From family photos that last for generations to high-end models at a photo shoot, great portrait photography allows the best aspects of subjects to shine through on film. However, one of the only ways to achieve a perfect look in a studio or on location is to control the lighting as it relates to the subject. While professional photographers use a host of complicated, advanced techniques, mastering some simple lighting techniques for portrait photography is all that the amateur needs.
Paramount lighting, also known as butterfly lighting or glamour lighting, is often used with female subjects since it casts a very feminine, butterfly-like shadow underneath a subject's nose. It is also commonly used for older subjects because its angle obscures the effects of wrinkles. However, the effects of Paramount lighting such as high cheekbones and good skin tone can create a more hollowed out look on men.
The Paramount lighting setup
To achieve the butterfly lighting effect, a photographer must position the light source above the subject and directly behind the camera itself. Usually placing the lights at eye-level or slightly above eye level works best. In addition, placing a reflector underneath the subject's chin can further emphasise the butterfly pattern.
In many ways, loop lighting is simply a variation of Paramount lighting. However, it is also much more commonly used since it is less hollowing than Paramount lighting can be. The effect creates a small shadow under a subject's nose and on the cheeks, and these shadows must not touch. Loop lighting works well for people of both genders with oval-shaped faces.
The loop lighting setup
Achieving a loop lighting effect requires lighting positioned near or slightly higher than eye level. However, unlike Paramount lighting, which places the lights directly behind the camera itself, loop lighting uses a light off to the side of the subject, which creates smaller shadows that do not touch. Generally, placing the key light 30 to 40 degrees from the camera is ideal.
As the name suggests, a split lighting technique splits a subject's face into two equal sides. One side is in the light; the other is cast in shadow. This lighting technique noticeably slims the face and creates a rather dramatic effect that is more commonly used on men or artistic profiles. Furthermore, split lighting is a great technique to use when there is a need to hide or otherwise obscure facial impurities.
The split lighting setup
To create such a dramatic shadow effect, split lighting places the key light exactly 90 degrees from the subject on either the left or right. In general, split lighting places the light source below the subject's eye level, however there are no hard and fast rules with this technique. In many cases, photographers adjust lighting height and model positioning according to the subject's face. The goal is to make sure that the eye on the shadowed portion of the face does not pick up any of the light.
Rembrandt lighting is characterised by a triangular highlight on each cheek. It is another incredibly dramatic lighting technique that, if not properly used, creates a moody, darker feel to the overall image, so it is often used with male subjects. In addition, the Rembrandt look requires the nose and cheek shadows to touch, an effect that is difficult to achieve if the subject has a flat bridge or small nose.
The Rembrandt lighting setup
The dramatic effect of Rembrandt lighting requires a subject to turn away slightly from the light source, which must be positioned above the top of the head. There are several ways to create such a contrast. One popular method is to position a hair light directly above the subject along with a key light that is just short of 90 degrees from the subject's side. Alternately, photographers can use natural light from a floor-to-ceiling window to create a Rembrandt effect. In this case, the subject is positioned facing away from the window at a 45-degree angle, which creates the same effect.
How to buy portrait photography lighting equipment on eBay
Understanding portrait photography lighting techniques and actually executing them takes time, practice, and the right photography lighting equipment. Shopping on eBay is a great way to get everything from DSLR cameras and lenses to lights with little hassle. Simply begin a search from any page of the site for the necessary equipment such as strobe lights or reflectors. You can even find complete lighting kits and bundles. Then, use the filters provided to narrow options according to price or even separate new vs. used items.