Portrait light

As a follow up from the last blog.  I thought I would get some pictures to illustrate different types of lighting.  I will be looking at indoor lighting because it is easiest to illustrate each of the points.

I want to thank my daughter in-law, Joy, for being a good sport and letting me take some ugly pictures of her.  I want to point out also, that she is fair skinned with freckles that are more noticeable, because she is getting lots of sun that is also drying out her skin.  But she is a wonderful young lady that my wife and I are pleased to have her in our family.

The first picture is a direct flash that is mounted on the camera.  This leaves a rather flat picture and an ugly shadow in the back ground.

On Camera Flash -8796

This next picture is a bare flash with no modifiers on it and at about 45° angle from the camera.  This picture looks considerably better.  Still a little flat, but better.  Significant shadows are seen under Joy’s chin and from her nose.  But, it does show the curves of her face better.  Joy’s hair over her left shoulder isn’t showing like I would like.  But the ugly background shadow is gone and her face has more dimension.

Off Camera Direct Flash-8799
Off camera direct flash

This picture is using a soft box about 26″ in diameter.  It is pretty close to her, maybe 3 feet or so.  A soft box located at a close distance will provide a more soft light.  This picture shows more curves on the face and the hair on her shoulder is very smooth and silky.

Off Camera Close Soft Box-8802
Off Camera Soft Box about 3′

The next shot has the soft box moved away about 3 more feet.  The height was about the same, so it came in and highlighted the eyes a bit more.  I also think the angle was a bit more straight on Joy’s face.  We have a better catch light in her eyes.  The shadow under her chin is smaller due to the shallower lighting angle.  But, the shadow line is a bit harder since the flash is further away and it is closer to a point source.  However, it is still much softer than the unmodified flash shots.  You will also notice that the background is also a little lighter now.  This is also a result of the flash being further from the subject.

Off Camera Far Soft Box-8804

This shot is now with the soft box directly above the camera.  It still renders very nicely, but you will notice that the nose shadow goes almost straight down and her chin shadow is more symmetrical as well.  The background has darkened some since the flash is now closer to Joy again.  This type of lighting can help remove skin imperfections, but in my opinion works best with a slim face and high cheek bones.

Off Camera Above Soft Box-8809

This shot was with the soft box pointed away from her.  This helped make the background darker.  If you look carefully, you can see that the catch light in Joy’s eyes is more like a cat’s eye.  A very vertical light.  This is because she was only seeing a small portion of the soft box.

Off Camera Edge Soft Box-8816

For all of the other shots, I had the curtains on a window to Joy’s left closed.  I then opened when I was done and used the light from the window as a fill light.  The light set up was like the third shot, except the soft box was a little lower which allowed better catch lights in the eyes.


Of course there are an unlimited number of ways to light the scene.  Somebody might ask about bouncing a flash off the ceiling.  The ceiling can act as a giant soft box, but the angle is many times coming too straight down.  There are inexpensive flash modifiers that will reflect some of the light directly at the subject when the flash is pointed at ceiling which can help.  Also, bright windows can provide great soft light as well.

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