Lighting is one of the key elements in photography. It can make it or break it, and it adds a lot to the story you want to tell with your image. In this video, Adorama teams up with Emily Teague who talks about the use of dramatic lighting in portraits. She tells you about how to use it, and gives you a lighting demo to show you her simple setup for dramatic, moody portraits.
1. Use shadows to your advantage
With high key portraits, there aren’t many shadow areas in your images. Low key portraits, on the other hand, give you a lot of contrast between light and dark areas of the image. And these shadows will tell the story just like the highlights.
Contrasty, low-key lighting is perceived as moody, mysterious, and dramatic. It’s the way to go if this is the mood you want to portray in your work, which brings us to the next tip.
2. Think about the story
When creating your lighting setup, think about the story and emotion you want to convey. Think about the colors in your image and how they will work with the lighting. For example, if your model wears bright colors associated with joy and happiness, using dramatic lighting most likely won’t work. It will make your image feel inconsistent. You want everything to make sense together: lighting, colors, clothes, props, and the model’s expressions and poses. And even if you mix happy colors with moody lighting – be deliberate about it.
3. Use color theory
The third tip leans onto tip number two. We associate certain colors with certain moods, emotions, and representations. Emily recommends a great book on this: If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die. It talks about the power of color in visual storytelling; it’s meant for filmmakers, but it will be of great use to photographers as well.
Put simply, you need to decide on the connotation you want your photo to have, and then choose your color scheme accordingly. And then, match the connotation of the color scheme with one of the lighting.
Around the third minute of the video, Emily takes you to her studio to show you her lighting setups, but also the color scheme and the style that he chose for the shoot. There are two looks that she shares with you.
To create dramatic, contrasty lighting, she first uses a flash with a 39” (100cm) octabox. The light is placed on the model’s right, and on her left is a black V-flat to absorb the lighting on the other side of her face. For the next setup, the model is surrounded by the black side of the V-flat and the light hits her face from around 1 45-degree angle. There’s also a piece of whiteboard underneath her chin to bounce off some light to her face.
Make sure to watch the video above to get a better idea of how to create these two simple lighting setups. And once you use them to create some beautiful portraits, make sure to apply Emily’s three tips to get the best from your shots.