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Portrait Lighting Techniques with a China Ball

5/07/2017 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

This is a classic lighting setup, generally called 3 point lighting — although in our case more like 2.5 point, since one point is only a reflection. It’s useful in pretty much any situation where you want a subject to look nice, but most importantly its the starting point for understanding all lighting setups.

The Lighting Channel placed a large china ball on the model’s right (key light), on the left a white styrofoam board to fill in the shadows (fill light), and from high up behind a painter’s lamp to help separate the top of the head from the background (back light).

They used a China Ball because the large diffused key light creates a nice shadow gradient across the models face, keeping all the lines smooth and pleasing. By having a reflector instead of a third light we create more dramatic shadows on the face.

If we skipped the the reflector, we would have such dramatic shadows (or deep shadows) that you would lose a lot of detail in the face. On the other hand, if we had lamp there — such as a smaller china ball —we would get a more even image, and if both lights have the same brightness what we call a flat image (because its super boring).

Finally, when the backlight kicks on it really separates the head from the background. How much light to use here is a creative choice, it really helps shapes your subject, but too much can make them look “lit”. For an interview situation that can be appropriate, but for fiction it could bring the viewer out of the scene, or make everything seem fake or like a soap opera.

These 3 sources of light are the basic tools you need to light any subject. The rest is determining how much to use each one and how exactly to position them in relationship to the subject and camera.

About The Lighting Channel:

The Lighting Channel is a video platform dedicated to inspiring and empowering people to design their world through light. We provide creative solutions to basic lighting needs by focusing on atmosphere, mood, space-shaping and different uses of material.

Text, images and video via The Lighting Channel

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