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This post was most recently updated on January 8th, 2023

The best qualities photographs require the best quality lighting, and depending on the mood of the photograph, lighting can change. However, in terms of portrait photography there are some handy tips for you to come out with the perfect images, all entirely based on your set up.

The Importance Of Lighting In Photography

Lighting plays an essential role in the photography process and is the difference between a poor or a successful photograph. It is much more, however, than how bright or dark an image is. It is also about the tone it creates as well as the atmosphere.

These are all important to a photograph as it sets a mood. If you are to photograph a person, for example, the way you manipulate your lighting can dramatically enhance the features of the individual, and this can be the difference between an amateur looking and a professional looking photograph.

It is therefore important to know how to manipulate light in the best way in order to not only enhance your skills but to enhance the quality of your photos.

As our knowledge on lighting has progressed, there has been much more discovered on the ways to create the best light for your photos.

The main thing you have to think about is artificial versus natural lighting. Depending on which type of lighting you use, the photo’s end product will turn out entirely different.

Natural Light

Natural light is what we all know. It’s the light which is produced from the sun, and sometimes that light is better than others. But just using the natural light can be a risk to the quality of your photographs.

Although the summer is the best time to receive that perfect ‘Golden Hour’ glow, when winter falls and the clouds cover that sun, your photos will in turn become duller than you’d wish.

Artificial Light

Artificial light is light created by man-made light sources and allows you to have full control over the lighting of your photograph. By using specific equipment and positioning techniques, you are able to take beautiful photographs which enhance the features of your subject and boost the quality.

Positioning Your Light

One of the most vital factors to ensuring a good end result is the positioning of your light. Lighting has a great effect on the way the photograph comes out, and the position of the light plays a role too.

Depending on how you position your lighting, you may end up with an image which looks flat, or an image with great texture and depth.

From The Side

Placing your lights to the side of your subject will allow for a more dramatic photo finish and will be the one to show the most depth.

From Behind

You may choose to position your light behind your subject, in turn allowing your subject to appear shadowed and silhouetted.

Setting Up Portrait Photography Lighting

Setting Up Portrait Photography Lighting

What Is Portrait Photography?

Before highlighting the ways of lighting, it is first important to identify what portrait photography is.

Portrait photography is very popular amongst photographers and when photographed right, can produce a wonderful image. With this kind of photography, the photographer is capturing the emotion, personality, and essence of the person, as well as making use of the background.

It is important to make sure that the photograph turns out natural whilst capturing the personality within the image.

There are many ways to set up portrait photography lighting and this can be achieved with just a single light source – it is simple to modify the light to enhance your work.

Below are some of the ways to set up portrait photography lighting and to help your photographs come out flawless.

Soft Box

A soft box gives off a diffused soft light, centered on one side of the subject’s face. A reflector is used too, and this can either be in black or white; a black reflector darkens the portrait whilst a white reflector brightens the side of the model.

This is a great thing to use enhance features and create that desired flattering look.

Rim Light

A rim light is an item which has become mainstream and is used by many. You will find people using them to enhance their lighting in Instagram photos or will use them when shooting videos, and the reason for its popularity is that it works at brightening the right parts.

By placing the flash head behind the model and adding reflectors in front, you will be able to create a great photo with the light bouncing off to create a soft light.

Loop Lighting

In order to produce an image which defines your model’s facial features, try loop lighting. This is a simple skill that many go to when producing a portrait photograph.

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt lighting is fairly similar to loop lighting and creates a triangle of light on one cheek. This is taken from a Dutch painter whose portraits use this style of lighting.

Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly lighting (or Clamshell lighting) is a lighting technique used ideally for glamour and beauty shoots. It is called butterfly for the shadow which is created under the nose and because of the subtle shadows created under the chin and cheek bones.


Depending on what you are choosing to photograph and the style of photography, the equipment you use may differ. It is important to know what is needed to use in order to have the best photographic results.

Equipment you need include:

  • Standard zoom and prime lens – with a prime lens, you are able to achieve a blurred background.
  • Studio flash head – this is a great portable flash lighting to have. Make sure to choose your wattage sensibly as the higher the wattage, the more powerful the light.
  • Soft box – this is used to create a diffused light and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Reflector – similar to the soft box, the reflector too comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and is used to reflect gold, white, or silver light back into the shot.
  • Umbrella – this is another way to reflect light and, like the reflector, you are able to get gold, white, and silver inserts.

Final Thoughts

Photography can be difficult, and it is important to understand the technicalities of photography in order to progress. One of the most important aspects of photographing is the lighting as this determines the difference between a good quality and a bad quality photograph.

Whether you are a professional photographer or someone who simply enjoys taking photographs and is wishing to learn more, lighting can be applied to your photographs.

Although equipment helps, you are still able to use lighting techniques to develop your final images.

More and more people are exploring the avenues of photography without even realizing. People at home have been experimenting with rim lights and have understood the positive impacts it has on photos. As well as this, many have acknowledged the power of natural light, especially during ‘Golden Hour’.

Light is a powerful entity and can truly change the way a photograph turns out. In order to achieve the best pictures, learn about the different types of lights, the recommended positions, and watch your photography come to life.