any digital camera, including camera phones, will work perfectly with continuous lighting, just use it as if you were taking outdoor photos. If your camera has a choice of settings then you can use a large aperture to get the background out of focus, just as if you were taking outdoor shots.
3. Switch off all other lighting
All other lighting in the room needs to be switched off, because the light from room lighting will have a different colour and will reduce the quality of your photos.
4. Look Your Subject In The Eye
Make sure the eyes are sharp and bring the eyes to life with catch lights. Catch lights are reflections of the light itself, so the shape and position of the catchlight depends on the shape and position of the light. Catchlights at the top of the eyes make them look bigger. Catchlights can be added (or edited) in post production if necessary, but it’s best to get them right when you take the shot.
5. Shoot from the right height
As a general rule, if your camera looks up at the subject then they look more important, if it looks down then they look less important.
If the camera is level with the subject’s eyes, the effect is neutral and the subject looks neither weak nor powerful
6. Arrange the lighting AFTER deciding on subject position, poses and camera position
Lighting is the ingredient that makes the most difference, but everything else needs to be in place before the lights are positioned. Place your lights close to your subject, and put them where they create the effect you want to achieve. About 90% of the work is done by the main (key) light, so get that one right before adding any extra lights.
7. Keep backgrounds simple and natural
Simple, uncluttered backgrounds will usually work best, as they don’t distract from your subject.
And indoors, a portrait of someone at work will usually look best if you use the place they work in as the background, or you can often use a plain wall, this is often every bit as good as a ‘professional’ studio background. Avoid using bright white backgrounds unless you have enough space and enough lighting to do it well – there’s nothing ‘professional’ about using a white background, it’s just one of many possible choices.
When shooting with continuous lights, it’s much easier to use a black background, and just as easy to use no background at all.
8. Use backlighting
By positioning your subject in front of the sun, window or studio light you’ll be able to create light that lights the edges of your subject. This can really make your subject ‘pop’ out of the image.
We’ve used backlighting on several of these photos, to add interest. In this shot, the hair and both edges of Jessica’s dress is backlit, which means that her very dark hair and black dress shows up even against a pure black background.
A backlight is always placed behind your subject, although it’s often from the side as well as from behind. Make sure that it isn’t pointing straight at the camera though, because this creates lens flare, in the same way that the sun will create lens flare if you include it in an outdoor shot.
9. Use more than 1 light
Great portraits can be taken using just one light, but having more lights available means that you can add backlighting, a hair light, a fill light etc, so you’ll have more options.
10. Use umbrellas or softboxes on your lights
Softboxes and umbrellas do very similar things, basically they make the light bigger so that it bccomes softer, and soft light is more flattering to most people. The lights used for these shots were fitted with softboxes and can also be used with umbrellas. One of the big drawbacks with the cheaper lights (and with LED panel lights) is that you can’t use softboxes or umbrellas with them.
11. Don’t try to freeze fast movement
It’s technically difficult to freeze fast movement when using continuous lighting – you need a fast shutter speed for that, which often takes more lighting power than you have available, and although you can overcome this by increasing the camera ISO setting, it’s really best to let some movement blur take place, it also looks more natural. In this shot, Jessica was tossing her head to throw her hair around, but a powerful fan can be used instead.
12. Be A Director
Control the photo by directing your subject. Don’t expect people to know what to do, you need to engage with them. If you’re working with children make sure they’re having fun because the moment they get bored they’ll switch off. Don’t forget to use props such as toys. Toys will soon have them so occupied they’ll have forgotten you’re there with your camera.