The position of light in relation with your subject can significantly affect the atmosphere of your shots. Depending on where you place the lighting, you can completely change the mood of the scene. In this video, Mark Wallace of Adorama teaches you the basics and gives you a quick preview of how the placement of light affects your portraits. If you’re new to portrait photography, you’ll find this especially useful.
The position of light is observed in relation to the position of our camera. In this regard, we distinguish three types of light: front light, side light, and backlight. We can change the light moving it in relation to the camera, but also by moving the camera closer or further away from the light.
Contrast is an important thing to understand when it comes to the placement of light. It’s “the difference between the darkest and lightest areas in a photograph.” And the greater the difference, the higher the contrast. We can change the contrast by changing the position of the light. Front light gives very little contrast because the light is the same on both sides of the model’s face. There’s no significant change from the brightest to the darkest areas of the subject’s face.
Sidelight creates higher contrast photos and there’s a significant difference between the darkest and the brightest areas of the image.
Backlight creates maximum contrast and the subject becomes a silhouette.
In addition to moving the light horizontally around the subject, we can move it vertically as well.
Here are the examples of the light placed low, medium and high in the relation to the camera:
As I mentioned, the placement of light affects the mood of your shots. Therefore, placing it below your subject’s face creates a more sinister and fearful look, while placing it above makes the person look more relaxed and friendly. Front light gives you a flat look, while the side light makes portraits look more dramatic. You can see great examples here, and it’s definitely something to have in mind when setting up the light for shooting portraits.