A Short Course Book
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment

Portrait and Product Photography

Click to explore the main light.
Click to explore the fill light.
Click to explore the background light.
Click to explore the rim light.
Click to explore hard and soft light.
In the studio, you usually use more than one light to illuminate a portrait or product. The goal is often to create light that looks like that found outdoors. The lights can be hot lights, strobes, or slave flash units-or even fill cards. Sometimes you can get away with only one or two lights but the use of main, fill, background and rim lights is a classic studio lighting setup for portraits and other subjects.
  • The main light is positioned somewhat to one side of the subject and somewhat above it.
  • A fill light is placed opposite the main light, but more nearly at the subject's level. It's usually farther from the subject than the main light so it doesn't illuminate the subject with the same intensity.
  • A background light is used to control the lighting on the background behind the main subject.
  • A rim light is placed quite high and behind the subject and pointing toward the camera so it highlights edges and separates the subject from the background.
For most purposes you can get by with just the main light and a fill light. In fact, you can often get along with just the main light by replacing the fill light with reflectors to bounce light into the shadows. The way you position a light relative to the subject is very important.
  • As you move a light farther away from the subject you reduce the light falling on it. Because there is less light you may have to use a larger aperture which gives less depth of field.
  • Moving a light back hardens its light, while moving it closer softens it. This is because the size of the light relative to the subject determines if the light is hard or soft. Think of using the camera's built in flash to photograph a flower. The image will have well exposed areas but also dark detailess shadows. This is hard light because the flash is so small. Now imagine photographing the flower in a light tent. The light source is now the entire tent, huge compared to the subject. The light is much more even and the shadows dramatically diminished. You can have one light illuminate the subject with more intensity than another light. The difference between the two lights is called the lighting ratio.

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