How to make your portraits really stand out – Three Point Lighting

Firstly I’d like to introduce Susan, she is our resident studio model and helps me teach lighting to photographers who want to get to grips with studio lighting without having to interact with models.  Once photographers are confident with the basics of lighting and their equipment I then bring in a real breathing model and teach how to communicate with them effectively so that the studio experience is a pleasure for all involved.


Susan lit with three light setup

When lighting a model in the studio the first aim is to make the lighting as natural as possible and this three point lighting system beautifully does this.

Three Point Lighting aims to add a three dimensional perspective to a two dimensional image and when combined with effective posing will produce stunning effects that you and your sitter will love.

One of the most fundamental parts of any portrait is the sitters eyes and if these are well lit, sharp and have a sparkle the image is on to a good chance of being great.  Eyes tend to be lit with the Key light.  The most important light of the three light set up.


Key Light

By placing the key light above and to the left of the sitter and quite close you will see both a sparkle in her eyes and a smooth light that envelops Susan creating nice natural shadows by her nose and cheek.  This gives that three dimensional structure to her face.  This single light produces quite a nice portrait on its own but Susan’s hair is disappearing into the background and the shadows around her eyes are just a little too harsh.

To give definition to Susan’s hair here we have introduced a rim light which sometimes on its own can create stunning results especially if you want to emphasise a models face and body profile.  The rim light is positioned behind the model to the left and angled just to light the side of Susan’s head producing a silver effect.  The risk of this is that frizzy hair becomes more apparent.  If you had an additional light stunning effects can be introduced by adding an additional rim light on the other side of your model.


Rim Light

The final light to add is the fill light and as the name suggests, this light fills in some of the shadows on Susan’s face creating an overall pleasing image.


Fill Light

In this setup the rim light produces a rather hard light and this is achieved by a reflector with a grid attached.  This directs the light and ensures that minimal excess light spills into other parts of the image.


Final Image

The key light is diffused through an octobox which produces a beautiful almost round catchlight and adds a buttery soft illumination onto Susan’s face.

The fill light is diffused through a large white umbrella and is less powerful than the key light to keep the three dimensional effect.

Once the fundamentals of lighting are mastered, by fully  understanding these basic principles you can go on to create your own lighting to produce individual results.

If you want to learn more about studio lighting we run one to one sessions here at our studio in Somerset.  I will also add more lighting blog posts over the coming months.  If there is a specific subject you would like me to tackle feel free to get in touch.


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