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Many of the portrait lighting tips and techniques we’ve learned for individual portraits can also be applied to couples, families, or small groups. Large groups can also benefit from these techniques, but the regular portrait lighting configuration would be greatly modified to cover a large group of people.
Portrait lighting tips for couples will have to be modified somewhat from general portrait techniques to compensate for differences in height, position, and posing. So, let’s look at those issues and some good methods to take care of them.
Portrait Lighting Height
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There is a high probability that the couples coming to you for portraits will be different heights. With a lot of the couples I photograph, it’s not unusual for there to be as much as a foot of height difference. If that is the case, many of our couples photography lighting tips may need to be modified a little bit.
This type of situation is why I often choose continuous LED lights as my portrait lighting gear, since being continuously on allows me to see exactly what effect my repositioning lights is having. I could also do it with the modeling lights on my strobes, but for most subjects, I tend to use LED lighting anymore.
You want the Goldilocks range for the best light height, not too high, not too low. If the light is too high, the shorter person will probably have some unflattering deep shadows under the nose and chin. Too low, and the taller person will look like they’re in a classic horror movie.
Portrait Lighting Position
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Positioning the lights will be where the biggest changes will come with our couples photography lighting tips. Since we are dealing with two people, certain configurations such as what we may use for Rembrandt lighting or butterfly lighting may need to be modified to take into consideration having two subjects.
I like to set up my lights as a key light and a fill light and I often use diffusers such as umbrellas or softboxes. The key light will be the brighter light and my fill light will be just a little dimmer, usually a 2:1 ratio instead of the 3:1 and 4:1 that I tend to use for individual portraits.
I will also vary which sides are key and fill since I have two subjects I’m imaging. This step will go hand-in-hand with subject posing to get the best results.
Couple Portrait Subject Posing
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Here is where most of the action will happen during the couples portrait session. It’s usually best for me that I choose ahead of time a couple of workable portrait lighting setups. Then, during the actual photoshoot, I will vary their posing.
We can change the direction each one is facing. Start with a mostly straight on pose, facing the camera and with their outer shoulders angled slightly toward the camera. Then switch to the inner shoulder closer. Have them turn more towards each other next and take several images, varying which light is key and fill.
Now, you can have some fun with posing and the portrait lighting by trying to get the effects and techniques such as Rembrandt lighting in our couple portraits. For example, in order to get the right shadow shape for Rembrandt lighting with two people, have them face the same direction and then direct their posing until each of them has that triangle on their cheek.
Studio and Environmental
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All of these couples photography lighting tips can be accomplished with your portrait lighting equipment either in your studio or out on location such as for environmental portraiture. Some of the same portrait lighting equipment can be used as well.
For location shoots, I prefer small battery powered LED continuous lights or a camera controlled electronic flash unit set up. I always plan to be able to use at least two light sources if at all possible. The two lights can be sunlight and a reflector, sunlight and a flash or LED light, or two artificial lights. I carry additional reflectors just in case.
With these portrait lighting tips for couples photography, you will be able to provide your subjects with great looking couples portraits that will enjoy viewing and sharing.