7 common studio portrait lighting mistakes and how you can avoid them

Jan 2, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

7 common studio portrait lighting mistakes and how you can avoid them

Jan 2, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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We all make mistakes in photography. All of us. But these are things which help us learn and grow as photographers. We make mistakes, we figure out what went wrong, we correct it and then don’t make that mistake again. Thanks to the modern Internet, though, we can learn from the mistakes of others, too.

In this video, photography Antti Karppinen talks us through 7 of the most common lighting mistakes photographers make shooting portraits in the studio. But he’s also going to show us how we can avoid them, too.

YouTube video

So, let’s have a look at this list with timestamps for handy reference.

  • 1:14 – Main light too low (in height, not brightness)
  • 2:45 – Main light too high
  • 3:36 – Fill light in the wrong position & power level
  • 5:19 – “Nose light” separation too far forward toward the subject
  • 6:40 – Overexposed separation (rim light)
  • 7:44 – Backlight flaring into the camera
  • 9:13 – Background light too bright

At some point or another in the course of my photography, I’ve been guilty of all of these. As have most portrait photographers I know. They might not have done it for a few years, but when starting out, absolutely. It’s all part of the learning process. And I think when you’re learning, even if you know of these mistakes I think it’s good to intentionally make them sometimes and see exactly how it affects the shot first-hand.

That way, when you do fix it and shoot it the way you intended, you’ll know exactly how and why the issue appeared. And you’ll also have a bit more experience to be able to figure out when you want to “break the rules” and intentionally make these mistakes for creative effect. I know I’ve certainly done that with the whole “backlight flaring into the camera” thing before now. It worked particularly well with a CTO gel over it, too. Or at least, it gave me the result I wanted.

So, when you’re shooting portraits with flash, and you see these issues popping up, now you’ll know how to fix them.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “7 common studio portrait lighting mistakes and how you can avoid them”

  1. Antti Karppinen Avatar
    Antti Karppinen

    And Im using that back flare too with gels :D but .. you have to know what you are “breaking” :D And Im sure there are many more basic errors people make in the studio.

  2. Latosz Avatar
    Latosz

    One opportunity lost: to present how it should look like, not only how it shouldn’t.