Portraiture Masterclass - AP photographer Andrew Sydenham demonstrates to three readers how a simple arrangement of lights can produce effective portrait photography. Oliver Atwell joins them

High-key lighting

A single light source is the most obvious starting point when shooting portrait photography, although Andrew says it can sometimes result in some unsatisfactory images.

‘It’s worth setting up a single light with no softbox or reflector and using it as a reference point that you can build from,’ says Andrew. ‘You’ll see that the light is throwing a rather harsh shadow onto our background. It could be that this is the effect you’re looking for, but at the same time it can also be an incredibly distracting element. It’s a common error in images by people still trying work out the principles of portrait imagery, but we’ll look at a way to fix that later.’

Photo by Maria Mil

Andrew says that a single light source is perhaps not the most flattering of set-ups, as the light can emphasise wrinkles and hair. ‘Using a single light produces the kind of contrast-heavy light you’ll use when you want to really explore the nooks and crannies of someone’s appearance,’ says Andrew. ‘It’s definitely not the kind of light you’ll want to use if you’re looking to flatter someone. However, as we’ll see, it can be used brilliantly in low-key moody portraits when working with a dark background.’

Photo by Andrew Sydenham

If you’re looking to create a flattering portrait, then the use of a softbox will give you the desired results. ‘The softbox will diffuse the light and spread it out more evenly across your model,’ says Andrew. ‘Placing a reflector on the opposite side of the subject will then disperse the harsh shadows that we just discussed, yet still retain enough depth in your subject so it isn’t completely flat.’

Rather than using a softbox, readers may want to consider using an umbrella. ‘A parabolic umbrella is a way of aiming light away from your subject and into a reflective umbrella that bounces the light back onto the subject,’ says Andrew. ‘As the light is reflected, it spreads over the subject and invariably softens the light. The key thing is that, because of the shape of the umbrella, it actually wraps the light around the subject.

  1. 1. Portraiture
  2. 2. Breaking it down
  3. 3. Lenses and Depth of Field
  4. 4. High-key lighting
  5. 5. Reflectors
  6. 6. Three-Point Lighting
  7. 7. Low-key Lighting
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