may be too much light falling on the forehead and not
enough light falling on the lower part of the face. This
effect can be improved by moving the main light farther
away from the subject and placing it correctly.
Highlights on the forehead, the upper cheeks, the
chin, and along the bridge of the nose are created by the
main light. These highlights give life, brilliance, and
form to a portrait, and the quality of these highlights are
controlled by the main light distance.
To determine the main light distance, start with the
light about 4 feet from the subject and about 2 feet above
the subject's eye level. The light should be about a
45-degree angle to the lens axis. Observe the forehead
highlight and move the light closer to the subject; as the
light gets closer to the forehead, highlights spread out to
a large, flat area and begin to wash out.
Now, start moving the main light away from the
subject. As you slowly move it back, you will find there
is a point where the forehead highlight becomes
relatively small and bright. When the light is moved
back much further from this point, the highlight spreads
and disappears. Between the point where the highlight
is brightest and where it starts to disappear lies the range
where the highlight still has character. This point is
where you get the most pleasing effect. Once you have
found the distance where the main light gives your
desired effect, the distance should remain the same
regardless of the direction you need to move the light.
This main light distance should always be considered as
the starting point of portrait lighting.
Main Light Height
To determine the correct height for the main light,
move the light directly in front of the subject while
maintaining the distance determined for the forehead
highlight. Raise or lower the light until the shadow cast
by the nose is just long enough to touch the top edge of
the upper lip. This is the height the main light should
normally be no matter at what position you place it in
an arc around the subject.
When your subject is wearing a hat with a visor, the
visor shadow should fall naturally across the face. Many
photographers think the shadow cast by the visor should
not shade the eyes. The shadow from the visor should
shade the eyes, however, in a portrait, this shadow
should not be so dark that shadow detail is lost and the
eyes are hard to see. To prevent this shadow from being
too dark, raise the main light to the desired height, and
instead of aiming it down at an angle, aim it straight.
This way the light is cast under the visor and prevents
the shadow from becoming too dark
Main Light Direction
By the time you have determined the main light
distance and the height for a given subject, you should
have a pretty fair idea of the direction you want the main
light to come from. To establish the direction from
which this light should come, move the main light in an
arc, to the right or left, around the subject. Remember,
while moving the main light, its established distance and
height should be maintained.
The shadow cast by the subject's nose is your key
to main light direction. The light should be moved
around until the shadow cast by the nose merges with
the cheek shadow and leaves a small, triangular
highlight on the cheek. When this is done, the main light
is in position. Remember, the main light must always be
the dominant, directional, shadow pattern forming light.
Once the main light has been established, the fill or
fill-in light is added. This fill light is a secondary light
and must not overpower the main light. Its purpose is to
fill in and soften the shadow areas, making them lighter,
and to provide shadow detail.
The fill light is normally placed slightly above the
subject's eye level, on the opposite side of the camera
from the main light and near the camera lens axis. The
fill-in light should be less intense than the main light and
of softer quality. This light is often diffused even when
the main light is not.
By placing the fill light slightly above the subject's
eye level, you can cast a shadow under the chin. This
shadow separates the head from the neck. The chin
shadow should be soft and unpronounced.
The intensity of the fill-in light can be controlled by
either adjusting the power setting of an electronic studio
light set or adjusting the light-to-subject distance. The
fill light can be moved in an arc to the side of the subject
and away from the camera. The fill light must not
produce conflicting shadows (shadows that point
toward the main light).
There should be a small, bright reflection of the
main light in the eyes of the subject. This is a catch light.
The catch light adds life and brilliance to a portrait and