Natural Portrait Lighting and Silhouettes

Over the weekend, I did a shoot with my cousin, Joey. I did her hair and chose her outfits. Although we just goofed around most of the time, (much camera shake…oops), I did get some shots. The lighting conditions were decent that day. It was just barely sunny, but not too bright or overcast. I started off inside and tried different window setups. The soft, back window lighting (the first photo below) seemed to work best. There are a few distractions in the corners of each photo which could have been eliminated through post-production, but we are focusing on lighting here.

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I also tried to capture some silhouettes. I really like how these turned out, especially the middle photo where not all the colour/form is taken out. This was shot in Manual with a small aperture (to get a sharp edge) and low ISO (to reduce noise in silhouette shape itself). I aimed for an uncluttered, bright background to offset a dark subject to provide that contrast difference.

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I really like how this one turned out.


Next, are the outdoor photos. All of these were taken in the shade in the soft natural light.

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Rembrandt, Split, and Beauty Lighting in the Studio

Last week, I went into the studio to try and get more comfortable with the studio lights. I particularly focused on trying out common portrait lighting styles for the first time. I learned how to get an accurate exposure reading in Manual mode in order to correctly light the subject without it being influenced by any background changes. There are four main types of studio lights that we used: the key light, the fill light, the hair light, and the background lights to brighten the backdrop. I learned to turn on each of these lights individually to see exactly where the lights and shadows fall on my subject. The key light was used for getting the exposure reading and lighting up the main highlights on the face.

Here is an example shot with just the key light. The light was place at a 45 degree angle to the model which creates Rembrandt lighting.


Here is just the hairlight. My model’s hair was fairly dark, so 3/5 of the lights in the softbox were turned on.


These are shot with both the key, fill, and hair lights. The fill light was considerably less powerful than the key light. The shadows could have been lit up more with the fill light. It would have been considered loop lighting if the shadow created with the key light connected with the one on the right side of her face. In terms of post-production, I learned techniques with the adjustment brush relative specifically to portraits such as soften skin, teeth whiten, and iris brightning. Both of these examples are definitely on the high key side of things.

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At the end of the block, we tried to fit in split lighting where two lights are placed on either side of the model at 90 degrees to the camera. The shadows cast on exactly half of the face creates a more edgy feel to the photo.


This is an example of butterfly or beauty lighting from the previous day in the studio. It is done with two lights positioned in front of the model (front lighting) in a “clamshell” arrangement. I was shooting from between the two lights. This kind of lighting creates a barely noticeable butterfly shadow just under the nose and the brights on the face add a soft, glamorous look.


People always say natural lighting is the best; nothing beats it. After this trial, I am becoming more familiar with the capabilities of studio lighting. But overall, I still generally prefer natural lighting. Studio lights can create specific artistic looks and I would definitely like to keep on going with it, but natural lighting is much more adaptable.

Low/High Key Photographs

The below photo was shot in a studio setup. It was intentional to shoot on a white background and overexpose slightly to minimize contrast and lighten shadows. It was difficult to not overexpose too much and lose the detail in the glass topper. I had to balance that issue with the slightly grey background as it was hard to fully blow out the background to completely white without the photo looking off, even with the adjustment brush. As high key is the opposite of low key, its key tones are high. I used a fair amount quantity flat lighting of the studio lights to help reduce contrast and shadows and so I could precisely control the dark tones. High key photos usually have subjects that are feminine in nature, such as the perfume bottle with the pearls that I choose.



Low key photography makes use of dark tones and colours; the main feature of a low key photograph is the depth created by the shadows. Low photography means the image’s key tones are low. This particular photo has most of its keys tones on the left side of the histogram. The intention is to direct the viewers’ attention directly to the illuminated subject, by keeping everything else in the shadows. High key images feel airy, light and rich, while low key images feel dramatic and full of mystery.

The lights are reflected on the glass from the window light; there is also some pink form the curtains. The shadows in the upper right side of the perfume bottle hide that part of the subject, like it is disappearing into the shadows as its tone is deepened gradually. The form of the bottle is emphasized here by highlighting all the edges that the natural light hit.

In the below low key photo, solely natural lighting was used. I made sure the subject received more light than its background which was already fairly dark. I tried to keep the side away furthest from the window relatively darker. (It was a dark grey wall) Exposure was further changed with the adjustment brush in Lightroom. By controlling the light I feel I made a fairly boring glass object more mysterious.

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I really like the simplicity of low key photographs by emphasizing the subject with light and contrast.  High key photography also fits with my photographic style as it is effective for product and upscale photography and I like the clean, high quality look it conveys.