Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Lighting 101: Three-Point Lighting

As a glamour shooter, I'm a three-point lighting guy. Just about every glam and tease model I shoot, I utilize three lights. Most of the time, I use those three lights in the same or similar configuration, i.e., a key light and two rim or highlight lights, which is a variation of traditional three-point lighting.

Traditionally, three-point lighting consists of a key light, a fill light, and a back light.  I learned to use traditional three-point lighting way back when while going to film school and taking classes in cinematography. That was also a period of my life when I began shooting lots of head shots for Hollywood hopefuls. So, naturally, I began using traditional three-point lighting for that work. Leastwise, when shooting with artificial lighting in my studio... I mean my garage which doubled as a makeshift studio via a simple, seamless, backdrop.

I didn't own any strobes when I first started shooting studio head shots. I had hot lights. But that didn't matter. I'd simply set my hot lights up in the traditional three-point lighting setup and the results were pretty good. After all, what's a head shot but, generally, a portrait of someone's head, face, shoulders and neck? And portrait photographers have  been using traditional three-point lighting for a long time. Many still do. Later, when I began shooting glamour, I modified the traditional three-point lighting setup to one where I sacrificed the fill light and moved it behind the model to one side. My back light also moved to the side.

In a geometric sense, all I'm doing is rotating the traditional three-point lighting setup on the axis of the model. I can change the look of the lighting by simply moving the rim lights forward or backward. If I feel I need some fill, I usually provide it with a reflector in front of and to one side or the other. The effect of the lighting also changes depending on how I orient the model to the camera and the lights.

In my opinion, this is the quickest, easiest, and simplest way to shoot glamour models and get some good results.  It can also work nicely for other genres of people photography, depending the lighting-look you want to capture. I often see the work of commercial photographers -- in magazines, on the web, and elsewhere -- who are using this sort of lighting setup.  You've likely seen plenty of examples of it as well. 

The photo of Aubrey above, one that I shot just the other night, is straight out of the camera except for resizing and just a very small bit of "Curves" adjusting.  (Click to enlarge.) You can see that, from the front, she's nicely lit. You can also readily see how the rim lights are providing nice highlights on either side of her body and on her face and hair, i.e., providing a glamour element, and making for a nicely-lit, semi-nude, glamour shot. Some might call this "old school," which it certainly is... but then, what can I say? I'm kind of an old school shooter.

Here's another snap of Aubrey from the same night. It was only her third time in front of a camera. I asked her to bust a "fashion" pose. So, here's Aubrey's version of a full-frontal fashion-posed nude. I love working with models who just "go with it."


Bill Giles said...

This is good stuff. Some might argue that it's cook book glamour, but it's important to be able to get good, reproducible results with a quick setup. I have never used the exact glamour setup that you have described, but I need to.

jimmyd said...

@Bill Giles: It is cook-book glamour. And it's in that cook-book for a reason: It most always produces delicious results. Not to mention -- well, you did mention it -- that it can be whipped up in a jiffy. No hours spent over a kitchen counter and stove, I mean over the lighting and setup. :-)

Joe Rooney said...

Hey Jimmy,

How high do you typically position your key light in that particular setup? Looking at the pics above, there appears to be a bit of fall-off below the model's waist. So I'm guessing the key is high and angled down to achieve that.

jimmyd said...

@Joe Rooney: You're right. It's high. Leastwise as high as I can get it when shooting at this particular location. My key is modified with a 4' Photek Softliter and the very top of it is just touching the ceiling in a room with an 8' ceiling. I'm sitting on an apple box a little bit in front of it.