AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

The Standard Three Light Setup Used In Photography

A three light setup is the standard used in photography to give the photographer as much control over the illumination of their subject as they need.

By using three separate lighting positions the photographer can control or eliminate shading and shadows produced by direct lighting. The three light setup is also used as the standard in other disciplines as well...such as video, film and some computer generated imagery.

The Key light is the main light that shines directly toward your subject. This light serves as your main illuminator. It’s direction, angle, strength and colour determine the shot’s overall lighting effect.

When shooting indoors, the key light can be a specialised lamp or even the camera’s flash. When outside, the key light is usually the Sun. Although this type of lighting is a little bit harder to control.

The Fill light is a secondary light and also shines on the subject. This light is usually setup at the opposite side from the key light and sometimes slightly lower…usually at the same level as the subject’s face.

It works alongside the key light by illuminating shaded areas caused by the key light or other lighting. It can add contrast and creative shading across the subject’s face. The fill light is also usually softer than the key light and less bright.

You can also use a reflector as a fill light if you are working in a tight space or on a budget. The reflector can be used to alter the lighting quickly during shooting by simply moving the angle slightly as the pictures are taken.

The Back light, or Separation light as it is sometimes referred to, shines on the subject from behind. It is usually place to one side or the other and is used for lighting a subjects’ hair or shoulders. This hepls to separate them from the background and also for highlighting contours

Equipment First Setup Equipment Second Setup
3 Mathews C-stands 3 Mathews C-stands
2 Large Photoflex softboxes 1 Small Photoflex softbox
1 Small Photoflex softbox Profoto 5 degree honeycomb grid
Profoto Acute2R 1200 Generator Profoto Standard Reflector
3 Profoto Acute D4 heads Profoto Acute2R 1200 Generator
Westcott muslin backgrounds 2 Profoto Acute D4 heads
Background Support System standard 18×24 flag
3 x 15-pound Sandbag 2 Calumet 42×78 Panels with
silver/black fabric
  4 x 15-pound Sandbag

Some Useful Books

Photographing People by Roger Hicks
Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers

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Northern Ireland