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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Portrait of a Belly Dancer

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Karen Sun-Ray

This image was photographed in my studio lighting class at the MoreanArts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. The idea was to have nice soft light, but also show the contours of the model's muscle structure and features. The solution was a large soft box placed at more of a side-angle than usual. Keep in mind that the more the object is side-lit, the more it shows texture and contour. A little experimentation was required to find the perfect angle, then a reflector was added to open up the shadows. A hair light from up high behind also adds to the three dimensional look of the image.

Here's the setup:

Single large soft-box, large soft-gold reflector and a snoot. Simple.
On your next shoot, try making your model look as three dimensional as you can. It's a fun way to light and you may find a new favorite style of lighting.

How to make your light hard or soft

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What makes light hard or soft?

The softness of the light on your subject is controlled by just one thing - the size of the light source. You can evaluate the hardness or softness of the light by taking a look at the shadows. Hard lighting has a well defined edge to the shadows and soft light either has a feathered or no discernible line at the edges of the shadows.

The kind of light you choose is a creative decision and being able to control the softness of the light will will make it easy for you to make the image look the way you want. Hard light shows texture, has a lot of contrast and is dramatic. Soft light flattens texture, has less contrast and is well, softer.

Hard Light

Here's an example of hard light. You can see there's a lot of contrast, and the edges of the shadows are well defined. With a direct light source, the background goes black and the shadows of the subject blend into the background.

Here's the setup:

Single light source.

Softening a hard light

You can easily soften the effects of hard light by using a reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows. Using a reflector softens the overall look and separates the subject from the dark background. You can see the difference on the left side of the subject. The shadows are opened up, the subject looks more three-dimensional and the subject is separated from the background by the visible edges of the subject.

Here's the setup:

Single light source, one small reflector.

Softer Light

To soften the key light, a larger light source is needed. Here we used a small soft box. A small umbrella would produce similar results. One side effect of a larger light source is that it has a tendency to spill light onto the background unless the background is far away from the subject.

Here's the setup:

One small soft box


Even softer with a reflector

In this example, we kept the small soft box as the key light and added a reflector on the left to open up the shadows. Again, the subject looks more three-dimensional and is better separated from the background.

 Here's the setup:

Small soft box and a reflector.

Even softer

Here we used a large soft box. As you can see, the shadow transitions are very soft and there is a lot of light spilling onto the background.

Here's the setup:

Single large soft box.

 Softest of all

In this example, we kept the large soft box and added the reflector on the left. You can see it has very soft light and the softness of the light tends to flatten the appearance of the subject.

 Here's the setup:

Single large soft box and a reflector.


Overall view of our test subject. The reflector was a simple piece of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. 

The softness of the light you choose is a creative decision. For example, if your subject were a man with dramatic, weathered skin, you may choose a hard light setup to highlight the textures in his face. Likewise, if you were photographing a subject who wanted their skin to look soft and smooth, hard light would not be a good choice.

Hard light shows texture and soft light flattens texture. A reflector usually makes the subject look more three-dimensional and can help separate it from the background.

Experiment with different lighting configurations and you'll be able to use them to show your subject better and have more creative control. Have fun!

High-Key Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, March 21, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: JoAnn Davis

High-key lighting is lighting that results in more light areas than shadows; subjects are seen in mostly middle grays and highlights, with little contrast. This style of lighting can communicate an upbeat, light, etherial or beautiful mood. 

High-key lighting requires a minimum of three lights, but the setup is very easy.

Here’s how to do it:

The whole idea is to minimize shadows. Start with two large soft-boxes, one on either side of the camera. Next, set one or two lights to light the background. The trick is to set up the background lights so that they make the background pure white without creating lens flare. For this shot, the same power was used for all the lights. The soft boxes used up enough light to make the background about two stops brighter than the subject, which worked perfectly.

Here’s the setup:

Equipment used:

2 Norman light heads with 12” parabolic reflectors (dishes)

2 Norman light heads with Large Photoflex soft-boxes

Norman 800ws power pack

Savage Super-White seamless background

Various stands

Canon 5D

Canon 70-200mm f-2.8L IS

Microsync Radio Triggers

Do you have any high-key images you’re proud of? tell us about them in the comments.

Loop Lighting Style

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 31, 2010

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Gina

Loop lighting is a variation of short lighting where a small loop-shaped shadow appears under the subject’s nose. It’s a popular classic lighting pattern and one that is easy to set up with just one light. For this example, the light was set to the left about 10” above the model’s head. A reflector was added on the right to illuminate the shadow side of the face. When you do this style of lighting, just move the light until you get the right shape shadow under the nose.

Here's the setup:


Equipment used:
  • Norman power pack and light head
  • 32" Umbrella
  • 32" Silver/Gold reflector
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L lens
Lens was set at at 150mm and the aperture was f11

Lighting Styles part 2: Broad Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, November 12, 2010

Model: Francesca Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Broad lighting is a popular style of lighting for two good reasons; it’s simple to set up and it de-emphasizes flaws in the subject’s skin.

Here are the main characteristics of Broad Lighting:

- The main (key) light is close to camera axis
- Light falls mainly on the side of the face that is closest to the camera
- Good for subjects with a narrow face

The setup:

A large soft box is the best modifier to use for this style of lighting, although an umbrella works almost as well as long as it’s fairly large. 32” or larger for a head shot will work well. You can also use a window as a light source. You’ll also need a fairly large reflector, again around 32” is ideal. I prefer a gold/silver reflector, but use whatever looks best to you.

Broad lighting is also the basis for butterfly and loop lighting styles which will be covered in upcoming articles.

Give this simple lighting style a try and you can get beautiful results with just one light! Tell us about it and send some pics in the comments below.

Lighting styles part one: Rembrandt Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Model: Jake Castella Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Rembrandt lighting is named for the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this type of lighting and is frequently used in studio portrait photography. It’s popular because it produces natural and dramatic lighting with minimal equipment. It can be done very easily using one light and a reflector, or two lights. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject, on the less illuminated side of the face. 

How to set it up

Put the key light high and to one side at the front, and the reflector half-height and on the other side at the front, or you can use a second light set to about half the power of the key light.

The key in Rembrandt lighting is creating the triangular shape of light underneath the eye on the shadow side of the face. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face is darker except for the triangular shape of light cast by the key light.

The triangle should be no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye. This technique can be subtle or dramatic by altering the distance between subject and lights and relative strengths of key light and light from the reflector or fill light.

Here's a very subtle effect:

Model: Liz Calver Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh


The first use of the term “Rembrandt Lighting” is credited to the movie director Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille said that in 1915, while shooting THE WARRENS OF VIRGINIA, he used portable spotlights “to make shadows where shadows would appear in nature.” When his business partner Sam Goldwyn saw the film with only half an actor’s face illuminated, he feared the exhibitors would pay only half the price for the picture. After DeMille told him it was Rembrandt lighting, “Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!”

Give Rembrandt Lighting a try on your next subject!

Have anything to add? Tell us in the comments: