Sculpting Facial Features with Light
Lighting can be the key to making a portrait look beautiful. The right ambient light, or even additional artificial lighting, can be used to make the most of a person’s facial features and create attractive and interesting portraits. To really make an impact, it’s important to understand the purpose of each light source and how to use it to define and bring out different features of the face. Here’s how to use lighting to sculpt facial features when taking a portrait.
Accentuate Facial Features with Highlight
Adding highlight to facial features helps create contrast and draw the eye to the face. When using natural light, try to position the subject so that the light is higher than the face. This can be achieved by taking the photo outdoors during the golden hour, when the light is low and creates a natural highlighter effect. You can also use powered lights to accentuate facial features. Aim for a light source coming from slightly to the side of the face, at about a 45-degree angle.
Create Drama with Shadow
Adding shadows can help bring more dimension to a portrait. When taking photos in natural light, find an area with both light and shadow and position yourself in the shadow. This will create an interesting contrast and add structure to the face. You can also use fog machines and other lights to create a dramatic look by casting shadows across the face. Try using multiple light sources if you want to create more depth.
Define Features with a Light from Below
Lighting from below can help define and contour facial features. A light coming from below the face can emphasize the cheekbones and chin, making them more prominent. This type of light is often used in a creative way for editorial portraits, but you can also try positioning your light source near the ground. This will create an interesting yet subtle look and bring out different textures in the skin.
Create an Atmospheric Effect
Incorporating a separate light source can help create a dreamy effect. If you want to achieve an atmospheric look, try positioning a catchlight, such as a flashlight, near the subject and taking a long exposure photo. This will create a halo of light around the face and soften the features. This technique can also be used to create an ethereal portrait or a surreal effect.
Once you’ve chosen your light sources, you can add finishing touches to your portrait. Try incorporating props to help enhance the light, such as reflectors or umbrellas. Consider using coloured gels or light modifiers to change the colour and mood of the lighting. Keep in mind that every portrait is different, so experiment with different lighting techniques until you find the right one for your subject.