Light direction tip

Here’s a “quick start” for lighting a face:

  • For a man, start with having the main light come from 45 degrees above, at an angle of 45 degrees left or right (“Rembrandt lighting”)
  • For a woman, start with having the main light come from 45 degrees above, straight in front (“Butterfly lighting:)

The latter looks somewhat like this:

I took that snap at last Tuesday’s Phoenix “Advanced Flash” workshop. And you can see how: another course participant is holding a 430EX flash off camera, which I am firing from the main camera using TTL light control. Aperture and shutter speed, and ISO, are set so that available light is two stops darker (i.e. it provides the fill light).

Why this rule-of-thumb of “from straight in front” for women? Because it minimizes texture and features, and hence best shows beauty.

Please do not be hung up on these “rules” – they are merely good start points.

To some extent this snap is also an example of “short lighting”: I am lighting the side of the face that is narrower to the camera. This thins, which in the case of this beautiful woman is not necessary, but in case of larger people, or people with very round faces, can be a useful technique.

Studio simple

A studio need not be expensive. Even a light or two – affordable strobes – and a few reflectors and a backdrop will do it.

This is a setup I often take on the road:

  • Two or three strobes with stands
  • A reflector with stand
  • One softbox and one umbrella
  • Two pocketwizards
  • A tripod
  • A backdrop with stands, and a roll of grey paper.


Easier than it seems and this results in good pictures. Even, sometimes, when you use just one light and a reflector.


And instead of the light meter, consider using the histogram.

Straight light

You know about Rembrandt lighting, loop lighting, broad and short lighting, and so on? If not, you will. But today a note about simple lighting for models, women, in general anyone who wants to look their best and show youth and beauty rather than experience and character (which can be a euphemism for age).

That is straight, flat lighting. Like this:


As you see, that is nice, flattering light.

Whenever I shoot anyone where the main emphasis is on this person looking young and attractive, I draw an imaginary line from their face straight up at 45 degrees, i.e. not to either the left side or the right side. Where that line straight from their face hits the wall or ceiling, that is where I aim my flash. (An external flash – please, you don’t use the on-camera popup flash, do you?)

And when I do that, pictures like the one above result – when the model is as pretty. Even when the model isn’t as pretty, this light is best if you want to minimise wrinkles.