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More portrait lighting

Additional types of studio portrait lighting


Loop lighting could more accurately be called
Loop lighting could more accurately be called "Loop shadow lighting" since a loop-shaped shadow beneath the nose is your objective.

Loop lighting - This is a very common type of portrait lighting. The objective is to create a shadow from the model's nose that points down towards the corner of the mouth, but does not touch the corner of the mouth. The shadow should follow the face's natural line from the nose to the mouth.

You must be careful when using loop lighting that the subject's eyes are evenly-illuminated, from top to bottom. You may need to make the loop of shadow shorter to achieve this. The eyes are more important than the length of the loop.

You must also watch that your subject's smile doesn't change the effect. If your model is not smiling when you set up your lighting, and then you ask her or him to smile, you may find that the loop covers a part of the mouth, and looks unnatural.


Bear in mind that the images used here to illustrate portrait lighting types were photographed mainly to show the effect of the main light. These pictures are not meant to be examples of finished portraits.

The loop lighting image above, for instance, was taken so that you would clearly see the loop shadow, but the picture is by no means a final portrait.

It contains too much contrast, for one thing, which should be reduced by the addition of secondary lighting. This can be achieved in a number of ways, one of which is to reflect the main light onto the model's shadow side using a white styrofoam panel as a reflector.

Reflecting the main light onto the model's shadow side provides the needed secondary lighting for proper illumination.
Reflecting the main light onto the model's shadow side provides the needed secondary lighting for proper illumination.

This picture illustrates the dual effect of loop lighting and reflected secondary lighting.
This picture illustrates the dual effect of loop lighting and reflected secondary lighting.

This image shows the result of adding secondary lighting from a white styrofoam reflector. Compare it with the first image above to see how the supplemental lighting has reduced contrast by bringing out more detail in the shadow areas of the model's face, providing a much more-pleasing lighting ratio.

The picture is still, however, not a fully-illuminated, finished portrait. The next steps on the road to final portrait illumination would be to add a hair light and then to add a light on the backdrop. The "magazine cover" look below shows the enhanced effect of a hair light and background illumination.

For certain portraits, you might also wish to combine rim lighting in the final lighting set-up.


The magazine cover - This is the glamorous look, used by many photographers of women models for magazine covers. It is achieved by first aiming your light dead on towards the model's face from very near the camera position, and then carefully moving it to one side until you see just a hint of shadow on the side of the nose.

This technique produces bright whites in the eyes, a nearly-centered catch light in each eye and illumination beneath the nose. Lowering the light will completely eliminate shadow beneath the nose and chin.

Our model (right) was posed merely to illustrate the lighting technique. The full glamour look also requires a suitable pose and attire.

The look achieved by this type of lighting does not work for all subjects.
The look achieved by this type of lighting does not work for all subjects.

The picture on the left provides a working example of this simple, but effective, lighting technique, which is quite suited to fashion photography.

But, it does not work with everyone. Since it illuminates the model so broadly across her face, it seems to add weight. A subject with a round face will look heavier.


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Portrait lighting errors