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Perfect lighting in portrait photography

Creating Portrait images using professional lighting is really not too difficult. In this article, we will demonstrate this concept in practice, creating some amazing portraits!

1. Basic notions on light in photography.

The fundamental properties of any type of light sources (sun, light bulb, fluorescent light, LED, speedlight flash, studio light) are Direction, Quality and Colour. Let’s briefly describe the first two of these, leaving Colour for a future date.

Direction is the position of the light source relative to the subject you are illuminating (distance, height and degree of angle). It determines the character of the image you are creating: dramatic, peaceful, intimate, sensuous, determined or energetic…

Quality is perceived by the observer as the degree of contrast associated with the light source: the term ‘soft light’ describes more gradual and pleasant transition of tones, from highlights to shadows; whereas ‘hard light’ describes a situation of well-defined shadows and ‘specular’ light, with evident reflections.

One of the dynamics that concerns us the most is the size of the light source: the larger it is – in relation to the subject we are lighting – the softer and more diffused the projected light will be. The use of light modifiers, accessories capable of altering the contrast of the original light source, is essential if we want to obtain soft shadows and uniform highlights.

2. Superior quality with light modifiers.

Using natural or artificial light to improve the lighting in your portraits is a relatively simple operation if you have the necessary equipment, such as these tools shown below:

Some of the light modifiers available in the Lastolite Professional catalogue
Some of the light modifiers available in the Lastolite Professional catalogue

This first photography session was done using natural light to illuminate the subject, capturing intense tones and evocative of the early afternoon. We placed two translucent panels of different sizes between the direct sunlight (very intense and high-contrast) and the subject, choosing the size based on the desired composition (head and shoulders, close-up, full length etc.)

MSOX_BALLERINA_1-1 MSOX_BALLERINA_1-2 MSOX_BALLERINA_1-TRIGRIP
Direct, high contrast sunlight
(1/800sec @ f7.1 – ISO 100)
Direct sunlight through Lastolite Trigrip 120cm translucent panel
(1/640sec @ f5.1 – ISO 100)
Large 120cm Lastolite Professional Trigrip Diffuser
cod. LL LR3752
MSOX_BALLERINA_2-1 MSOX_BALLERINA_2-2 MSOX_BALLERINA_2-SKYLITE
Direct, high contrast sunlight
(1/1000sec @ f5.6 – ISO 100)
Direct sunlight through diffuser panel (-1,25EV)
for Medium Skylite Rapid Kit
(1/1000sec @ f3.5 – ISO 100)
Lastolite Professional Medium Skylite Rapid Kit
cod. LL LR81244

The second photography session demonstrates a better control of the general exposure, where artificial lighting – based on the use of small speedlight flashes – offered us exceptional opportunities for creativity, as we were able to regulate independently the two available sources of light (natural and flash).


The original article was written by the author in Italian and has been translated for the purpose of the MSoX website.

Special thanks to the Italian professional dancer and instructor BARBARA FELICI for her extraordinary performance.

List of Lastolite professional products used in this article:

JOE MCNALLY TRIFLASH WITH ROTATING SHOE MOUNTS LL LR2457JM
LARGE 120 CM TRIGRIP DIFFUSER LL LR3752
TRIGRIP SUPPORT WITH BALL JOINT FOR REFLECTOR PANELS LL LA2430
MEDIUM SKYLITE KIT 110 X 200 CM LL LR81244
JOE MCNALLY TRIGRIP KIT LL LR3996JM

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