Rim Lighting - Simple Technique for Dramatic Portraits
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Rim lighting is one of the techniques used to create amazing and dramatic portraits. The same technique can also be employed for small product photography and fine art photography.
In this tutorial, we will show what to use as rim lighting equipment, rim light placement, and how to use rim lighting.
What Is Rim Lighting?
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Rim lighting typically comes from behind the subject and is a type of split lighting. Split lighting ‘splits’ your subject into two halves, one highlighted, the other in deep shadow. Rim lighting can be used by itself or in conjunction with other lighting configurations.
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In many instances, rim lighting is used to more or less silhouette your subject. I say more or less because rim lighting adds in the element of highlights around or along the edge of the subject. So it is not merely a dark figure with light behind it, part of the subject is in the light.
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Simple Rim Lighting Setup
Let’s use a clock face to visualize where to place your rim lighting equipment to get a dramatic portrait.
If we place the portrait subject in the middle of the clock face, position your camera at six o’clock. Pose your subject so they are facing about five o’clock. Now, put your light at two o’clock or three o’clock. Expose for good detail in the highlight areas while letting the rest fall into deep shadow.
That’s a rim light placement! In this rim lighting example, you can make it happen with a single light. One of the lights I like to use for this rim lighting setup is the Hakutatz Pocket Size RGB+AW LED Light.
This light is a small, battery powered, continuous light. One of the things I really find useful with this compact LED light is that it can be controlled by a smartphone app. So, even if the only camera on you is your iPhone or Galaxy, you can still make use of advanced lighting techniques for portraits.
Add To Other Techniques
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Rim lighting works great as a single light portrait setup, but you can also add the effect to other portrait lighting configurations. Rim light placement would remain about the same as the example I laid out above, but the effect will be minimized compared to using a single light.
When added to other portrait light setups, it becomes a form of hair light or halo lighting. For this purpose, your rim lighting equipment should probably include a snoot.
Alternatively, you could use a light like the Hakutatz Pocket Size RGB+AW LED Light which has variable power and multiple colors available.
A well-lit portrait with a color rim added makes a very dramatic portrait when shot in low-key. Expose for high key and that color rim lighting exudes an air of playfulness. Play around with your options.
Editor's Note: The Hakutatz Kickstarter campaign was a huge success! Their Amazon store will be open and ready for orders soon.
Rim Lighting Examples
For some nice rim lighting examples, take a look at this video from Adrew Boey at the Beyond Photography YouTube channel.
Here is an informative article from one of the foremost online photography schools, New York Institute of Photography, that also has some interesting examples.
Rim Lighting With Natural Light
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Can you make use of rim lighting without using artificial lighting? Yes, you can. All you need is for the light to come from the proper direction for your needs.
The amazing light quality we get during Golden Hour photography is perfect for rim lighting. Golden Hour lighting is already beautiful by its very nature.
Moving around to capture the right direction for rim lighting is essential to natural lighting anyways. So, move around and expose for rim lighting with the setting or rising sun as your light source.
Rim Light is Beautiful Light
photo by primipil via iStock
When everything comes together for that perfect, dramatic portrait, it makes you feel great. Whether using a single artificial light, multiple lights with rim lighting added, or making use of Golden Hour sunlight, you will capture dramatic portraits with rim lighting.
Many of the lighting techniques used by professional portrait artists are available for anyone to use with minimal lighting equipment and any type of camera. Regardless of what level of photographer you consider yourself to be, try out rim lighting for dramatic portraits.