Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Many photographers today, by the looks of all the FLAT studio lighting I see, have become shadow phobic! Why is that? Why are so many photographers lighting people like they're about to photograph a stamp collection by using equi-distance/angle, equal power lights?

People are three dimensional and since the art we produce--the print--is two dimensional we MUST imply the third dimension with the contrast of LIGHT AGAINST SHADOW.

However, all people not being the same, It's our duty to adjust our lighting set-up to make our clients look their best.
That means you must always be prepared to MOVE your main light. I think, in some studios, the lights have been stationary so long that they've taken root! My main light is on WHEELS for a reason.

The fastest and easiest way to learn lighting is, in the studio, using ONE LIGHT and a REFLECTOR, get a friend to sit there, and just go through the lighting patterns. (Google the patterns I mentioned--you'll easily find many examples)
Then, after you've got the patterns down, you fine tune them with a Hair light, Kickers, and background lights.

The following are some tips I've learned the hard way, by photographing all kinds of people, over these past twenty-five years….with gratitude for the personal instruction from Monte Zucker (studio) and Leon Kennamer (natural light).

When we're doing studio sessions, of NORMAL PEOPLE, shape of the face is important but--because most women BELIEVE they need to loose weight, true or not, you had better not put an ounce of weight on them with BROAD LIGHTING or FLAT LIGHTING!

So that means BUTTERFLY lighting (centered, overhead, main light) is not advised for any but the thinnest faces.

Forget about CLAM-SHELL lighting for the same reason--it's just flat-lighting with your lights in a VERTICAL orientation.

Remember, I said NORMAL PEOPLE--if you're photographing professional models you can use ANY of the lighting patterns already mentioned.

So, what does that leave? LOOP LIGHTING, REMBRANDT, and SHORT LIGHTING. These are our MONEY MAKERS!

LOOP LIGHTING is a basic portrait pattern that's good on physically fit men and slender women if their noses are small.

REMBRANDT LIGHTING is great on MEN--it adds character and drama--not so great on women.

SHORT LIGHTING is very useful on men, women, and teens. I use this pattern the most--especially on individuals.


The key to dialing in short-lighting is how much FILL is used on your subject. And by FILL I mean REFLECTOR FILL--I quit using overall studio flash fill about 10-years ago.

The use of flash fill in the studio (AND outside!) is the main reason so many photographers are guilty of LIGHTING MALPRACTICE today!

The basic rule-of-thumb with reflector fill is the heavier the person the less fill I use. I vary the fill level with distance and the reflector surface--WHITE for soft fill up to SILVER for strong fill.

When it comes to gender the woman, in a session with her spouse, gets the BEST LIGHT! We will place her so that she is turned TO the main light--the shadow side of her face is at the camera--THE BASIC SHORT LIGHT PATTERN--and I adjust the fill as mentioned.

In addition I suggest the largest light modifier you can work with in your studio space. You can use your beauty-dish on models but I would not suggest it or ANY HARD LIGHT on normal people.

Ever since we started our studio, 25+years ago, we have steadily been increasing the size of our MAIN LIGHT with ever improving results.

When we got the SEVEN FOOT OCTODOME by PHOTOFLEX we hit the sweet spot. That's when I turned-off the fill light--I don't even need a fill light for groups with this main light!

So those are some of the basics; keep your Main Light on wheels and have fun!

The following are some examples of SHORT LIGHTING in the studio (the easiest to do) and outside using ONLY NATURAL LIGHT and a GOBO to block unwanted light (a bit more difficult).


f10.0 @ 1/200 ISO 200
Using one light and NO reflector to "cut the face"; lighting the mask of her face away from the camera.

f11.0 @ 1/200 ISO 200
One light with a white reflector, in close on right, just out of camera's view.

NOTE:  Both images above also have hair and background lights.

f5.0 @1/125 ISO 400

Here, Jasmine is in an alley aligned west/east. The sun is setting on camera LEFT and is reflecting off a tall building on camera RIGHT. We blocked the sunlight on the left with a large BLACK GOBO creating a nice shadow side on her face AND by removing the much brighter sunlight (2-stops brighter than the reflected light on the right) I could open my lens and slow my shutter enough to record the dim light in the doorway behind her.

f4.5 @ 1/250 ISO 400
Nick is a big athletic guy so I wanted to trim him some with some short light which was in "short supply" in this very open park! So, I leaned him into a small tree for it's GOBO EFFECT creating a nice shadow on the side of his face nearest my camera. The key to making this work is finding a tree with a small canopy.

Since he must be very close to the tree for it to make a shadow on his face the tree can't have a big over hanging canopy or it will block the light and eliminate my nice deep background at the same time.

Author:  Jerry W Venz, Certified PPA Master Photographer

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