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One of the most popular lighting techniques for portraits is Loop Lighting. It is also sometimes called Glamour Lighting. It can be accomplished by using one light, a single light and reflectors, or multiple lights.
In this quick tutorial, learn how to use loop lighting to create beautiful portraits.
What is Loop Lighting?
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Loop lighting is a very simple light configuration that creates a somewhat flat lighting with a little bit of modeling. It is characterized by a loop of light and shadow under the nose.
Why is loop lighting for portraits a desirable lighting pattern? Because it gives photographers a way to have some light and shadow effect without any extremes of modeling that can be unflattering.
Another reason loop lighting is a great light configuration for portraits is because it is incredibly easy to set up.
How To Use Loop Lighting
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In its simplest form, loop lighting can be accomplished with one light.
Pose the subject and frame up your shot. Place the light near the camera position and raise it a little bit above eye level, but not so much that casts a noticeable shadow under their nose and chin, though. Then, move the light over to one side or the other, not more than about 45 degrees.
That is your basic one light loop lighting configuration. Have your subject turn their torso and face one way and then the other, noting how the light and shadow helps mold the face without showing a whole lot of texture. Loop lighting for portraits is one of the best ways to control your portrait lighting.
Any type of light will work. You can use a studio strobe, an off-camera flash, a video light, or some other type of continuous light. A battery powered LED light such as the Hakutatz LED light shown above is a great choice for this portrait lighting effect.
The Hakutatz LED light is controllable by an app for Android smartphones or iPhones, so you can use loop lighting for iPhoneography portraits as well. Additionally, lights like this offer tons of flexibility in terms of the color of light (i.e., amber, white, and RGB) as well as the brightness, both of which are fully adjustable, even from the smartphone app.
Loop Lighting Tips
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A top tip for using loop lighting for portraits is to add another light source to the set up. A reflector can be added to the side across from the light. This will soften the shadow effect by redirecting some light back on to the face of the subject. I like to point this reflector at the subject’s eyes, making them shine brightly out of a slight shadow.
A second flash or continuous light can also be used in place of the reflector. If you choose to add a second light, lower the intensity of the light so there isn’t a 1:1 ratio between it and the main light. This would essentially be two main lights and the results would look very flat, which is a good setup for small product lighting, but not good for most portrait subjects.
If the power output of the second light is adjustable, start out ¼, ⅓, or ½ power and see how that looks. A multicolored light like the Hakutatz LED light can add color effects to your portrait when used as the fill light. That may not be to everyone's taste, but give it a try if you have access to a light with that feature or some color gel filters.
Inverse Square Law Gives You Control
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If your second, or fill, light doesn’t have variable power, you can change the intensity of the second light by moving it away from the subject. The inverse square law will allow you to figure out how much light fall off there will be for the distance you move the light away from the subject position.
The Inverse Square Law in photographic lighting is calculated quite easily. If you double the distance from light source to subject, you reduce the light to ¼ intensity. That’s a general purpose calculation, other components factor in, but this will work as a rule of thumb. Being aware of this characteristic of light gives you control over lighting ratios.
Adding More Lights
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Other lights that can be added to this very basic loop lighting configuration are background lights and hair lights.
Background lights can be varied in several ways. The placement of the background light can be adjusted by pointing the light directly at the subject or at the background. The light can be the same color as the main and fill or any number of other colors. Power level changes also have an effect on the final image, too.
A hair light is often done with a snoot (a sort of light funnel) or a lens. The hair light can come from any direction and be any color or intensity.
Loop Lighting and Other Patterns
Loop lighting is simply one of the basic lighting patterns available to portrait photographers. Above is a simple-to-follow lighting patterns tutorial from Ernesto Sue Photography that helps explain portrait lighting for beginners and advanced photographers.
Using loop lighting for portraits will enhance your portrait photography skills and give you amazing results with just a little extra effort. Give these tips a try and see what a difference they can make in helping you get gorgeous results!