Portraits with Continuous Lighting

For several years now I've preferred to shoot portraits with off-camera flash, employing a Yongnuo speedlite and a combination of reflectors and diffusion to get the desired look.

This shot was taken with a speedlite through an umbrella. The light is about 4 feet from the subject. The diffused light through the umbrella is soft and placed at an angle to get a nice Rembrandt triangle under his left eye. There is some bounce behind him that throws a little edge on the left side of his head.

I like the far side of my subject's face (the side of the face farthest from my lens) in light, and the near side in shadow or partial shadow.

In a recent photo shoot for the same actor, Brian Matthew Higgs, pictured above, I decided to go for a different look. Something more moody. To do this, I decided to use my Aputure LED lights to see what type of looks I could come up with. The lights are of varying degrees of brightness, with the largest LED almost equally a 1K, then a 500watt and 200watt.

I decided to use a dark textured background to set the mood. Then I set up my 1K and 500 watt LED's to both backlight the talent from opposite directions. The stronger light is rimming the right side of Brian's face and accenting some of his large beard. Above and slightly to the left of the camera is a soft 200 watt light giving some fill on the front of his face and providing a catch light in his eye. 

We wanted to make sure any casting director looking at this headshot would know that Brian (SAG/AFTRA) has long hair, so I had him turn his torso and head away from camera, then bring his eyes back to lens. The backlight over his left shoulder catches his pony tail.

This photo of Brian in his trucker outfit has a similar setup. A strong backlight behind him and to his right, keys the right side of his face and spills past the bridge of his nose to light his left eye. The backlight over his left shoulder has been reduced now to just separate his hair from the background. The beauty light above the camera is also dimmed to just illuminate his beard and soften the nose shadow created by the backlight.

I like taking most of my shots in landscape, but I also take a few in portrait. In this shot, Brian goes with his favorite look, mean biker guy. The key light is directly to Brian's left and although his head is almost straight toward camera, his left eye is still on the far side. The light is just reaching across the bridge of his nose to his opposite eye. On the right side of Brian is my weaker light, dimmed to about 10% to just spread a little light across the shadowed side of his face so it's not completely dark.

Unlike the other photos in this batch which were shot between f/4 and f/5.6, this photo is shot at f/3.5. You can see his eyes and cheeks are tack sharp and focus starts to face away back towards his ears and the back of his hair. All of these photos have been retouched in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I used to get stressed out about lighting, but if you really think about it simply than it becomes a lot easier. The first thing to decide is what mood you want to set with your photo. I like to pick an aperture and shutter speed to shoot with and light based on that. My preference is to keep the far side of the face lit and the near side in shadow. I like contrasty looks but it all depends on who you are lighting and what they want to achieve with their photo. One setup doesn't work for everyone who will stand or sit in front of your camera.

Thanks for reading.