5 Essential Portrait Lighting Tips You Need to Know

Bad portrait lighting can ruin your photo and make your subject look uninteresting and flat. When you get it right, however, you can bring out the very essence of an individual.

It isn’t that hard either. All you have to do is pay closer attention to techniques you already know. Remember a couple of things you learned when you first got into the basics of portrait photography.

To help you get started on the right foot and to make your photos more interesting, check out our list of essential portrait lighting tips:

Get familiar with the term “catch light”

One of the most important elements of a portrait is catchlight. It adds a subtle touch and a hint of sparkle to the subject of the photograph. It is especially handy when working with dramatic lighting patterns.

Learn to love Rembrandt lighting

Rembrandt lighting is usually described as lighting with dramatic shadows and highlights. It’s true that Rembrandt lighting is dramatic but, it’s not to be confused with other similar techniques. It highlights the shadowy side of the face, by the nose and cheekbone.


Its add a flair to the portrait that can really take it to the next level. Just remember, this isn’t a good choice for every face. The subject’s features must have a certain prominence for everything to work.

Moon Over Split Lighting

To put it simply, split lighting is the effect where one side of the face is lit and the other is in shadow. Like Rembrandt lighting, it’s not great for every face. But, it can create an interesting look for those who are looking for something a little different.

Go Gaga over Glamor Lighting

Popular since the 1930s, this type of lighting emphasizes the cheekbones of those with oval-shaped faces.

Keep it Simple with Loop Lighting

This is the favorite of many portrait photographers because its effect is very easy to achieve and also is quite flattering for almost everyone. That’s probably because loop lighting highlights the contours of the face while softening the more unflattering elements like scars, blemishes, or wrinkles.


Additional Tips to Take Your Portrait Lighting to the Next Level

As with many things, following certain tips are easier said than done. You may set everything up perfectly but, other factors come into play that mess everything up. The following tips will ensure that you get the perfect picture every time:

* Keep the emphasis on the subject
* Use a reflector as a simple and affordable way to add extra light to your photographs
* Make sure the subject is posed in a flattering manner that highlights the ultimate vision of the portrait
* Establish a rapport with your subject. Communication is essential to creating great images.
* For a timeless look, black and white is always a great option
* Small stuff can make a big impact so remember to be flexible. All rules are meant to be broken.

To take a great portrait, you must gain a good understanding of lighting. The lighting techniques above provide the foundation that holds the key to everything you need to know. Mastering them will make lighting any scene easy as pie.