- Picture Perfect Lighting: An Innovative Lighting System for Photographing People
- The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting Light and Shadow
- Portrait Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots
- Beginners Guide For Head Shot Portraits
- Essential Portrait Lighting Tips
- Basic Portrait Lighting Principles
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We are making great looking portraits with the basic and advanced portrait lighting techniques taught here. Having fun with it all, too. But nobody’s perfect. There are some common portrait lighting mistakes we should be aware of so we can eliminate them from our photo shoots.
It’s easy to look at a portrait and say that it was not lit properly. Determining what actually is going on is harder, but vital if we want to avoid these same issues recurring. I will assume you are familiar with the common portrait lighting tips, techniques, and methods from earlier portrait lighting tutorials.
Lights Too Low - Power
Some of the most common portrait lighting mistakes involve one or more lights in our configuration being turned down to low. Several of our portrait lighting techniques are accomplished with two or more lights and positioned or adjusted for lighting ratios.
Broad lighting, short lighting, Rembrandt lighting, loop lighting, high key, low key, and other techniques rely on manipulating chiaroscuro or lighting ratio and contrasts. If we don’t have the key light at a high enough power level, then the fill light ratio may not be able to be adjusted enough for our desired portrait lighting technique.
I have a lot of different lighting options in my main studio, but if I’m in my small home studio or on location for environmental portraits, I like to use small, battery powered continuous LED lamps with remote control as my lights. The Hakutatz LED lights shown above are a great addition to my portrait lighting equipment.
The Hakutatz lights are small and portable, emit good color, and I can control them from my smartphone for a smooth portrait session. The remote control function is what I really appreciate when on location or in cramped quarters. I can be at my camera, viewing my lighting ratios, and can change them without leaving my shooting position.
Recommended Portrait Lighting Reading:
Lights Too Low - Position
Photo by William Carlson on Unsplash
We know how to light portraits. Where to place the lights so we get the lighting rato we want. Sometimes, especially if in a hurry to set up, we may put in our lights in the correct position relative to the camera, but may neglect positioning at the proper height relative to the subject.
If we put the lights too high, probably not going to be much of an issue. For the most part, it won’t affect our lighting ratio or anything like that. Besides, if it’s really high up, we can see it easily.
When we place the lights too low relative to our subject’s face, then we introduce some extremely unflattering shadow effects. Under lighting makes people look scary. The effect is menacing. As kids, did you ever put a flashlight under your chin pointing up? Yeah, same effect.
Photo by Augusto Lotti on Unsplash
Even just a little below eye level will add an unnatural, undesirable shadow or contrast effect that your subject won’t like when you show them the images. Which is another reason I like using portable continuous lights like the Hakutatz when on location.
Setting up location shoots can be a little hectic sometimes. So having the instant feedback of continuous lighting helps eliminate portrait lighting mistakes like this. Without even looking through the viewfinder or at the viewscreen, you can tell if your lights are poorly placed.
Poor Shadow Placement
Photo by Alexander Mils from Pexels
This portrait lighting mistake can happen anywhere, with any type of portrait lighting equipment.
The purpose behind several of our portrait lighting techniques is creating and controlling shadows on the face of our subject. As an example, the Rembrandt lighting effect is a very specific shadow shape on the cheek of the portrait subject.
In our portrait lighting tutorials, we showed where you place the lights in order to get that triangle of light and shadow. But it’s more than just the lighting gear placement, the pose of the person also comes into play.
Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels
Same thing with loop lighting, broad lighting, short lighting, and the other chiaroscuro techniques. In many instances, simply directing the portrait subject to turn their a little or tilt it one way or the other is all it takes to correct this portrait lighting mistake.
To be in control of this before even taking the picture, I either use continuous lighting or turn on the modeling lights of my strobes. Then, I will review the exposures in camera to see if any further adjustments are necessary.
Don’t take too long doing this type of image review, though. If you check after each and every click of the shutter or spend a long time reviewing, you’re likely to lose the confidence of your client or subject. And that is one of the most damaging of the common portrait lighting mistakes.
Losing the Subject’s Confidence
photo by Chris6 via iStock
The portrait subject, the person in front of your lens, is placing their trust in you as an artist and craftsman. They have confidence in you as a photographer that you know what you’re doing and are going to give them the results they desire.
The person whose picture you’re taking often knows nothing or little about portrait lighting or other portrait photography techniques. To them, that’s your job. If you’re spending their session time mucking around with your lighting configuration or chimping every shot, they won’t come back, won’t recommend you to others.
That’s not to say that you can’t review shots or adjust lighting. You still need to do that, otherwise you’ll make these other portrait lighting mistakes. Just be sure to have your basic lighting configuration set up and be confident enough in your own capability to show your own confidence to them.
Losing Your Confidence
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
The worst of the portrait lighting mistakes is not having confidence in your ability, talent, or capacity to learn. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and dagnabbit, people like your photography!
Learn from your own mistakes how not to repeat them. Learn from the portrait lighting mistakes of others so you won't be making them in the first place.