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Understanding Light

Lesson 15 of 34

Shoot: Portrait Lighting

Mark Wallace

Understanding Light

Mark Wallace

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Lesson Info

15. Shoot: Portrait Lighting

Lesson Info

Shoot: Portrait Lighting

What we're gonna do now is we're gonna go through some traditional lighting styles, and these guys, we're gonna do this for the next 15 minutes or so and see if we can get through all of these. And the lighting styles are these: open loop, closed loop, also known as Rembrandt light. We're gonna talk about broad and short lighting, and butterfly lighting, which is awesome. So what we're gonna do here is we are going to use a 2x3 softbox and I'm gonna let you take that off and Lex is gonna come back out and we are gonna start walking through these different things. And really to know what's what-- And I don't think I ever start lighting something and think, "Oh, I'm gonna do open loop lighting." The only reason I'm showing you this is so that as you're looking at portraits and looking at things to illuminate you'll know sort of the styles and you can communicate that with a stylist, or an assistant, or other photographers. It's understanding the language of what happens. These are very O...

lan Mills type lighting styles. I know, kinda down. So yeah, you should know these, perfect these, and then move on to the other things. Now we're using, by the way, a single source of light right now. We're gonna start adding multiple light sources this afternoon but to keep things simple so we can really see what's happening, we're doing one light. And we're gonna try to light from the side. All right, so John, let's kill this light and let's try to make this as dark in here as possible. I think the host lights can still stay on. Okay, so what we're doing here is we are looking at the shadows that are being cast. And I think it's still too light. I'm gonna just change my modifier. We're gonna shoot with hard light, which is not what I'd recommend, but so you can clearly see this I'm gonna use a hard light modifier. Let's just do a normal-- No, just a standard reflector. Yep, yep. I'm doing this again, I'm doing this so we can really see this. So I would not normally do this in a studio but I wanna make sure that it's clear so it's visible to you. So this is a teaching tool, not necessarily the way I would do this. I would use a different modifier. So what we're doing when we are looking at this-- and if we have a camera right here, straight on, that's gonna be important. What we're looking for are these shadows. By the way, you should not poke at your model. This is not something that you should normally do. We've talked about this beforehand. So what we're looking at is we're looking at-- Don't bite me-- at this shadow right here opposite the light. We're looking-- I'm so nervous. I know, I should be. I'm about to lose a finger. We're also looking at this shadow right here. And open loop lighting means that this shadow and this shadow have not joined, they're open. So this loop right here around this eye is an open loop. That's all open loop lighting means. Closed loop lighting is when you go like that. And now we just closed the loop. What we're looking for though, we're looking for some indications of the shadows on the subject's face. Right now this shadow is straight across, which is something that I don't really like, and so what we want to do is we want to take this shadow and lower it and so we have more of a triangle right there. Lower that, something like that. Okay, now we have more of a triangle there, and this is still closed loop light. And we can start doing things like moving this closer, moving this further away, moving this around. That's open loop. Oh, closed loop. It's open loop. You see sort of how that works. So that's all open and closed loop is, is that. Once you have this setup then you can start modifying the type of light. So we could put a softbox on here, we could do closed loop, open loop with a softbox. It was just really difficult to see because the light is so diffused, but the rules are the same. Now the other thing that we can do here, so we have open and closed loop light, Rembrandt light. So Rembrandt used to paint-- It's like, "Rembrandt used to shoot in this--" So Rembrandt used to paint in the studio, and he had-- And I'm not sure if this is true or not. The story goes that he had a very small window really high in his studio. And so if you do that, I'm gonna take this guy here. Lower this. (light squeaks) There's a mouse. There's a mouse in here. We'll put this up pretty high. And what you'll see happens is when you put a light really high up like that you get closed loop light, and you have this triangle here. That's known as Rembrandt light, because there's a triangle on the cheek opposite the light. And so that's how that happened. Rembrandt light and closed loop light, a lot of photographers use those terms interchangeably. Because at first you're like, "What's the difference between Rembrandt and closed loop? "They look the same." They are the same. Just one, maybe the light is a little bit higher than the other one. So that shadow on the nose here falls lower than it normally would. And wasn't the eye on the side was in shadow too? Yeah, and that really depends on-- Yeah, if you go too high, then what happens is exactly that. Where if you get it too close, now you just lost all the catch lights in the eyes, and that's no bueno. If you come out a little bit farther you can see that now we have open loop lighting. We'll move this over a little bit this way and we have closed loop lighting, we have more light in the eyes. And so the position of light is critical for controlling those shadows on your subject. You're seeing as we're just moving this around how everything is changing. Feathering the light, putting it on directly. And so we can get different looks just by changing where our light is. The other thing that's important to note, and I'm gonna show you this. So again, normally for this type of light we would have a softbox. We're just talking about shadows and so we're lighting you in a shadowy Nosferatu way, which I normally would not do. Disclaimer over. So watch what happens when the light stays the same, and I change, or the light stays the same and the subject changes. This is really important to pay attention to when you're doing portrait lighting. So I'm gonna take a shot here of Lex. Perfect. And now Lex, don't move but just turn that way. Turn that way, yep. Cool. All right, let's take a peek at these two images. So the light did not move at all but the shadows falling on Lex did. So on one side we have this closed loop, orangey stuff that we haven't see white balance for, we're just moving around. The other side we have open loop butterfly light, which we haven't talked about yet. So the light changed based on her movement. Now watch this. Watch what happens when I have Lex stay the same and then I am going to move. I will move over here. Good. And I will move over here. Perfect. All right, so now we have two different Lexes, an evil Lex and a happy Lex. So there's that, there's that. Let's put these up side by side. One is very, very shadowy and one is not. So by moving you're gonna change the light pretty dramatically. So you have to pay attention to where you are, if the subject is moving or not, because sometimes when you're working with doing corporate headshots or something, people just sort of move, and it's gonna change the look of that portrait and so you have to sort of guide your subject. What does Peter Harley say, "Guide your people." Guide your people! And so yeah, you have to make sure you tell them what to do, because they can't read your mind. So you have to move them around. All right, so we have that. The other thing that I want to show you is called broad and short light. So Lex we'll have you come forward just a bit. And then I'm gonna have you move your shoulders, just like that, and then stay in that position. If we have our camera right here. I'm gonna move this out. John maybe you can help with this pack, move it out just a hair. And maybe take a half step back, Lex. Yep, there we go. Okay, I'm gonna just take a picture really quickly. This, with a long lens, got it. Perfect. What has happened here? Something crazy has happened. Oh, I bumped my exposure compensation. That is no good. All right, so what we have, and I still think I have it bumped. Done something crazy to my light because it's overexposed so much. If we look at this image here what we have is we have a broad side of the face, which is this side that's facing the camera. That's called the broad side. And then we have a short side. This is this side over here. That's called the short side or the tall side, because when we look at our image, and we put a sort of a line down by the nose, broad side, short side. Broad side, tall side. And so broad lighting is when we light the broad side of the face. That's what we're lighting right now. This is broad lighting. Not to be confused with broad as in female. It's broad, the large side of the face. You hit the large side. Short lighting generally works like this. You're gonna need to move forward about a foot or two. This is when we would normally use a grid or someway you control the light. We'll see if we can do this really quickly. Do this like this. Feathering that light just a bit. So if you come over here-- Yeah, let's get a grid. Get a 10 degree. Throw that on there. I love grids. There we go. I'm even gonna move this out a little more. Okay. Let me see. Yeah, there we go. I'll take a picture of this so you can see this clearly. Do this. Perfect. And we're getting more color cast, which is sort of fun. And my exposure is off because of my TTL metering, but the point here is we have a lot of light on the tall side of the face and not a lot of light on the broad side of the face. When we get to the studio strobes, and speedlights, and we can actually control all the light in the studio, you're just gonna start to see this very, very clearly. And so when we're lighting the tall side, normally what that helps us do is accentuate highlights, and the broad side allows us to accentuate shadows. And so normally you can even combine those two to get some beauty looks and things like that. We'll do more with broad and tall lighting when we get to our working with speedlights, and we get to working with our studio strobes and we can really control the light. Because right now we're getting tons of spill from just light that's sort of floating around. Which is fine, it helps us understand light. All right, there's one more lighting style that we're gonna do. And John, we're gonna have to put this little mini boom on here. And this is one of my favorite lighting styles. It is called butterfly lighting. So what we'll do is we'll take this guy off. What we're doing is this is our little mini boom arm and it's just gonna allow us to get the light over the camera. We want this on axis. Perfect, move this guy right there. The nice thing about these little guys is you can just stick a light on the end of the boom just like that. Tighten down, excellent. Okay. We're gonna come right back over here. Watch your head. Good. And let's get a small softbox there. Actually let's get a beauty dish, we haven't done a beauty dish yet. We haven't shot with a beauty dish, we'll use that. No grid. No grade. May also want to talk about grids, the tab here. Yes, let me just show that. All right, so, when you put a grid in a modifier there's a little tab that come out right there, and that's what you use to pull the grid out. Sometimes you'll put it in backwards, and when you do there's no tab to pull it out and it's a bad pain to get it out of there. So make sure the tab is always on the outside. Seems like a very, very simple thing until you forget the third time. (groans) And it's hot, and you're trying to work. Yeah, so tab out. Tab out. All right, so this guy on there. It's at the head here. There we go. All right, okay. Perfect. I'm gonna grumble about stands really fast, because what you just saw is a result of-- So Matthews Stands are the stands that I always use because they never do what you just saw, where the things don't-- they're not tight on there. And I won't say the name of this little boom arm here but it's not a Matthews Stand, it's a different brand, and they drive me bananas, because they do stuff like that. They fall, they don't tighten down right, they wear out fast. Maybe we should put a piece of tape over that brand so I don't get in trouble. I don't want to talk poorly about other brands of stands, but in my experience working in studios for years, you just cannot match a Matthews stand for quality. And price, they're super expensive. Okay, so take a half step back. I get in trouble all the time for telling people to buy stuff that's really expensive, but you get what you pay for. Yeah, let's do that so I don't get in trouble. I don't want to badmouth somebody's stuff, especially because I didn't pay for it. Okay, so look straight forward. What we're looking for here is a shadow under the nose. Right now we're not seeing that shadow because this light is so soft. So what I'm gonna do here is we'll try to raise this up a little bit to see if we can get that shadow. Get the shadow, get the shadow. Okay. You can start seeing a little bit of shadow. It's called butterfly light because there's a little shadow right underneath the nose. You know what, John, because we can't see the shadow I'm gonna use a normal reflector so we can see it. This is funny for me to work so hard at creating shadows that I don't like, but you have to see them to understand what they are. We're gonna put this back in a second. We're gonna put this on just so you can sort of see this shadow. Kablam. Kablamo. Okay, we'll see if we can get that shadow. There we go. There it is, there's the shadow. Right under Lex's nose there's a little teeny shadow, and that little shadow defines butterfly light. So let me take a quick picture of this one step that we haven't done because I want to make sure that everybody can see this shadow. And I have something incredibly crazy going on here. What is it? My exposure is going super high. I've changed something and I'm not sure exactly what it is. I don't know what it is. There we go. All right. Yeah, I'm not sure what happened. So it's the shadow right here under the nose that we're talking about. That's the shadow, that's what butterfly lighting is. Yep, looks like a butterfly. Stings like a bee. Okay, so normally how butterfly light works is light on axis, straight above, usually softer light. So we're gonna go back to something that looks good. There you go. Got it, thank you. We're gonna use this, which is a beauty dish. What the beauty dish does is it makes this light very, very soft, very directional. Ahh, so much better. Lex loves it. You love it. Okay, so we have this. And so we have this light coming down, just like we did before. We can see the shadow still but it's very, very soft. And then the second part of butterfly lighting is we wanna eliminate the shadow underneath her chin. So let me first take a picture of just the beauty dish, just with the beauty dish. Looking straight at me. Beautiful. Okay, we got that. Okay, when we see this you can see that we have-- and this is gonna be the next shot-- it's gonna be much softer light underneath the chin. There we go. See how this beauty dish, we still have harder light but it's a softer harder light than we had before. But what we wanna do is we wanna eliminate that shadow. So traditionally what happens-- I'm gonna have you hold this up. So John's gonna come over here. Silver, we're gonna use silver on this, and Lex, if you can hold this like that as well. So normally you have something like this underneath. I will take a clicky. That's called picture. Okay, beautiful. Thank you. And now what's happening is that's acting as a fill to remove those shadows underneath and we get this beautiful portrait. And so that is what butterfly lighting is. The nice thing is, butterfly lighting works with almost anybody. It's hard to take a bad picture when you're using butterfly lighting. It's really fast, really easy to setup. And look at the eyes. We get this really beautiful catch light in the eyes, which is what we want. So just like that we have butterfly light that works very, very simply. Yes. I think we can turn the light back on again. So if you had somebody that was a little older that had a little bit of this-- A little waddle? Has the waddle? Yeah, that. Would you use, say, the white side of the reflector to maybe not be so hard? I don't think I would. Let me see if I could correct this color temp here just a bit. I don't think I would because what's happening is that silver is giving us these specular highlights on the face and on the lips, and on the eyes. It's that sort of shininess that we're seeing here. That's coming from the silver reflector. It's not necessarily going to change the shadows on the chin. So if you go from silver to white, white is not necessarily going to reflect as much light, and so you're gonna see a little bit more of the shadow than you would on the silver. So it might be better to have a little bit more shiny, less shadows, than a little less specular and more shadows. So yeah, I think I would stick with silver in that scenario. Or the other thing that you can do is if you have a small softbox like this, a lot of times what people will do is they'll actually setup a softbox with a studio strobe and then this way you can take this and control the light up and down and get the exact look that you want instead of a reflector. The difference is the reflector is $100. This is a lot more than that. But a lot of times I'll shoot with a softbox and a beauty dish, just like this, with the model inside. And the nice thing about having a softbox and a beauty dish, or two softboxes works, or two umbrellas will work is that you don't need an assistant, and it's consistent light, you can just shoot all day through those lights. Yes. When you shoot that kind of shot would you usually light up the background, or it depends on the aesthetic you're looking for? Normally what I would do on a shot like this-- and I like simple backgrounds, I'm a huge fan of vignettes. But normally what I would do is I would take a five degree grid, or 10 degree grid, and I would shine a light on the background and so that gives sort of a hot spot behind the person's head and you get this vignetting look. I would do that. Or we're gonna do a thing tomorrow, I believe, where we're setting up this sort of crazy cocoon of lights, we're gonna have all these lights setup and we're gonna have multiple lights on the background to show different lighting styles just in the background. Yeah, so you mentioned about those other light stands that you prefer. Is there a flat spot on them, is that why it doesn't move around or... What's the difference. On a lot of these, this is hollow, and so when you tighten a light on it, it gets crushed. And so if it's crushed over time you can't tighten that light on it. The reason they're hollow is originally these were not meant to hold lights, they're meant to hold flags and things on this side, and it's known as a grip head. And so that's the justification that you're not supposed to do that, but everybody does. Everybody does it and has for years, so just make it the right way. So the Matthews, these are rock solid and so you can't crush them. Yeah, they're rock solid. They're much more expensive though. They're about $225 per stand, about what they run. But they last forever, and they'll save you from getting a hernia because they all wheel around and they're terrific and I love them. Other questions. Absolutely. So I know we're gonna be talking about speedlights later on today, we're gonna be getting into speedlights and softboxes for speedlights and things like that. But your Matt wanted to know, "Suggestions as to the largest or most useful "modifier size limit for a single speedlight." For softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dish, et cetera. Could you put a speedlight on that 4x6, or would you? No. I would put maybe... I would maybe put-- Yeah I would just never use a 4x6 with a speedlight. I know Bruce Dorne is a photographer, he's an explorer of light for Canon. He did some shoots in Antelope Canyon in Arizona a few years ago, and I think you can find this video, but he was shooting with a-- I think it was a 4x3, a very large, narrow softbox with speedlights in this really amazing cave, this Antelope Canyon thing. And so he got away with it. I've seen other photographers do it so I don't wanna say that you can't do it, because I know that you can. I just wouldn't because by the time you put all those speedlights in there I'd just rather use a battery pack studio strobe. And you can rent that stuff, by the way. All the stuff that you see, this super expensive stuff, you don't have to buy it, you can rent it, it's really affordable to rent stuff. So you can rent for a weekend or rent for a photo shoot and just add that to your client's bill, and it's gonna change the bill by maybe, like $100, maybe? Yeah. So it's not like you have to go spend $ on a bunch of lighting gear. You can just rent it until you're building enough clients to afford to keep it on your own. And do the math. Is renting it every weekend or every photoshoot gonna make me more money as opposed to buying it. Because you can finance, and if you finance-- It's all the business of what's gonna earn you more money, but gear I think is important. Anyway this is about the largest size of umbrella I would use with a speedlight, and this is, oh, I think about two feet, something like that. Yeah, but about like this. It's about a 40 inch. 40 inch? Yeah, I like that. That's what I would use. And then the largest I would probably go is about a 2x3 softbox with a speedlight. That's me personally, that is not everybody else. All right, what other questions? This is from Bill in Boca, and we've got a lot of people asking about octas. Octaboxes, yes. Octaboxes. So this question is kind of basic. "Can Mark explain what are "the advantages and disadvantages?" So I have a seven foot Westcott Octabox. Is that right? No, it's a Flashpoint, it's the one Adorama makes. It's a seven foot flashpoint octabox that I got for, I think it's like $100. I mean very inexpensive this thing. And I think actually sent it to me and they said, "Hey can you do a review of this and check it out," and I was like, "Eh, this is not gonna be good." And I started using it, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is amazing," so I sent them a note and said could I just buy it and keep it, and like sure. So I kept it. And you can also get octaboxes from Pro Photo and Westcott and a billion different brands. The nice thing about octaboxes is they are very large-- well the ones I have, seven foot-- are very large sources of light, so you get really soft light. And I get the roundness that I like. I get that, which is really cool. And it's similar to having a 4x6 softbox but instead of having a square shape, you have a much broader shape and so the diffusion is a different shape, the specular highlights is a different shape. It's sort of like having a controlled umbrella, is what that is. And so I just love them. And if you look at my YouTube videos, at AutoramaTV or SnapFactory, you'll probably see me using an octabox 20 times, and doing different things. In fact, Lex and I did a video about-- I think it was the inverse square law, I think that's what it was. One of the first things we did, actually. And we used a big octabox because you can get that so close to your subject and get really rapid light falloff and beautiful wrap around light. It's very similar to what we showed you with the 4x6 softbox but it's even a larger light source. They're amazing. I love them. And they're inexpensive, so get them, and use them. What was the second part of that question? I'm just rambling about how much I love them. Is there a disadvantage to it? They're big. Yeah. And depending on the brand you get they can be expensive. I have, I think it's the Flashpoint, that's not so expensive, and it's terrific. They're not easy to put together. So the other thing that I didn't talk about with softboxes are these things, speedrings. Because it's really easy to figure out, so I didn't really cover it. Softboxes have this little frame and they go on to this thing called a speedring. And it's called the speedring not because it's easy to put together, but because once you have it on the flash you can rotate this really quickly. The softbox and the speedring are always sold as two different things, because the speedring is specific to the brand of flash that you're using. So you can use this softbox with a speedring made for Broncollar or ProPhoto, or what's another, Ranger? Alien B's, et cetera. Yeah. You can mix and match brands of different speedrings with softboxes. With an octabox, if you notice on this speedring there's a bunch of different placements for poles that aren't being used. That's what an octabox would use, it's eight poles, that's why it's called an octa. That's another nice thing about the ProPhoto is they're color coding everything now. So you know which holes to put your softbox in because the softbox one has a color on it and you just match it up with the color of the speedrings. And these speedrings will work with a much longer, narrow softbox and so you use different holes for that, or an octabox would use different holes for that, or a square softbox, use different holes for that. That's why they're color coded. But with the octabox and one of a thing that's a pain is if you have a larger one, it's difficult to get all those poles in there because it seems to sort of wrestle with it. And getting them out is even worse. And so that's the pain. Setting up and taking them apart can really be not fun.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers. 

The success of every photographer — artistically and professionally — is based on a strong understanding of how light works. Join photographer Mark Wallace for a three-day course that will demystify the fundamentals of lighting and give you the concrete skills you need to get a powerful image using the right lighting every time you shoot.

Mark will cover everything you need to know about hard, soft, directional, and diffused light. You’ll learn about reading natural light and manipulating it with tools like reflectors and diffusion panels. Mark will also guide you through working with light in a studio environment. You’ll explore using basic studio lights to manipulate and shape light and working with strobes and speedlights. You’ll also learn about shooting on-location and how to balance shape, and color ambient light and light from a flash.

By the end of this course, you’ll be equipped with a whole new understanding of light that will help you to shoot more efficiently, capture consistently well-lit images, and reach new creative heights as a photographer.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Presentation 1

Presentation 2

Presentation 3

Zone Lighting Basic Setup

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Claudia Ochsner

This is an excellent course. I recommend this course to every photographer, of any level who want to put money into lighting stuff. Mark Wallace has a gift to teach and to truly enlighten his audience about complex issues in photography. The money for this course is well spent, the time is more valuable than hanging around in forums and ask questions to others who don't have a clue as well. The products used ( partly promoted ) are very "American" - I have to say that as Swiss. Because you know there are two other brands which could compete at the top level of studio lights as well. Just kidding - But seriously - many thanks to Mark, John, Lex ( Gosh - you are so beautiful ) , CL and their team to help me to reach out for a new level in my photography. I am now going to push my boundaries, well knowing that understanding light is science, but for sure not rocket science.

Rose-Marie Gallagher

This was an outstanding course! Mark presented TONS of quality information, starting at the very basic concepts and working up from there. He is interesting to listen to and very understandable. Great examples that expand the learning. Highly recommended! Thanks for bringing Mark's class to CL...I hope there will be more.

a Creativelive Student

This is probably the first Creative Live course I have purchased that I've watched in its entirety. Every single solitary video. I feel so strongly about Mark's teaching ability that this is also the very time I have written a review. I first came across Mark Wallace on Adorama TV. Interesting and so knowledgeable. So I explored and found other tutorials by Mark on Pocket Wizard. So when Creative Live offered this three day course - I bought it without hesitation. Mark makes the difficult - easy to comprehend and the un-understandable - understandable. I have learned so much from him and I haven't even met the guy! There are so many questions I'd like to ask - that doesn't mean that the videos were lacking in any respect. Rather, time constraints prevented Mark from covering topics he wanted to cover. I am definitely going to purchase the original Mark Wallace Creative Live course on Speedlights. I am also voting for a course: "28 days with Mark Wallace," so that we can tap into his genius with Lighting. How about it Creative Live? Bravo Mark - a very successful course. I am looking forward to the next one.