Lighting Setups for Portraits of Men
- Smooth, Harsh, or Somewhere in Between
- Hard Light
- Rembrandt Lighting
- Direct Sunlight
- Soft Light
- Softboxes and Diffusers
- Men Are Great Portrait Subjects
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Men need portraits, too. Configuring lighting setups for portraits of men is simple to do. The same lighting setups will work just as well on men, women, or children. Even pets.
When deciding how to light a portrait for male subjects, we should decide how we want to have viewers perceive the subject. We can employ several of the different lighting setups in our repertoire, depending on what the desired end result is.
Table of Contents
Smooth, Harsh, or Somewhere in Between
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Taking portraits of men can be very rewarding. With some men, they are open to several styles of portrait lighting.
I like to look at some of the classic portrait work from artists such as Yusof Karsh, Richard Avedon, and Edward Weston. In their portrait work, they used light as a very powerful tool. With some subjects, they lit it with hard lighting setups to emphasize texture. With others, diffused light can be used to soften lines. Both styles work great for portraits of men.
Somewhere in the middle of harsh lighting and soft, diffused light is a range that can emphasize texture without making texture the focus of the image.
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Hard portrait lighting setups that show texture can also create a mood or even a sense of power. The texture doesn’t have to be extreme, either. It can be the strong masculine features of the face or form, or it can be smaller scale, such as skin or fabric.
Since not all of our male subjects want their images to remind people of Winston Churchill or Fidel Castro, we should configure our lighting setups to not be too extreme. Basic portrait photography tips besides lighting can also be used.
In addition to lighting, such tools as posing, camera lens choice, rules of composition, and exposure techniques can all be used together to make portraits of your main subjects that themselves and others will like to look at.
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One of the most talked about lighting setups in all of photography is Rembrandt lighting. While it may appear to be complicated at first, it’s surprisingly easy to make use of this portrait lighting setup.
We need two sources of light. But one of the sources can be sunlight, existing light, or even a reflector. The two most important aspects of this technique is that it is a modified form of side lighting and that we are looking for a particular shadow detail in the face.
Contrast is created by having the key or main light several stops brighter than our fill light. The side of the face closer to the key light can be bright or somewhat subdued, but we want the shadows on the face to be noticeable.
The triangle of light on the cheek away from the lit side is what makes the technique work. Without that tringle, it’s just a form of high contrast lighting setups. Posing and light position work together to create the proper effect.
A simple and quick way to get this effect either in the studio or in the field is to use a portable light that you can move around easily. I found success in the small battery powered LED lights from Hakutatz.
What makes this style of lighting gear a good choice is that they are small enough to be placed just about anywhere and the LED bulbs are so cool that a person can hold in their hands if they need to. That way, you have a lot of freedom to try out more or less severe versions of Rembrandt lighting for your male portrait subjects.
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The ultimate point light source for outdoor portraits of men is the Sun. Point light sources are harder than diffused, broader sources. Point sources are also highly directional. You can take advantage of these qualities as part of your outdoor lighting setups for portraits of men.
If you want a little more control over direct sunlight, you'll have to add another light source. A reflector is a very good choice. It’s also a good situation to use a portable continuous light like the Hakutatz LED light. One of the reasons for using the Hakutatz in this situation is the ability to adjust not just the power level, but also the color balance to blend it in with the sunlight.
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Moving the other way, employing some form of soft light is beneficial for pleasing portraits of men, too. Soft lighting setups minimize the effects of contrast, allowing for a smooth rendering of portrait subjects.
Some sort of diffusion is often the key in creating a soft light portrait. The results can take years off the face of older subjects or make people appear generally more approachable and friendly.
Softboxes and Diffusers
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It’s right there in the name, a softbox softens the quality of light falling on our male portrait subject. These are broad lights, which also softens light compared to point sources.
Besides the softboxes and umbrellas being broad themselves, the lighting technique of using broad lighting setups will result in a smooth, flattering effect. You can still get shadow modeling and contrast with soft light, it’s just quite a bit lowered compared to hard lighting setups like Rembrandt.
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The outdoors in daytime can be a soft lighting setup, too. An object or person lit by skylight can be brightly lit and yet virtually shadowless. In portrait lighting tips, this is sometimes referred to as open shade.
You find a spot without the Sun directly falling on the subject. Let the wide expanse of the open sky be your lighting setup. The light is diffused and therefore soft because it’s a huge light source. Over 28,000 miles wide as a natural softbox.
For fill light or eye catchlight, try out the small Hakutatz LED light here, too. Maybe adjust the color temperature to add a little warmth, since open skylight is also somewhat cool.
Men Are Great Portrait Subjects
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There are lots of reasons to want to make great portraits of men. From business headshots, to senior portraits, to family and environmental portraits, make use of your favorite lighting setups to create great portraits of male subjects.