Engaging Portraits – Sample Three

Engaging Portraits – Sample Three

 In a previous blog “Engaging Portraits” I talked about unique lighting for each portrait. In the beginning, near everyone starts out with the same body parts, but that’s where the similarity ends. We are not made from the same mold and each of us has features and characteristics that make us, well us. To set up a style of light and use it for everyone makes a statement about the photographer, not the subject being photographed. Our characteristics, personality and physical features are what make us who we are. We are all pieces of art worthy of being celebrated.

A sculptor said the sculpture was already in the rock and he just chipped away the unnecessary parts to reveal the beauty that was within the rock. As a photographer I sculpt with light to emphasize the highlights of each subject, but just as each subject is different each subject requires a different light. 

Five subjects from a business portrait session last year have given me permission to use their portrait to illustrate what I mean. Some have asked that I not use their name, so none of the five names will be used.

The comments and observations expressed are my opinion only, but the lighting described is based on sound photographic training and practices.

The strong face and using split lighting.

Obviously the first thing I noticed on this young gentleman was the beard. The texture of the beard and skin combined with the well proportioned face and high cheekbones gave me reason to create a strong portrait. A strong portrait requires strong lighting.

The face

The oval shape with a strong chin needed emphasizes. The subjects left eye appeared to be ever so slightly lower than the right. Tilting the head to the right would have him leaning into the portrait and  raise the left eye relative to the right, evening out the appearance of the eyes.

The light

The strength of the face and the near perfect complexion meant I didn’t need to hide anything with the lighting. Strong directional lighting would bring out the texture of the beard and skin. The shape of the face would easily accept the weight of a broadside light.

Fill light

Wanting a strong directional light meant the fill must appear non-existent. To accomplish this a 72” white umbrella was employed.

Main light

To get the strong directional light I selected the hardest reflector I had; a small 7” silver reflector with no diffusion. I know that blasting a subject with light will destroy the skin tone. Although I wanted the light to have a strong directional flow it had to look natural. In this case I decided to use a split lighting pattern with a low ratio. I accomplished this by using the penumbra of the light, feathering it well in front of the subject. To get the split light at a low ratio I positioned a bounce on the shadow side of the face instead of on the highlight side. This lowered the ratio of light without destroying the split light pattern.

 Kicker (accent) light

I added dimension with a kicker light over the subjects left shoulder, giving a kiss of highlight to the face.

Post processing

This image required near nothing in post processing. I corrected a couple of whisker highlights, toned down a specular highlight in the ear, and made a minor adjustment to the hair. I removed a couple of blood vessels I the whites of the eyes and did a minor whitening of the teeth.


The pose and lighting of this portrait features the strength of subject, showcasing the shoulders and neck. The portrait pose is dynamic and gives the subject an action filled appearance.

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