The Five Basic Portrait Lighting Setups Every Photographer Should Know

Learning these basic portrait lighting techniques is the first step to making stunning images of your subjects

Want to be an outstanding portrait photographer? One of the first things you have to master is how to light your subjects for the most flattering portraits. There are five basic portrait lighting setups that you have to learn, especially if you’re keen on working in the studio. Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens has a quick and very informative video tutorial to show you how it’s done.

Portrait photography in the studio may seem intimidating at first, but it’s very easy to get started with. In the video below, Jay demonstrates the five portrait lighting techniques you can practice with using just one light source.

There you have it. Pretty easy, don’t you think? If you’re just getting started with portrait photography in the studio, you don’t need elaborate lighting setups and tons of expensive equipment. All you need is one light that you can move around to achieve all five lighting techniques. Jay calls them Rembrandt, Split Light, Broad Light, Paramount Light, Loop Light, and Hard Light. These are key to all light on set, and with enough practice you’ll be able to achieve more advanced lighting techniques later on.

While we’re at it, let’s quickly recap Jay’s tips and tricks with these portrait lighting techniques. The Rembrandt follows the chiaroscuro lighting used and popularized by the Dutch painter it’s named after. It’s characterized by the triangle of light produced underneath the eye on one side of the face. The Split Light does what its name suggests: it splits your subject’s face into a highlight and a shadow. Broad Light simply refers to lighting the side of the subject who faces the camera. The Paramount Light is a flattering, overhead light typically used for glamour portraits. The Loop Light is somewhat like an incomplete Rembrandt; the light doesn’t close into a triangle shape but instead extends downwards from the side of the nose and the chin, creating a “loop” of shadow under the nose. Lastly, Hard Light is simply using a strong light source to make hard shadows around your subject’s face (more of that here).

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Screenshot taken from the video