Portrait Lighting Tutorial: How to Use the Main, Fill, Hair, Background, and Kicker Lights

Portrait Lighting Tutorial: How to Use the Main, Fill, Hair, Background, and Kicker Lights

Hi, I’m Tony Northrup and for my book
Stunning Digital Photography, I’d like to show you the four different types of
light in traditional portrait work. Now the first I’d like to show you is the
main light. And the main light front lights your subject. When you’re outdoors,
this is probably going to be the sun or it could be a reflector that you’re
holding in front of your subject. If you have the flash on, the flash is
going to be your main light. So I’ll take a picture with just the main light now. Now looking at that picture you will see really harsh transitions from bright to
dark. That’s because we just have one light
and absolutely no fill light. So if you want to soften the shadows,
we’re going to add some fill. Now I have the main light off to camera
left and I have the fill light behind me here, off the camera right. So what I’ll
do now is turn on this fill light and then take a second picture with the fill
light on. So as you can see, by adding fill, you
still have some of that dramatic light and you can still see the light from the
main light, but it’s a much more of a traditional portrait. Now you control how much fill there is
in a portrait and the more fill you have, the more soft the picture is going to
look, the more traditional the portrait is going to look. If you take all that
fill away, you’re gonna be left with very harsh and
dramatic lighting. And it’s entirely up to you the effect that you want to go for. With
no fill you get these kind of like deep and intense portraits. And if you have
plenty of fill, you get a softer mood, a lighter mood. Now let’s add in a third
light which is the hair light. The hair light is particularly important for
subjects that have dark hair, like Chelsea. If you have somebody with light hair or
white hair like me, you might find it quickly becomes way too bright
and looks a little blown out. So i’ll turn on that hair light and take another
picture of Chelsea. The hair light is typically positioned behind and above the
subject, but pointing down at them. You’ll see behind me that the hair light
has a snoot on it. The snoot helps to focus the light
beam and it just basically prevents the light from spilling everywhere else in
the picture and potentially adding in some unwanted light. So the fourth light
in this set is the background light. On these pictures so far, the background has
been completely black and maybe that’s the effect you want to go for. But if
you’re working with a white backdrop, if you don’t have a light on its going to turn out grey. Throw in that background light and it’s going to become bright white. With
a black backdrop like this, when I turn on the background light it’s going to go
from completely black to gray .Typically the background light is
pointed behind the subjects head and if you’re working in a low-key environment
like I am, you might put a grid on it to prevent the light from spilling
everywhere else. So I’ll go turn on that background light and we’ll take another
shot. I set up that background light to illuminate a spot right behind Chelsea’s head. This makes the background
more interesting instead of just being a solid color. To make sure that it shows
up in only a single spotlight, I put a grid on the strobe. The grid blocks
any light that’s headed out at any kind of an angle. Only light that’s headed
straight through the grid will show up on the backdrop. You can use grids with different density
cells to control just how much the backdrop spreads. Now, I told you this would be a four light
shoot and I’m going to throw a fifth light in there, a kicker light. I just attached a flash to a light stand
because I don’t happen to have a fifth light. So I will put this behind Chelsea
and show you what an extra kicker light can do. -Kick her, do you really think that’s appropriate? -{laughing} You can see that kicker light is helping
to separate Chelsea from the background further by illuminating the hair on the
camera left side of her face. Some of the light is also falling onto
her face and helping to accentuate her features a little bit. Now you don’t need five lights for every
portrait that you do. Often you can just put somebody next to the window and that
window would be your main light. And then hold up a reflector and that will be
your fill light. You might not need any background light or any hair light at
all. But I do want you to be familiar with the different types of light. If you like this video I hope you’ll
click like and subscribe down below to see more. And of course six more hours of video
just like this in Stunning Digital Photography, and that number is always
growing because we’re always improving the content. We’re keeping up to date as
software and photographic techniques change and we’re always adding new videos, most of which never go on youtube, it
just goes straight into the book. You can buy directly from us at northrup.photo or of course you can go to Amazon or just about any other book
store. Thanks so much

100 thoughts on “Portrait Lighting Tutorial: How to Use the Main, Fill, Hair, Background, and Kicker Lights

  1. Hey cockfag! You are killing it! i mean photography. People like you should never ever teach anything. Do not buy this shit people!! 

  2. You have the best elocution skills that I've ever seen in the internet. I wish my speech was so flawless. Really well done.

  3. hi tony.. i bought ur book and i appreciate ur work as i found ur ascent is easy to understand for me and book is really helpful for me learning photography. One question how do i mix ambient light with flash light and how to use light meters means if light meter meters light at subject at f 4 then what settings i must use on camera.

  4. Tony Northrup….the missing link for aspiring and photographers in general who has the innate ability to communicate his vast knowledge without fanfare. The gifted are those who can make the difficult appear ordinary. This man is the gold standard in teaching. He will make you a better photographer period. Bravo….

  5. I'm just getting into portraiture and flash photography, and really appreciate this video.  Have enjoyed several of your videos, and kudos to Chelsea as well.  Really enjoyed her in your nature photography 'pet peeves' video.

  6. Hi, Tony. I enjoyed this video of yours and that was literally like hours and hours of knowledge that's been explained a short 5 min video. Extremely informative. I have one question for you and this might be a funny one. I know this one photographer that told me something about studio lighting and he told me that if a black person and a white person were to sit together and about to get pictures taken together in a studio in a hands of an unexperienced studio photographer, their skintones will turn out purple. I found it funny when I first heard this but I am more curious about whether this is true or not. Hopefully that was not racist. Haha

  7. Thanks for the great tutorial, I'm a beginner so this helps greatly, I'm looking to buy lighting equipment, and need some advice as to what kind of lights to buy , May be some kind of kit any advice as to what to look for? Thanks!!!

  8. Hi Tony, What are you using for your background light? Do you tend to use two of them when using a white background to brighten the whole area?

  9. Just wanted to say I've learned a lot by watching your tutorials. They've helped me a lot. Just wanted to say thanks. Keep up the good work.

  10. Simple and informative. Detailed and easy to absorb for people who are just new to lighting like me.

    Great Job Tony and Chelsea !!

  11. Tony, you and Chelsea are AMAZING! I really appreciate you sharing all of you knowledge. I am a "budding" photographer and your videos have shed so much light on the mysterious world of photography. Thank you!

  12. Thank you for a well-presented and concise explanation of your process. Please list the 5 types of flash (brand) you use as well as what mechanism you use to have them fire simultaneously.

  13. Is there a disadvantage in using always on lights for various parts of the shoot? I can imagine it might upset exposure computations for other flash / strobe lights, but also seems like it would help in the framing setup and would be super easy to set up. The window and reflector idea would be examples of always on, would you ever also use a flash in that situation?

  14. I've looked around for help with my lighting skills. Some are not too bad they just don't meet my needs. Your explanation of how to is really easy to understand most if not all my work is has come from following you. My studio is set up just like yours for this portrait session. Keep it coming I'm taking in all that you say and do like a sponge. Thanks, by the way, what were the settings for this shoot?

  15. It would be useful to know what the strobe settings were as in what power they were set at. Obviously not everything was set at 100%.

  16. Tony, Chelsea, first of all, I would like to say, I absolutely love your work. You both, as a duo together is amazing! Reminds me of my wife and I actually. It's very lovely and a pleasure to see.

    I have one question for you, I have the "exact" setup that you all have in this video (minus the beauty dish)… My hair light is the item I have a question about. I have a Strobe, which is one of those light bulbs that can act as an optical slave. So, when the flash pop goes off, it fires. I do not have a radio trigger to have it go off, but I am using the built-in camera flash (Canon Rebel EOS T5) Now, with Portrait Photography… I'm usually shooting in the day time inside, next to a window as my main light, softbox camera left… I'm using a continuously on background cfl bulb to wash out my white background. Should I worry about the built-in flash affecting my pictures when using it to trigger my hair light? Or should I purchase wireless triggers to stick into the jack of my strobes that way there will be no need to use the built in flash in order to have it trigger? I also have a kicker light on order, and worried now that if I'm using my built in flash to trigger that, it will also affect the front quality of my portraits. Thanks!

  17. Thanks for the amazing demonstration! I feel quite awkward with my flash now and it's awesome to see how pro photographers hanging around with their lights 😀

  18. I like this tutorial. Can you make a video how to take an indoor glossy painting picture, including the light setup? Thank you..

  19. Great video! What is the main light – is it a beauty dish of some sort? Also, you get a lot done in what looks to be a fairly small space. What would you say are the dimensions of the room in which you are shooting? Thanks again for the video!

  20. Hi Tony, thanks for explaining everything so well and all the different types of effect lighting…she looks awesome…

  21. can you described what fstop power used for each of these lights if you don't mind? Looks to be easy setup but controlling those lights to make it looks right is a challenge.

  22. Hello Tony. Great tutorial. I am wanting to know what brand and model were you using for hair light and background light. Thanks you very much.

  23. 📷Portrait Gear Recommendations:📷
    Beginner ($950 at Amazon): Canon T6i http://help.tc/t6i & Canon 50mm f/1.8 http://help.tc/c50
    Better ($3,000 at Amazon): Nikon D610 http://help.tc/d610 & Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 http://help.tc/t200
    Best ($5,300) at Amazon: Nikon D810 http://help.tc/d810 & Nikon 70-200 f/2.8E http://help.tc/n200e

  24. Love the layering examples of main, fill, … Beginners can really see the benefit of these lights. Thank you, Tony and Chelsea!!!

  25. any idea what is the exposure on each light? like whats the difference between the key light and the kicker or the flash or the fill light??? help pleaseeeeee

  26. very helpful and understandable nice explanation.. short video but very informative than other who give a tut in very long and boring explanation..

  27. Main & fill should both be on the same side of the camera (which should be on a camera stand or tripod)

  28. Thank you for the video,

    I just wish you mentioned which type of lighting is each one, like soft box, beauty dish… etc.

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