Portraiture, like any other photographic endeavor, requires that you have a good bit of gear.
Heck, even if you just have your camera, a couple of lenses, a flash and tripod, and a few other essentials, you're carrying quite the load.
It's a good thing there are so many photography companies out there making top-notch gear that's lightweight, small, and easy to carry.
That's what I meant in the title when I said "stealthy."
The products outlined below aren't going to cover you in an invisibility cloak...
But what they will do is help you travel lean and mean, which means you can work faster and longer, get more high-quality shots, and do so without lumbering around with a bunch of heavy gear.
Sounds good, right?
Here's some of my favorite lightweight portraiture gadgets...
3D Flex Flash WYNG
If ever there was a small, lightweight gadget that you need for your portrait photography kit, the WYNG by 3D Flex Flash is it.
Check this thing out...
It's 3D printed - which is just stinking cool in and of itself - and it's incredibly durable. Made of just a single piece of plastic, this thing is flexible so it won't rip or tear.
It's also super easy to use.
There's no buckles, no velcro, and no straps. You literally just slip it on your flash and start shooting. It doesn't get any easier than that!
What's more, this little guy is super lightweight, coming in at a mere 2 ounces. It's completely flexible, meaning you can fold it up and shove it in your camera bag without taking up hardly any space at all. See how the WYNG is made in the video below:
That means that no matter where your photo shoot is at, you have a highly effective bounce reflector with a curved surface that reflects flattering light towards the subject, resulting in even lighting with less harsh shadows on your subject's face.
As if that's not enough, the WYNG doesn't impair the movement of your flash, so you can easily switch from portrait to landscape mode, or turn the flash around for even softer lighting.
You can diffuse, bounce, and reflect light, all with one simple gadget that's affordable too.
If that's not flash photography simplified, I don't know what is!
A 5-in-1 Reflector
A 5-in-1 reflector is about as lightweight of a camera accessory as there is. After all, it weighs just a few ounces.
And if you've never worked with a set of reflectors before, they collapse together into a single, flat, circular package that you can slip in the back of your camera bag or even just clip to the exterior of your bag for easy access.
But the beauty of these reflectors isn't just that they are easily stored away and super lightweight - they are incredibly versatile too, as Eskild Fors explains in the video below:
Use the gold reflector to warm up the tones in the shot or the silver reflector to brighten up your subject.
The white reflector can be used to fill in shadows on a model's face while the black material is used to enhance shadows.
There's even a translucent reflector that can be used as a diffuser to soften the light, resulting in an image with less contrast and more even lighting.
And all that comes in a single, very inexpensive package. It's hard to beat that!
Portable Muslin Backdrop
A common obstacle that portrait photographers face is the occasional ugly background when shooting on location.
Some will argue that all you need to do to deal with an ugly background is throw it out of focus by manipulating the depth of field to be quite shallow.
The problem with that approach is that if the background has crazy colors or a ton of dynamic range, it can be distracting even if it's out of focus.
The solution is to have a portable muslin backdrop handy.
Like the 5-in-1 reflector, the muslin backdrop shown above collapses down to a small, easily-portable size so you can take it with you wherever you go. What's amazing is that when popped out, it's 5 feet wide and 6 1/2 feet tall, all from a package that's just 27 inches in diameter.
So, when an unfortunate background rears its ugly head, all you have to do is unfurl the backdrop, attach it to a stand as shown above, and place it behind your portrait subject for a plain white or black background.
This particular backdrop is made of high-quality cotton, so it's durable and will stand up to the abuses of frequent use. What's more, it's got a matte finish on both sides, so you get a nondescript background that won't have any reflections to distract the viewer's eye away from the subject.
Even better, you can pick up a portable backdrop on the cheap, so you don't have to worry about breaking the bank to get one.
Don't let shooting on location be a burden. Outfit yourself with the right gear, and you can work faster and more efficiently.
Besides, you'd be surprised at just how much these three high-quality, lightweight, and inexpensive products can positively impact your images!
Taking a high-quality portrait isn't just a matter of having a nice camera, a good lens, and a pretty model.
If only it were that easy!
Instead, there are all sorts of other considerations to make.
You have to think about the setting of the photo shoot and how it might help (or hinder) your ability to create a nice portrait.
There's the background to worry about, too: Is it too busy? Does it distract the viewer's eye? Is it too plain and boring?
Of course, one crucial aspect of portrait photography hasn't been listed yet...
But there's more to lighting a portrait than simply having light. You need to think about the pattern of light as well.
In this tutorial, we take a look at six classic lighting patterns, each of which can help you create a distinctive portrait.
A Quick Definition
Before we dive into the six different options for lighting patterns, we need to come to an agreement regarding what a lighting pattern is in the first place.
If we're going for a quick and easy definition, a lighting pattern can be described as the manner in which light interacts with a model's facial features to create areas of light and shadow.
The key feature that differentiates each pattern is the shape of the shadow that's created on the model's face. In each instance, the shapes of those shadows are unique and completely change the look and feel of the portrait depending on which one is used.
There are two styles of lighting of which to be aware - short and broad.
There are also four patterns of lighting you need to be familiar with: butterfly, split, loop, and Rembrandt.
Let's examine each in more detail.
When using short lighting, the light source is used to cast a shadow on the side of the model's face that's nearest the camera, as seen in the image above.
In this case, the model has turned her face toward the light source, which is to her right.
As a result, her right cheek is illuminated while her left cheek is in shadow.
That large area of shadowing on her left cheek is the hallmark of short lighting - with this lighting style, the largest area of the face will appear in shadow.
A great way to achieve this look is to use an off-camera hot-shoe flash mounted to a tripod.
For the image above, the flash would be positioned to the model's right. However, because the light needs to be softened, it's a good idea to soften that light with a diffuser.
Unlike short lighting, broad lighting is a style of lighting that results in the shadow appearing on the model's far cheek, as seen above.
You can see how the subject is now looking away from the light, which is positioned to her right, our left.
As a result of this, there is a large area of light on the right side of her face and a shadowed area on the left side of her face.
Note as well that with broad lighting, the area that's illuminated is typically larger and the shadowed area is usually smaller than if narrow lighting is used, though that isn't always the case.
Broad lighting also has the effect of widening a subject's face. This makes it a useful tool when photographing people that have an especially slim face.
But just as was seen in the example of short lighting previously, in broad lighting, the light is still very soft and diffused.
When you look at the portrait above, you can see why butterfly lighting is named as such.
If you look closely, there is a butterfly-shaped shadow under the model's nose.
This is achieved by positioning the primary light above and behind the camera, such that it is placed directly above the photographer.
With the light falling on the model from slightly above, the butterfly shadow appears under her nose, with some shadows present under her chin as well. But because the light is also positioned directly in front of her, most other shadows are minimized for a clean, even look.
This type of lighting style is typically used for glamor and fashion portraits. It's also a popular option for older models because the frontlighting helps to minimize the appearance of wrinkles.
Split lighting is named as such because the lighting splits the face into two equal sides, one illuminated and the other in shadow.
This lighting pattern is typically used to created portraits that are dramatic with a lot of depth, like the one seen above.
Split lighting is easy to set up - just put the light at a 90-degree angle to the subject. In the case of the image above, the light is 90-degrees to the model's right.
When placing the light, be sure to think about how the model's face is structured. To be true split lighting, the eye on the shadowed side of the face should actually be illuminated.
However, not everyone's nose allows for this. Try turning the model's head more toward the light, but if the light illuminates more than the eye on the shadowed side (i.e., their cheek), split lighting in its purest form won't work with that particular model.
The beauty of split lighting is that you can simply use natural lighting to get a great effect. Even if it's slightly overcast out, there should be enough sunlight if you position the model at a 90-degree angle to the sun to get enough shadowing on the far side of their face to get a nice split lighting effect.
When using loop lighting, you'll notice small shadows from the model's nose on his or her cheek.
To create these shadows, the light source is placed just above eye level and at around 45-degrees from the camera.
In the image above, you can see how the shadow from her nose extends onto her left cheek. However, note that the shadow from her nose does not touch the shadow created by her cheek.
By keeping the nose shadow small, you create the nice loop-sized area of light on the model's upper cheek.
Naturally, since everyone has a different nose and cheek structure, you'll have to play with the angle of light and the manner in which the model is posed to get the precise loop lighting you want.
To get this type of look, try an outdoor photo shoot in which the sun is behind your subject, and your subject is in the shade. Then, use a reflector to bounce light onto the subject's faces from a slightly higher position than their eyes. Remember also to try to maintain the positioning of the reflector at a 45-degree angle to the camera.
Rembrandt lighting involves a triangle of light on the model's cheek.
This is similar in look to loop lighting, but in this case, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek touch to create the triangle of light you see on the model's left cheek above.
When setting up a Rembrandt lighting pattern, pay close attention to the eye on the shadowed side of the face as it actually needs to catch the light. If it doesn't, the eye will look deep and dark, and that's not a good look!
To setup Rembrandt lighting, place the light source above the model's head such that the shadow of their nose comes downward toward their cheek. Manipulate the model's pose until you see the hallmark triangle of light on the off-side of their face.
Like other lighting patterns, Rembrandt lighting is not ideally suited for everyone. For example, models with very high cheekbones of very small noses typically won't work for this particular pattern of lighting.
Get a quick overview of most of these lighting patterns and see them in action in the video below from Ed Verosky:
Like just about everything else in photography, when it comes to using these lighting patterns and styles, there are exceptions to the rule.
If you can't achieve the precise look as prescribed by these lighting schemes, that's okay!
Be willing to experiment with the placement of the light source, the angle to which your model is looking at the light, and the angle from which you take the portrait.
Nothing says you have to replicate these lighting patterns exactly. In the end, what's important is that you have these lighting patterns and styles at your disposal; if you have to tweak them to meet your needs, do so!
Many of the best photographs in the world were taken by breaking or bending one rule or another. Don't be afraid to be a rule breaker as well. Your photos can benefit from that just as much as they can from following the rules.
Furthermore, remember that you can use just about any type of lighting to achieve any of these looks.
As noted throughout the article, natural lighting, natural lighting plus reflectors, and diffused light are all options for many of the lighting schemes discussed above.
All that's left now is for you to experiment with each one!
- Best Camera Settings for Portrait Photography
- These Three Tricks Will Help You Create a Beautiful Portrait
Let's have a good ol' fireside chat, just you and I...
I'm going to be very candid with you on a few items that I just absolutely love and think you would benefit from having in your camera bag.
This list of five photography gadgets is based on my experience using every single one of these things...
That means I've put in the time and effort to get to know these products firsthand, so you've got a reliable resource to depend on when outfitting yourself with new gear.
I want to reiterate - I'm genuinely excited about each and every one of these products. This isn't just lip-service!
These things have changed the way I approach photography, and I want you to have the same kind of experience by using gadgets that make it easier to take better photos and manage your photography business.
Let's start off with the small device pictured above.
It's plastic, kind of funny looking, has a number of knobs on it, and pivots at one corner. It's called Handlepod.
What's so special about this thing?
I'll tell you...
You see, I can be lazy at times, to the point where I just don't want to carry much more than my camera with me.
On those days, I'm talking about taking my Sony A6300 and one lens.
This means no tripod.
The problem is, if the lighting gets too dark, getting a sharp still shot is nearly impossible without cranking up the ISO to 1,000,000.
OK, this camera's ISO goes nowhere near there...however, you get the point.
This HandlePod gadget is perfect for such occasions. It fits in my pocket and does the job of my tripod when I'm traveling light.
Technically, it does more than what my tripod can do...
You can use it as a freestanding mini quadpod, as a handheld stabilizing device, or even attach it to a tree, a fence post, or another stationary object for hands-free use.
In short, it's not only lightweight, easy to carry, and versatile, but it's also quite inexpensive too. I love this thing for that very reason!
3D Flex Flash WYNG
The 3D Flex Flash WYNG is simply light modifier awesomeness. I'm not even sure that's a word, but that's just how stinking cool this thing is.
Personally, I don't do a whole lot of flash work. But when I do, I want the best product.
I also want something that doesn't take up a ton of space in my bag because I'm one of "those people" that stuffs his bag full of gear, and often have way too much gear for what I'm doing (let alone to fit in my bag).
That's one of the things I like most about WYNG - when it's not in use, it's incredibly compact.
I can place this thing pretty much anywhere in my bag because it's 3D printed from a single piece of durable, flexible plastic. See it in action in the video below:
In fact, you can crumple the thing up and put it in your pocket, and when you're ready to use it, it reshapes itself as though it was never smashed and folded.
There's also no other parts - no straps or velcro or buckles. You simply slide it on your flash, and you're ready to go.
Did I mention it's crazy affordable too?
In the world of big and bulky light modifiers that are overpriced, this 3D Flex Flash WYNG is nothing short of genius!
Alpine Labs Pulse
Speaking of tiny gadgets that pack a big punch...
Do you see that little guy sitting on top of the camera in the photo above?
That's Pulse by Alpine Labs. Cute, huh?
But trust me when I say this thing might look nondescript, but man is it a game-changer.
Pulse is basically a camera remote, only better in every single conceivable way...
For starters, you control Pulse via a smartphone app. That means you can set up your gear, then have a seat (or a nap!) up to 100 feet away thanks to Bluetooth connectivity.
And I don't just mean you can fire the shutter from the app...
Nope, Pulse is much more powerful.
You can adjust exposure settings like aperture and ISO. You can get real-time image previews of the photos you take. You can check the exposure levels of those photos by scoping out a histogram - all on your phone. See what I mean in the video above...
But you get the picture here. This thing is beyond rad.
BUT, that's just part of the story.
Yep, it's that versatile!
All in a package that can easily fit in a side pocket of your camera bag (or you can stuff it in your pocket with your WYNG)!
Grip & Shoot
I think it's probably the understatement of the century to say that smartphones have become legitimate photography and videography tools.
I mean, not to toot my own horn, but I've gotten some pretty impressive photos and videos on my iPhone. I'm sure you have too!
One of the things that has enabled me to improve my results with my smartphone camera is the gadget shown above.
The Grip & Shoot is the ideal tool for taking photos and videos.
It enables wireless control over your phone, so you can easily do what needs to be done while maintaining a solid grip with just one hand.
Grip & Shoot even has integrated buttons (three of them!) that allow you to zoom in, zoom out, and fire the shutter. You can also start and stop video recording, all from the Grip & Shoot's handle.
That means no more photos with your fingers protruding into the shot because your hand will be far away from the lens, comfortably holding onto the Grip & Shoot. In fact, with Bluetooth 4.0, Grip & Shoot lets you control your phone from up to 100 feet away.
Better still, Grip & Shoot has an open API, so if you have some programming know-how, you can make the Grip & Shoot's buttons do whatever you please.
That's not a bad deal if you ask me!
Ok, so this last one isn't a gadget you can carry in your camera bag, but it's an innovative product that I think you'll agree is something that is extremely useful.
It's called Iris Works, and it's just about the best studio management software around today.
After getting in there and playing with the program's features, I came away totally blown away by just how much Iris Works has packed into one package.
I'm not the most organized person in the world, but Iris Works has helped me overcome that problem.
It has a to-do list function, so I know what needs to be done. It has a calendar so I can quickly see the projects I've got coming up too.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg...
Iris Works does things that will just blow your mind.
Want to know what the weather will be like for your shoot tomorrow? Iris Works can tell you...
Need to send out client invoices in a timely fashion? Iris Works fits the bill (pun intended!).
Do you have contracts to create and send out or payments that need to be collected from clients? Iris Works does that too.
It'll even let you scope out locations and send your clients directions to the shoot - all without leaving the Iris Works interface.
When I say that this thing is the ideal personal assistant for a photographer, I mean it!
At the end of the day, these gadgets have opened up a whole new world for me as a photographer - one that results in better photos and better organization.
That's an awesome feeling, but so too is getting these gadgets without breaking the bank.
But, as I've experienced, each of these products is worth its weight in gold - and more, if you ask me!
When it comes to creating any type of photo - a portrait, a landscape, a macro scene, and everything in between, lighting is the most important factor.
But as you've probably discovered, lighting is also one of the most difficult aspects of getting a high-quality photo.
In some cases, the lighting is too bright and harsh.
On other occasions, it's too dim and dark.
You might not know how to use continuous lighting to your advantage.
Using a flash or a strobe might be a little confusing as well.
So, there's lots to learn, to be sure!
Let's get started learning more about lighting with these 10 essential lighting facts.
Light Has Color
All light has color, or more specifically, a color temperature.
Our eyes are very skilled at seamlessly detecting these variations in color and adjusting our vision such that it usually goes unnoticed.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the sensor in your camera.
Your camera's sensor records the color of light as it sees it - that is unless you tell it otherwise.
For example, in the image above, the light is very "warm," with a golden tone to it that's common after sunrise and before sunset during Golden Hour.
Conversely, light during the middle of the day has a much cooler tone, with an almost blueish appearance and indoor tungsten lighting is very yellow.
You can control for these color casts by using the white balance controls on your camera to neutralize those colors. Learn how to do that by watching the in-depth video below by Mike Browne:
Distance Makes Your Lighting Dimmer
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's still worth mentioning.
The further your subject is from a light source, the dimmer the lighting will be.
In fact, light falls off very quickly as it's moved away - at a rate of the square of the distance.
That means that if the light source is moved twice as far away, you get just one-fourth of the light you originally had.
If you find that the lighting is just too dim for what you need to do, either move the light closer to your subject or move the subject closer to the light.
Alternatively, you can use dim lighting as just one creative way to use lighting, as was done in the image above.
The Fall Off of Light Helps Define the Background
The manner in which the distance to a light source impacts its brightness doesn't just impact the subject. It also impacts the background.
For example, if your light source is very near your subject, they will be more brightly lit, but the background will be much more in shadow.
Conversely, if you move the light source further away from your subject, the subject will be more dimly lit, but the background will be brighter.
So, if you want to create an image in which the background is unseen, keep the lighting close to your subject.
However, if you want to show the relationship between the subject and the background, move your light source further away from the subject, as was done in the image above.
If the Lighting is Too Harsh, Broaden the Light Source
Let's say you're taking a portrait and find that there are harsh shadows on your subject's face.
This might occur because the subject is too near a bare source, like a flash or even a window through which the sun is shining.
An easy way to rectify this is to choose a broader light source, or one that is diffused in some way.
When a broader light source is used, the light hits the subject from more directions. That helps fill in shadows and provide a much more even lighting for the subject.
Looking at the image above, you can see how the lighting on the mom and her child is very even and broad.
This was accomplished by diffusing the intensity of the sunlight of the window by moving the subjects deeper into the house. This has the effect of broadening the light, making it much more pleasing for the portrait.
So, if you find the lighting to be too harsh, do what you can to diffuse the light - if indoors, pull the curtains to soften the light. If outdoors, seek shade or shoot on a cloudy day.
Speaking of Diffusion...It's Your Friend!
Diffusion is certainly your friend when you need to improve the lighting for your photos.
When diffusion occurs, the lighting source is scattered, making it more even.
So, when using a flash, the bare flash emits extremely intense, harsh lighting, which is often not flattering.
However, add a gadget like the 3D Flex Flash NEST, and you get soft, diffused lighting that results in a far more pleasing image.
The NEST works because its honeycomb lid allows plenty of light through, but scatters it around the scene for both indoor and outdoor usage.
All you have to do is slide it onto your hot-shoe mounted flash and you're ready to go! There's no complicated mounting brackets, no straps, and no velcro. It literally just slides right on!
The NEST even has a removable lid so if you need to increase the lighting to bounce it off the ceiling, for example, you can quickly and easily do that.
This gadget is also flexible - you can fold it flat for easy storage - and durable too, because it's 3D printed with a single piece of plastic.
If you need to diffuse light from your flash, there's not an easier way to do it than with the 3D Flex Flash NEST.
Bounced Light is Better Light
Another way to diffuse intense light is to bounce it off another surface.
For example, if lighting a portrait with a single flash, aiming the flash directly at your subject will result in intense and harsh light.
As noted above, you can diffuse that light by filtering it through a gadget like the NEST.
Another option you can try is to bounce the light.
3D Flex Flash has another handy lighting tool called the WYNG that does just that.
Like the NEST, the WYNG simply slides onto your hot-shoe mounted flash.
Once in place, the lightweight and flexible WYNG reflects light forward and bounces it off walls, ceilings, and the like, while also eliminating those ugly, harsh shadows. You can turn your flash 180-degrees for an even softer lighting effect.
And like the NEST, the WYNG is made of a single piece of 3D printed plastic, so it's strong and durable, yet flexible and easily stored in your camera bag.
Don't let bad lighting get in the way of your photos anymore. Add a WYNG to your kit so you can get the soft, reflected light you need for the most impactful photos. See the WYNG and the NEST in action in the video below:
Frontlighting Minimizes Shadows
If your goal is to minimize shadows, frontlighting is the way to go.
Frontlighting occurs when the light source shines directly onto the subject, like a flash in a portrait photography studio.
While frontlighting minimizes shadows, it also minimizes texture, which is often advantageous when creating portraits of older individuals that might want the appearance of wrinkles to be minimized.
As you can see in the image above, there are no shadows on the man's face because of the bright, even frontlighting that was used.
On the downside, frontlighting is quite flat, with very little dimension as a result of the absence of shadowing.
Just bear those qualities in mind when deciding how to light your subject.
Sidelighting Adds Drama
When light enters a scene from the side, it adds long shadows that give the image the depth and dimension that frontlighting lacks.
This is a popular type of lighting for landscapes, as it gives the image a more three-dimensional look.
It can also be used effectively for portraits with a more artistic flair, like the image above.
You can see how the light entering the scene from our left gives this image an incredible amount of drama, especially compared to the frontlit portrait example in the previous section.
If you're looking for lighting that gives your image tons of visual impact, try sidelighting.
Backlighting Reduces Detail, But Can Still Be Dramatic
When a portrait is backlit, the lighting source is behind the subject, shining directly towards your camera.
In the portrait world, this often results in a silhouette like the one shown above.
Note how backlighting minimizes detail of the subject, but there's still enough detail to determine that the subject is a man seated on a bench with his head in his hands.
But, despite not having all the detail you'd otherwise have if the scene were frontlit or lit from the side, this image still has tons of drama because of the shadows in the scene.
You can vary the effect of the silhouette, too. For a darker silhouette, expose for a brighter part of the sky. For more details in the subject, expose for a darker part of the scene. You can even use Photoshop to backlight your portraits!
Use Shadows to Create Volume
As noted above, sidelighting and backlighting often produce more dramatic images because of the inclusion of shadows.
That's because shadows create volume in the scene, which gives it a more three-dimensional look.
With that volume, your images - whether they are landscapes, portraits, or something in between - will have more visual impact.
That means that if you want to give your photos added punch, try lighting them from the side, from behind, or even from above or below.
The shadows that result from those lighting schemes, as you can see in the image above, can be quite pleasing.
And with that, you've got ten facts about lighting that will help you create more impactful portraits.
Give each of these tips a try and see how they change the quality of the photographs you create!