Artificial lighting in a portrait is very subjective and, once you have mastered the various types and basic techniques of photography lighting, such as Rembrandt, knife blade, flare, butterfly etc., you have a whole new world to discover.
A portrait taken using artificial light can involve one single light or many more, depending on the complexity of the portrait being taken.
In this tutorial however, we will try to understand how to take a creative portrait using a rim lighting technique which, for the colours and mood that I gave it, I have called Creative Rim Light.
What is Rim Light?
It involves creating a thin line of light to outline the shape of the subject. There are many different ways and preferences for doing it. In Greek, FOTOGRAFIA means “Photo=light + Grafia=writing”, which translates as “writing with light”; therefore I would say that this technique is the most accurate interpretation of the word. As such, don’t be afraid to control your lighting using light modifier equipment in your photography.
Generally, I use rim light to enhance my subject in order to detach it from the background, instead of using the traditional light spot point source directly on the backdrop, to create detachment from the subject.
Some people use rim light to illuminate an outline but it can also be a great method for creating really striking photographs if combined with colour gels, or for giving something a little extra to the usual lighting techniques we often use.
First of all, to create a rim light around your subject, you can use two studio flash heads with special ‘strip’ softboxes to diffuse light, or one large softbox with added strip ‘masks’ that you can buy as accessories or create with a bit of engineering from two strips of black cardboard, deciding how much light should come out of the holes.
Again, the possibilities for creating magical photos with this type of lighting are infinite. In order to help with this tutorial, I used simple speedlight flash heads that every photographer is sure to have at home and that are a good place to start practising this technique.
My light technique you see here used for this portrait of the model Davis S (Elite Models) is made up of a Profoto mono head with a 2×3 softbox plus the ‘honeycomb grid’ accessory as the main light + two SB900 speedlights with two green and two orange gels in front of the light, directed onto the spots that I wanted to illuminate behind the model using black cardboard to prevent camera lens flare. The result is a closed yet soft light on the model, thanks in part to the grid which doesn’t scatter the light into the surroundings and helps to create a more concentrated light which enhances the light of the coloured speedlights.
These resulting photos have very strong colours in order to show clearly what happens if you want to create a rim light effect, but I also wanted to give you other examples in my previous work of how you can enrich your photos by using milder versions of this method, according to the work and the person who you are photographing, to create striking images of your subject using rim light.
I hope this has all been useful to you. Thank you for reading and now go and give it a try!
In these photos I used a butterfly light technique: a mono head with a softbox + reflector panel under the chin + light through a grid onto the hair from above. With a dark background I needed to highlight the models’ hair, which was a very important feature, as you can see.
This shot was taken during a workshop and involved a mono head with an extralarge umbrella at 45° to the left of the frame + a flash with a parabolic positioned behind the model and lifted to illuminate the hair. To demonstrate that, when searching for new and different points of view, you can find great ideas without having to follow the rules, I took this photo in such a way as to filter the light through her hair, with her gazing dreamily into the distance, to create a magical and natural image.
As with photos 1 and 2 except that the gridded parabolic was positioned to the left of and behind the model and the flash on the softbox at 45° to the left of the frame.
I took a series of very striking photos of him at the piano. Then, before dismantling the set, I took a few close-ups adjusting the lighting to take this shot. The rim light here was essential in order to avoid him merging with the background, as black hat on a black background would have been a bit understated.
I liked to think of her as a bit like something out of a fairytale, so I positioned a flash in front with a softbox + a speedlight with a blue gel from below that coloured her hair and gave a playful twist to the shot.
For this shot, I used a Profoto with light bank at 45° to the left of the frame + a gridded parabolic from behind and above. Look how it outlines his shoulders, the cap and the cigarette smoke.
Gridded parabolic positioned to the left of the frame and behind the Samurai, main flash head on a softbox at 45° to the right of the frame + reflector panel to the left of the frame from below, a flash with snoot on the background created a simple yet effective shot.