Stop putting the light in the wrong place. I see images all the time and I’m thinking, “Why don’t they understand where to set the key light?” It’s not a difficult thing if you understand it. We’re going to talk about it today. I’ve got Ali here with us today. She’s going to help us understand where to set the key light because when you put it in the wrong place it looks terrible. When you put it in the right place it looks fantastic. So let’s get to it.
The concept that we’re going to talk about today is shooting into the shadow side of the face, shadow side of the hands, shadow side of the legs. Shooting into the shadow side. That’s when you know you set your key light in the right position. Now we know the nose on the face tells us pretty much where we should set the key light with regards to the five portrait lighting positions. But now, where we choose to shoot in that situation creates a huge difference. If we shoot into the broad side of the face, into the side that’s lit, it’s not as interesting. Now there are great images done where you shoot into the broad side of the face. When you turn and you shoot into the shadow side of the face you get a much more beautiful look at the person or the hands because you get these shadows that roll from the highlight in the back, to the face in the front. And you just get beautiful, beautiful images.
So let’s talk about setting the light so we can shoot into the shadow side of the face. So I’m going to be using today the FJ80, the version 2. The reason I’ve chosen this is because it’s a great platform. It’s powerful. It’s 80 watt seconds. It’s really portable. It’s lightweight. Using the switch plate on this bracket allows me to send it through modifiers. So I can put any kind of soft boxes on the front of it. The switch plate just changes out the soft boxes on the front so I can either use this, which is a Beauty Dish, 24 inch Beauty Dish. I pulled the beauty dish insert out of it so it’s a little more directional. But it allows me to put any size modifier on there with this bracket. The FJ80 version 2 is really good because it’s touch screen. It allows you to do touch screen which is unheard of for this kind of a speed light. It also does really well in a situation where there’s a lot of interference. It’s much better if you’re doing events and those kinds of things.
I will be shooting it with the trigger. The trigger allows me to trigger it and to be able to shoot from anywhere. I’m going to be working in this area which now I’m using it as a strobe light, not an on camera speed light. Which there are ways to use that on-camera speed light that really work well. But today we’re going to use it as a strobe light through a modifier. So let’s get started and show how we can set this to illustrate the principle of shooting into the shadow side of the face.
So I’m shooting with a 70-180mm f/2.8 Tamron Lens here today. I love this longer lens for this kind of portraiture. I Shoot on it a lot because it just lets the background fall way out of focus. The bokeh looks incredible. And so that’s what I’ll be using today. I’ll be trying to shoot an f/2.8 most of the time, pretty wide open. I may stop down a little bit. Certainly there’s enough power in the FJ80 version 2 to be able to stop down just a little bit. So that’s what I’ll be shooting on today. I’m using the Sony a7R V and we’ll get great images. We can crop in with that large sensor. So there you have it. Let’s get to it.
When you’re setting a key light the first principle is this: Most people want to just set this key light really close to the camera. You set it up and start to shoot. If you can touch the key light, I guarantee you it’s in the wrong place. If you can stand here with your camera taking your picture and you can touch the key light it’s in the wrong place. If the model can see over the top of the key light it is definitely in the wrong place. So this key light’s got to come up and it’s got to come way around. Now she turns into the key light. Now as I stand here, that key light, I can’t touch it. It’s back further. It’s going to cast a shadow to the right side of her face. And now as I photograph, look right here Ali, as I photograph her face I’m going to see that shadow fall to the right. And I’m looking into the shadow side of the face. So if you can touch the key light it is in the wrong place. The closer the light gets to the camera the more flat and less interesting it is. The exception to that rule is when you get the light right here you can go up with it. And now it gives you a beautiful butterfly or Paramount light. But if you get it up to where it’s supposed to be I can’t touch it. It’s going to be above my head. So if you can touch the key light it’s in the wrong place.
Okay, let’s take a shot here. We’ll be able to see the shadow on her face. It’s a beautiful Rembrandt on her face. It’s a little dark so I’m going to open up. I’m at f/6.3. I shouldn’t be that far down. I don’t know what happened here. I’m going to go up to f/5.0. Take another shot. there that should give us a nice light. Beautiful bokeh in the background. Looking awesome. So there, that light is around. It gives us a beautiful Rembrandt on her face. And you see the drawing, we see the shadow on her, the highlight on her nose. But it goes into shadow on the side we’re looking into.
Now look what happens if I turn her away from the light. Okay, turn your feet all the way around. Now look back at me this way and I take a picture of her here. That’s shooting into the broad side of the face. It is, we’re looking directly on the broad side of the face. Everything falls in shadow away from us. It’s not near as interesting as when she turns into the light and we get a beautiful light and we’re looking into the shadow side of the face.
Now let’s turn into that broad side. Yep, look right here. There you go. So when she turns away from the light and we’re shooting into the broad side of the face we don’t get the beautiful highlight in her eyes. We don’t get the way her eyes open up. Just the face looks so much better when you’re shooting into the shadow side of the face. So she turns back into it here. A couple of great shots there. There you go.
Now I can put a reflector in here and just open up our shadows. I’ll do that real quick. So I put a reflector in there just to open up her face a little bit. Even though I’m shooting into the shadow side, look right here, it opens up. It opens up the shadows. It makes it look really nice on her face. Back up just a hair.
So I used a small reflector because I just wanted to open up the shadows a little bit on her face and not overpower the key light. If I put a large reflector, that 50 inch up, hard white, it’s going to give me a much larger bounce, much larger fill. And the ratios will be a lot closer together. I won’t get as much shadow build. But with that small reflector I get a beautiful shadow. But it’s an open shadow. It looks really pretty. So when we put that light in the right place, from behind, it’s going to give us a beautiful light on her face. There’ll be a little shadow that falls off of her nose and creates a Rembrandt on her face. And now we’re looking into the shadow side. We see the transition of all the highlights. We see it on her nose. I see it on her lips. You see it on her forehead. It makes her head look more round and makes it look more three-dimensional. It falls onto the bust line. So the bust line is going to be more three-dimensional. It falls on her arm, so they’re going to be more three-dimensional. It just gives us a beautiful highlight from the side that really is pretty.
If she turns towards me, now we’ve lost all of that. We’re looking into the highlight on her face. We don’t get to enjoy all that transition that’s going on away from us. Now it doesn’t show the camera. The face becomes flat because everything is lit from the front. So you got to turn her back into that light. Go ahead and turn in. Not too much, right back in here. Now we get that transition and shoot into the shadow side. Always think about that. I want to be looking into the shadow side of the face, the shadow side of the fingers, the shadow side of the legs. Just about any time you set up light you want to be looking into the shadow side. That’s when you know you’ve set your light in the right place.
Don’t be afraid to move your light just because you set it down. It’s working if she turns away from the light and you’re in the broad side, move the light around. Change that light. Move it and dress it to where your model is at. Don’t be afraid of moving the light.
This principle is really easy to see when you look at something like hands because you have fingers. The light’s going to hit and roll around the finger. It’s going to create definition. It’s going to create interest in the hands. The light is going to roll across the fingers. Down and across the fingers this way. So it won’t be as efficient here as here. If I move it over here it’s going to be great for this hand but down the fingers there. So I’m trying to find a spot where it’s going to give me dimension and light fall off on each of the hands. It just looks beautiful. You get these gorgeous highlights and they roll into shadow. It just looks so tasteful. I could bring a fill card in if I wanted to. I don’t think it needs it. But it looks excellent. I mean look at that. It just looks fabulous. So if I bring this light around closer to the camera I just lose it. I mean it’s okay. But I lose most of that beautiful highlight rolling across the fingers. It’s not near as pretty, not near as pretty. And if you can’t see it you need to learn to see it. Because the taste level of that light from the side will highlight rolling in. The shadow is just, it’s so wonderful. When it comes up front here it becomes so flat and so uninteresting. It just doesn’t have the same effect. Let’s see what happens if I bring it to the other side all the way around and I light her fingers from the other side. Now this should really roll across these fingers and more down this one or these. So let’s see what that looks like. Not as good on these fingers. Great on these. Maybe what this needs is to go up high with it. Well that’s starting to work. I’m going to try going up high so I get rolling across these, rolling across these. So if I come right to the middle, which is a very flat place, but if I come up high with it, now all the shadows are going to roll down. So when that light is up high it’s going to give us a highlight into a shadow. Then that shadow then highlighted the next finger. You view it from the shadow side of this finger. So you get highlight to shadow, highlight to shadow. It just looks fabulous. Same on these, highlight to shadow, highlight to shadow. It just gives you beautiful dimension and separation. It gives it depth. It’s rounded, the surfaces of her hands are rounded. They’re not flat. So we’re shooting into the shadows not into the broad side of the light.
So now let’s take a look at why you would do that with legs. So when the light is behind like this it gives us a highlight on her leg. Then that falls into shadow. Now the highlight on her front leg is in the shadow of the back leg. And then it rolls into a shadow. So it’s highlight to shadow, highlight to shadow. It gives complete dimension and roundness to the legs and makes it look so much more dimensional. It’ll make them look longer. It’s going to help them look much nicer because they just start, they look 3D. They don’t look flat. So getting that light behind gives us that dimension. It’s a beautiful look here. The light rolls. Let’s see a nice light on her face, across her legs. This looks really good.
It’s a little dark. I’m at 1/250th of a second. So I’ll just simply go up to 1/125th of a second and that’s going to open up the shadows a lot for me. And let’s take a look at that. Much better. So I’m just going to open up the ambient which is going to give me more shadow, open shadows. Because I’m letting the ambient become the fill light. So I went from 1/250th to 1/125th. It looks much better. Just cross your arms there and kind of lean back a little bit. There you go. That’s awesome. Come towards me just a little bit. There you go. Bring those legs together. There you go. So when she turns away from the light I’m now shooting in the broad side of the light. And all of the interest, all of everything that makes that other image so wonderful goes away. I get an okay light on her face. But I’m looking into the highlight. I get okay light on their legs. But I’m looking in the highlight light. There’s no dimension. There’s no separation any longer. The highlights just built on highlights. When she turns around, turn back around there Ally, when she turns back around now I’m going to get that great dimension with the highlight into shadow. So shoot into that shadow side. Fingers, legs, face, shoot into the shadow side. Keep your light back so you’re casting shadows towards the camera. That’s going to give you the most beautiful, tasteful looking light. A lot of photographers will look at images and they don’t know why it is that they love them so much or they look so successful a lot of times. Because the light is in the right place. You’re getting this beautiful highlight to shadow transition. You’re looking into those shadows and it’s just a tasteful, beautiful looking lighting. A beautiful image.
So if you can touch your light it’s in the wrong place. You’ve got to get it more behind so it creates shadows towards the camera. Shoot into the shadow side. That’s going to give you more tasteful light. It’s going to look more beautiful if you’ll do that. Your images are going to look way better. They’re going to look fantastic. If you want to learn more about lighting check out these videos. So keep those cameras rollin’ and keep clickin’ on the shadow side!
I’m Yasi. I am a touring music photographer. I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran and nowadays I’m based in LA. So when I was about 15 was the first time I learned that touring is a thing. I started to befriend some people in bands and they would tell me about how they just get into a van every day and they drive to a different city and they put on a show every night. And I was thinking that’s it! That’s what I want to do. I want to, I want to document that. And so that was just it. From then on, photo only. I’m working my dream job right now and that’s made possible entirely by cameras. So it’s very, very important to me to protect my cameras everywhere I go. And I choose to protect my cameras with an SKB case.