Digital Portrait Photography; An Excerpt From Steve Sint’s Latest Book Page 2

The hair light has two assignments: It illuminates the subject’s hair, making it sparkle, and it separates the subject from the background. It is usually fitted with a light modifier that limits the width of its beam so as not to create lens flare. A hair light is usually mounted on a boom arm so it can be centered over and behind the subject’s head, or it can be placed behind the background, peaking over so its support stand is hidden. It is usually 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 stops more powerful than the main light depending upon the subject’s hair color.

The background light, as the name implies, illuminates the background but, unlike the other three light sources, it has the least consistency in how it is used. It can be placed high and to the side of the background with a light modifier narrowing its beam so that it slices across the background. It can be fitted with a light modifier to narrow its beam and be placed low and centered or off to a side to illuminate the lower half of the background. It can even be a broad source depending upon the background’s size, or it may even be two or more lights combining broad and hard sources to illuminate the background and spotlight details within it. Background lights are usually 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 stops less powerful than the main light, depending upon the background’s color and how you want it to appear.

Sometimes you should forget the fill light altogether.
By comparing this illustration to the photograph, you can see how each of the three lights were positioned for this portrait. For more clarification, a pulled back shot shows the entire set.
Photos © 2008, Lark Books, All Rights Reserved

Note how often “usually” is used in the descriptions of the four light sources. While I can guarantee that using the suggestions cited will almost always produce a stopper portrait, there are literally millions of other ways to create beautiful portraits—but you should at least understand and try these suggestions. Also note that there are very few “always” mentioned above. These “always” certainties are etched in stone because they refer to the definitions of what the lights do. If you are working with two lights of equal power, and move the fill light in closer than the main light so that it becomes more powerful, it is no longer the fill light because it has, by definition, become the main light. If you were to do this, then what was the main light automatically becomes the fill light. The point here is that by mentally assigning each light a title, and understanding the definition of that title, it is easier to understand how to position them.