• Russ Tierney

Let's talk lighting patterns and 'REAL' portraiture

Episode 10 of 1 minute 101's v2

Lighting Patterns.. Rembrant, Paramount.. proper portraiture.. say what now?

How important is a lighting pattern really? Well, in the video I suggest it's the most important thing after getting the correct exposure, but that may not technically be true! You could argue that connecting with your subject and catching that fleeting moment of realism and vulnerability is, but marrying that moment with professionalism because you've developed your eye and know your way around lighting will be a game changer. Photography lighting is a tool, it sets the scene, so how you light a subject will drastically change it's narrative and vibe, but of course, capturing that special moment fullstop will obviously beat missing it! Plus you can always pretend you meant it, and that it was a juxtaposition with the lighting.. or something.




Rankin, who is known for his 'portraiture' (aka capturing someone's true personality) alongside his editorial and fashion 'portraits'; he sometimes (maybe often) uses a human light stand. He'll have an assistant who is holding and moving the light in real time.. i.e. he's constantly working his light around the subject's emotional and physical output. As to how and why you're doing and capturing it the way you are, well that will always be subjective, and it'll pretty much come down to convenience (most won't have an assistant), but also it's a massive slice of the photographer's personality and style too. It's often said that a portrait can reveal more about the photographer than is does the subject! As a celebrity photographer, Rankin can try to pull something out of famous people rarely seen as part of their public persona, or merely just play up to their quirks or character depending on what the images are being shot for, and that's a luxury most of us will never be lucky enough to get! I think you've got to invest a little time before the shoot with every day people whom you don't know to get that same feeling and freedom for what you want to achieve, assuming you wish for that to be your route with portrait photography. In fairness, even when we're in the studio working with models, while they're doing/having their makeup done pre shoot, you should make time to chat with them as it'll help rapport and lower any pre-shoot nerves either of you have, plus you may even find you've been doing exactly what we mentioned above without ever realising it all along.


Five photography lighting patterns.. which is your fave, and why? Does it change with your mood? For me, I tend to side towards creating an image than capturing one. Ironically, if I'm doing an event, then I loath the formals and just want to capture real life, but with my own shoots, I love the creative output of seeing a thought process being brought to life, or shooting an exploration piece that either encourages people to think on a subject when they wouldn't normally, or failing that via their pigheadedness, pushing their buttons and forcing them to have an emotional reaction to their own insecurities. That's not saying that I don't love the concept of being able to reveal a personality either, but it's just not something I've had a drive to do personally. Shooting a lot of models, too, i've always maintained that it's a sure way for the model to hate you! As humans, we typically hate the things a photographer wants to reveal about us, they're the things we live with every day and typically find cringe about ourselves as a result, but they're also the things that if you capture them, their family will instantly love and recognise as 'them' - quite possible the number one aim of any decent family photographer. These days and while not having the luxury of being able to juxtapose celebrities like David Lachapelle, or even Rankin, I prefer exploring raw human personalities inwardly so I know who I am every day, or, in terms of entertainment, via podcasting and interviews. I highly recommend checking out Soft White Underbelly if you fancy the latter.


Anyways, ramble over (see, I love a good exploration piece about how I view stuff) and back to lighting patterns (finally!), the basics can be painfully easy - just get that key (main) light up and angled down! I occasionally see people come in to the studio who have their key light at head/body height, and that's instantly going to give you dodgy light unless you're purposefully controlling it for your own reasons. Just look at the light on me in that 101 above - I didn't light it to be lovely light, merely just to illuminate the scene.. and it's doesn't look professional, it's just doing a job because I didn’t consider it to be important while just wanting the scene lit. No amount of sharpness, camera gear or correct exposure will fix the fact that it'll feel off and not professional to a refined eye. You can apply the same lighting theories to video (continuous) lighting as you do stills, but for simple scenarios, just raise that light up and angle it down, and depending on where the model is facing, you've instantly got Paramount, Loop or Rembrandt lighting, and then the rest is over to you, your styles and what shadows you find distracting by taste or narrative! This series will cover all those patterns and more, but having said all that, if you know the rules and want to break them, do! A raw narrative translates far better with raw lighting because it doesn't create a barrier (in the form of professional lighting) between the subject and viewer. The subject is just like you, almost touchable, certainly replicable, so why not use that as a tool too to convey that feeling? - that's something for you to think about! :)

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