How to Control the Lighting in Portrait Photography

Modifying light can make portrait photography more interesting and fun. There are many tools and techniques available to create dynamic and compelling portraits. You can create beautiful portraits by combining creative lighting techniques with easy-to-use light shaping tools. This allows you to maintain full control over the quality and shape of your lighting.

This guide will show you how to create dynamic portraits using an off-camera flash and light modifiers. We will be covering the various techniques for creating high- and low-key lighting. Additionally, we will discuss different photo accessories and how you can create interesting light patterns.

Gear Breakdown

This guide was created using the following gear:

  • Flashpoint Lighting XPLOR 300 PRO
  • Flashpoint Lighting R2 Pro MK II Trigger
  • Glow EZ Lock 34″ Beauty Dish Sterling
  • V-Flat World Foldable Flat V-Flats
  • Attachment to the CLAR SA-P1 Projection Document
    • Projection Attachment 60mm Wide-Angle Lens
    • Iris Diaphragm to Projection Attachment
    • Holder for GOBO Set
    • GOBO Set
    • Godox Bowens Mount To S30 Mount Adapter
  • Sony Alpha A1 Mirrorless Camera
  • Sony 85mm F1.4 G Master Lens
  • Glow Bowens Mount Flash Bracket
  • Stella Pro Lights CL8000 Continuous Light

What is high-key lighting and how can it be achieved?

High-key lighting refers to a style that is low in contrast and has minimal shadows. It is bright and filled with highlights. It can provide a uniform light that wraps around the subject, making it possible to photograph from any angle.

Flash is a great way to create a high-key shot.

It is easy to create a well-lit backdrop with a V Flat World Foldable V Flat and a powerful flash such as the Flashpoint Lighting XPLOR 300PRO. The lightweight foam boards called Foldable V-Flats offer a black-and white reversible surface. The white side can bounce or reflect light. You can create a high-key background with it. A bare XPLOR 300PRO behind your subject, and then shooting directly into a V-Flat white side up will create a soft light that wraps around the subject. This creates a bright background with lots of highlights and uniform lighting for your subject.

What is low-key lighting exactly?

Low-key lighting refers to lighting with a high proportion of highlights and shadows. Low-key lighting is inspired by film noir techniques. It allows photographers to create mood and effect with their subject’s light. Low-key lighting allows for dynamic portraits by controlling highlights, contrast, shadows, and other lighting parameters.

V-Flats are used to create a low-key shot.

The foldable V-Flats make it easy to create low-key portraits quickly and easily. V-Flats absorb light because of their black sides. This creates a beautiful canvas of dark shadows that will allow you to draw your subject out. V-Flats can be used to create a black background or control the light spillage.

To control light-spill, use a gridded beauty plate

A key part of creating a low-key portrait is controlling the light that falls onto the background. A beauty dish like the Glow EZ Lock 34” Beauty Dish Silver can reduce light spillage. A gridded beauty dish should be placed at 45 degrees to the subject, slightly above their eye-line. This creates beautiful catch-lights for the subject’s eyes. This allows for good control over light-spill onto a backdrop. If necessary, moving the subject and the lighting further away from the background can help reduce light-spill.

All this is complemented by an optical snoot or gobos.

The CLAR SA-1 Projection Attachment, also known as an optical snoot, is a light modulator. This attachment allows you to control and create patterns of light. It directs the continuous or flash light of your flash into a beam. You can shape the focused light using various lenses or metal discs, known as “go betweens” or “go betweens”. These metal discs are placed between the focal beam light of the optical scanner and the attached lens that projects the light. The combination of the many gobo shapes, patterns and low-key portrait lighting can create dynamic images.

Photo by Reza Malayeri
Photo by Reza Malayeri

When it comes to lighting your portraits, there are many options. This can be a creative and fun way to elevate your low-key portraiture. With the light-shaping techniques described in this guide, you can create a variety of dynamic images. The possibilities of creating stunning portraits are endless with the variety of gobos available, the flexibility of reversibleV-Flats and the unique light patterns optical snoots create.