Understanding Light: Five Facial Lighting Patterns for Portrait Photography

Photography means "writing with light". Getting to that “decisive moment”  like Henry Cartier-Bresson once called it, is not just pure coincidence. Although it may seem to be just sheer luck, ultimately it´s always about the right moment, at the right angle, with the right lens, at the perfect time and with the perfect light. Even though to get the money shot you do need to have several elements in place, lighting is ultimately crucial. Just imagine the perfect location, you´ve got the perfect outfit, your subjects look amazing, their expressions are unique and then bam, the lighting is just not cutting it... There goes your change to get that amazing shot. As a photographer, its up to you to understand how light works and then have fun with it and make things happen. Whether it is that you love to photograph on location, or if you rather be in the studio, it´s important for you to find the perfect light that will help you create the look that you want. 

Light is light. What modifies light is everything that goes in between the light source and your subject and everything around it. You can be on location doing a senior portrait session at the worst time of day and you can still be able to get amazing shots. You just need the right tools to make it happen. Maybe use a 5-in-1 reflector or an umbrella to filter the light and make it look soft and even. Maybe find an open shade area and use the concrete floor to bounce back some light. You can even use the sun as your back light and fill in with a flash, a strobe or maybe even a reflector. All of these are simple ways that you can use light and make it work for you. But understanding light does require some time and practice.

This week I decided to do a video demonstrating the five different facial lighting patterns for portrait photography. In the video, I´m using an Alien Bee 1600 to demonstrate where you would position your lights, however I decided to photograph it using the Canon Speedlite 580 EX-II with the white reflector panel from the Rogue Flash Bender 2 XL. The reason why I did this was to show that you can do this with any type of light source and also because I had just gotten my new Speedlite modifier and wanted to play with it. All of the images were shot using the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 85mm 1.8 lens. The video was shot using the Canon 6D and the Canon 24-70 2.8 L. 

Hope you enjoy it!


I also want to thank my awesome model and assistant Erica.