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Lighting Solutions for Portrait Photography

Lesson 2 of 6

The Distance of Light from the Subject


Lighting Solutions for Portrait Photography

Lesson 2 of 6

The Distance of Light from the Subject


Lesson Info

The Distance of Light from the Subject

So we want to take some pictures of shiny. So the first thing is actually stand up for a minute. When you go to set up your studio, you put a backdrop up. You could put a penny backdrop you want normally you do the opposite colors of skin tones, maybe a blue opposite of the flesh color you don't want to put brown and brown. They're just going to blend in there's no contrast there. So when you go to set up your stool, if you put the stool right there yeah, one second start if you put the store right there and I put this light on shiny what's gonna happen. Is she's going to make a shadow right on the backdrop. It's hard to see right now because all the studio lights in there. So the first thing you do is get the stool feiler enough away from the background so that you can light the background independently shiny sit back down. I like about her. She's got good posture. I don't have to tell her set up, set up self, just teasing. So the first thing you want to do is get him away from the ba...

ckground because then let's just say I want to add a color job for that background. So I've got a light, I put a colored jell and if this main like, hits that background, wash it all the way out, so if I could keep that away, you isolate the background, you could do whatever you want with the background, you can lighten it, you could darken it, you can add color to it, get the subject away from the background. So now I'm taking up allow space here look how much space I'm taking up, but this is what it's going to take to do a nice portrait ticket to next level here is we get into some of the questions I'd like to ask you. You've got your life. We're going to take a portrait over. We're going to go through how high, how far away where to position the like all the things what does this light do? It's not just turn on, take a picture ah five year old can come up here puts cameron autofocus turned the light on take a picture. We have to be better than that. You're living in a day and time right now. Everybody's a photographer, everybody, it doesn't work, it doesn't worry me, it doesn't bother me at all because they don't know how to take a picture. They don't know lighting and they don't know how to move their light and they don't know how to correct it to make people look good they're just turning on a light a light like the guy was just tiling the floor tile the floor there's a pattern there's a reason there's a science behind taking a photograph what's your best side where is she? Partner here. Where is the main light? Go over here over there over here for timers say I got window light I think you've got a window late shut the window off because of her hair's parted over here and I turn the main line I would make a shadow across her forehead so there has to be lit opposite part of four at the part of the hair because if you've got things and you like it there it's gonna make shells across it takes so shut the window light off take your like movie where you want okay, so the first thing we're going to talk about is the distance off the light from the subject says the most important decision you'll ever make photographers do not understand what the distance does. Most photographers think that the distance off the light control softness it's not it does and it can, but you're using it for the wrong reason the distance off the light controls coverage the size of the light controls softness you should not be moving the light in and out because you want to change the softness has nothing to do with that the size of the box doesn't ok so whenever I go visit a photographer first thing I always ask him this was your life five feet away why she was three feet away why is yours ten feet away what is the science behind the distance is anybody no what does the distance do distance is your coverage you need to know how much okay so watch this let's say I had this like really close to her and I like her I want take a picture of say it's my daughter I want take a picture with her so nam next door what's wrong with the lighting she's brighter than I am why could she's closer to the light than I am so why are why are we moving the light and so close you ever do a wedding you put the bride by the window okay fine until her dad stands next door or what she wants a full length you can't do a full length picture with the light the window that close to him so from the beginning why didn't you just put him away from the window? I should just start in the middle of the room why would you put him right up against the window? Don't make sense now I could do a three quarter into a full length I could do a close up aiken and people to it see if your lights really close dies fast doesn't go anywhere okay cool because I don't like this room I mean I met the bright tell something to myself the backdrops of mess one time I had take the picture in the laundry room that I got to the house of dad's eaten in these five are policies eaten in the living room he would move on like going you know this is stuff you're going to come across what do you do so if I brought the light really close what would happen to the room the room would go dark now I just hired you to take a picture this beautiful girl in a room that's gorgeous you got one light with you the room is gorgeous why did I hire you to go on location if the location is not going to show so where would you put the light how far away get on location and you're in a beautiful room you've got one life what do you do back it up on what would happen ok so the first decision and lighting is the most important decision that is your distance don't move the light something timers move a light for brightness when I first got started this is what I did was not bright enough bring it closer oh it's too bright back it up I was controlling the distance to the brightness does the brightness really matter if I took three pictures here I turned this light all the way down. First pitcher two point eight and we're going take three pictures at different exposures different brightness is to see if this has anything to do with quality. Two point eight out of sixty turned up two point eight at one twenty five turned it up two point eight eight to fifty and I showed you those three pitchers they're all shot a two point eight there's no difference in depth the field would there be any differences in the quality? Just brightness have anything to do with it? Nothing. Zero some retirees like all that box is big, so I need more light no, the bigger the box doesn't need any more light it's just kind of the how work. So, like I said, move the light at different distances to control your light up the field. Okay, I got that appointment book I got I got a family coming in. How many people? Eight, eight people. That means four in the front price for in the back or whatever. How far do I have to back that light up until it covers the whole group evenly? All right, then what do you do? Why are there different size soft boxes why would they make different sizes what does the size do what do you think what makes lighting soft the size what makes lighting soft it's the size most photographers think it's diffusion so let's just get rid of the diffusion thing let's take this office this's diffusion just take this and throw this away because it doesn't do anything diffusion does not make lighting soft if you're light is this big and you put to feel like you ever see for tires put it diffuser on top of their flash does anybody even know why you put that on your flash? Read the manual why did you put the diffuser on your flash on your camera? It says in the manual when you put your fish I aren't put the diffuser on because your flash would never spread their farm diffusion if you look it up in the dictionary says disperse now thiss happens to be a really big piece of diffusion material so this would work but not a little one softness is on ly controlled by how big your light is I don't care but silver if it's white of its gold whatever it is this without diffusion I could still be soft it's how big it is see the sun is bigger than the earth it's so far away that small on overcast day everything's lit that's why it's so softness really soft shadows the bigger the light, the softer, the shadows when people have wrinkly faces and the old or family groups were your light in a group. And you got another person back here next to you that, like camp from her for the shadow. I mean, there's going to be missing information, the bigger that is, the lighter, the shadow. So light shadows okay, it doesn't look like a mistake. So if I've blocked that lightened didn't let you even see the light that I was using, and you're looking at the shadows that the shadows really dark and have a really good point to it. It's small. If the shadows like gray, this is really big. So you need to know that you need to know what's correct distance. You need to know what size of a light to use and get rid of the diffusion stuff on your little flashes. If it's me, I bounce my flash off that wall right there, not off the ceiling because the nets raccoon eyes would you put your would you put your main light up here? And she was straight down? No, why would you ever bounce a flash off the ceiling? Never and never in a million years would you ever see me, or would you ever see me in my flash straight? Follow me. How david wedding you will never see me with a flash aim street it's always. Oh, hey, how are you turn this way, bouncing off that wall, I could manipulate people I got, I'm aware of my awareness that black wall and could bounce anything. So why would I come over here that black wambach's, my flash off the black while I'm not gonna, I'm going to go, hey, look over here, I'll turnem! If they're dancing and their hands air in their face, I'll push their fans down, but boom and bounce right off their sideways, it's my flashes, aim that way. Same thing we're going to do in the studio.

Class Description

Join award-winning photographer and 25-year studio owner, James Schmelzer, for Lighting Solutions for Portrait Photography. 

In this class, James will teach you how to light everyday people and not just perfect models. He will break down the specifics on where the lighting should be and why it needs to be there. He’ll explain how high, how far away, why you change the distance, how do you light groups, and what size light should you use? 

After the basics, you will learn the seven advanced lighting patterns and why you need to use them. You’ll learn how to analyze a face and decide where to place the light to minimize flaws and flatter your subject and which lens will achieve the style you are after.  


  1. Class Introduction
  2. The Distance of Light from the Subject

    Explore the different results you get when you adjust the distance between your backdrop, subject, and light source.

  3. Positioning the Lights
  4. Studying the Patterns of Light
  5. Using Reflectors & Fabrics in Light
  6. Lighting Real People & Situations



First off - the instructor's personality is not for everyone. I personally found him hilarious. He's your typical brash, cocky New Yorker AKA my kind of people. As for the class, its very instructive. He doesn't show off every single lighting style he mentions (loop, broad, short, butterfly, etc) in exquisite detail but that's because the purpose is to use whatever light makes your subject look the best. He goes through each one, but very quickly. His two main lighting examples are butterfly and rembrandt. The portraits he takes are very high school senior style, but the information he provides is incredibly useful for any other kind of lighting situation. There is a boat load of excellent information in this class; you just gotta know that what he's telling you is applicable across the board.

a Creativelive Student

Fantastic course! Loved the instructors sense of humor and direct, straight to the point approach!