Types of Light for your Portrait

When getting a portrait done, it is important to consider the different elements that make up the picture in order to get the best possible outcome. One of the most important elements of such pictures is lighting. Different types of lighting will give you different outcomes, so it is important that you and your photographer decide what works best for you.

Windows and Daylight
Daylight provides a unique type of light that is very soft and offers a high degree of contrast. It is very important that the light is behind you and not in front of you because the intensity of the daylight will make for some irregular photos. Direct sunlight has excellent shadow-casting properties that will benefit some people.

The quality of the lighting will be affected by factors such as the size of the window and the opacity as well. Large windows will offer a more diffused light while smaller windows may act as a small spotlight.

Photographers will usually place the subject so that the light falls lightly in front of them and not from behind, this will ensure that the subject is seen clearly and it is not too bright. Floor length windows can be covered with masking tape or old newspaper in order to have the light fall of at an angle which will focus the attention towards the subject.

Fill-in lighting
White reflectors and flood lighting are the 2 most common methods of fill-in illumination and are usually the simplest too. A large piece of white cardboard works just fine for this purpose, the aim is to reflect the light from a primary source and bounce it off the white board to the subject. If the level of illumination provided by the secondary source is brighter than the primary source then the subject will get lost, which is why it is important for the photographer to take control of his setting.

Getting the illumination right can be a tricky affair for amateur photographers, some experimentation is definitely necessary in order to get the best results possible; keep in mind that the position of the light will be on or near the axis of the camera, which makes the use of a flash perfect for such situation.

Two Windows
Getting the right lighting conditions for your portrait will be much easier if there are two windows at a different angle. The amount of light coming into the room will be larger and the photographer will have an easier time controlling the portrait elements to his liking. If the windows are on adjacent walls, one window can function as the primary source and the other can be used as a fill-in.

Backgrounds
If you’re using a background for your portrait, keep in mind that backgrounds always end up looking much darker than what they actually are. The reason for this is due to the increase of fall-out in the illumination levels as you get further from the background. Remember that shadows cast by the subject aided by a flash should not be visible on the background once the picture has been taken. If you can still see a shadow it is probably because the flash is too bright.

Shooting Outside
Shooting outside will obviously mean that the photographer will have close to zero control over the illumination, which is why using a flash might be a good idea as it might become too unpractical to carry around a white piece of cardboard in order to use as a fill-in.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are not meant to be a definitive guide and that it might always be a good idea to play around with lighting elements and illumination in order to get the best pictures.