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The Foundations of Light

Lesson 26 from: Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Stacy Pearsall

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Lesson Info

26. The Foundations of Light


Lesson Info

The Foundations of Light

Let's talk about the classics. Now I said again and again that art history has really impacted how we work in photography, and that goes across the board. Did you know that it was Hans Holbein that created that beautiful painting of King Henry VIII? He also painted all of his wives. Did you know that he used a camera obscura to get the foundation of those paintings? Interestingly enough. Hans Holbein would have his subjects sit within light and put a lens, a piece of glass, block it in a window, sit on the other side, that projection would be on the paper or the canvas and he would sketch them out and then later make all these beautiful masterpieces. So we could argue that the camera's been around a heck of a lot longer than camera and film as we know it. That said, these wonderful painters really created the foundation of how we create portraits and what we think as fine art portraits and typical posing, for instance. And most especially, classic lights. Rembrandt, being one of them, ...

is quite famous. And he created in his studio a skylight specifically to create this angle of light and this specific light, but I'm gonna talk about that in a minute. Each of these has the ability to be modified and amplified, and we're gonna discuss that in the next segment. But right now, these are foundations for... Let's talk about painting, I was putting layers of paint, so to speak, or layers of light, and enhancing mood. So Rembrandt's very classic. Split light. So maybe like a dual personality. You know what I mean? Or has really great division between their face, so somebody who has a really great chin, maybe that really crisp upper lip. Maybe their personality seems to be a little bit bipolar. Not in his case. Seriously, not in his case. Paramount light. Paramount! When I say the word paramount, what comes to mind? Movie stars. Movie stars! Paramount lighting was created by the lighting artists at Paramount to make their Hollywood starlets so glamorous and beautiful in every shot, which is why it is still very popular today. Now, oddly enough, I don't like to use a glamour lighting. I don't like to say it's called glamour lighting, for the specific reason that I use it on men. And some men would maybe find that offensive. I'm just gonna throw a little glamour light on you. Like, what? Because Paramount light is essentially light that is directly overhead, casts a shadow underneath the nose. We're gonna go more in-depth with all of these in just a moment. I'm gonna discuss with you the difference between broad light, short light. And then finally, loop light. This is another pretty classic go-to light. Rembrandt, this genius of a lighter, had that skylight put in his studio so that at the perfect, precise time of day, the light would pass through, step onto his subject, cast a light onto the side of the face, and every time you light a candle, you cast a shadow. So when that light came through, it hit the nose, and then created this beautiful upside-down triangle on the other side of the face. And definitely flattering. It's versatile, and I will show you any number of ways in a moment about how we can use Rembrandt lighting. It's, in my opinion, all lighting is unisex. Some people, again, associate, say, Paramount lighting with women, particularly, but I don't think that's fair. I think you're going to read personalities and apply lighting regardless of what people think is gender appropriate. Now, I put this in there. Best for shapely noses. 'Cause anybody who doesn't really have much of a nose it's gonna be hard to cast a shadow from it. So you have to also look at the landscape of an individual's face and see if the lighting you're attempting to do is actually going to be successful. Split lighting is achieved by having the light over or near the subject's shoulder, on one side or the other. And light makes a definitive line right split down the middle of the person's face. And again, it adds a little bit of depth and mystery. It's dramatic. And it's best to be used with people with defined lips or have that little dimple in the chin. Is that called a dimple? Cleft, cleft chin, right? Is that right? Anyway. Now, if you were to take away the accent light that's falling, it would just be like a yin and yang. So it too can denote somebody that has maybe a shifty personality, somebody who is a little hot and cold. Maybe you know somebody who can be laughing one minute and tearing up the next. Okay. Paramount lighting has a number of synonyms, and they're all out there. Butterfly lighting, beauty lighting, glamour lighting. In this case, we're gonna stick to calling it Paramount lighting. They're the ones that kind of created and coined it, and I prefer to use gender neutral terms. Not that a man can't be glamorous, however. With Paramount lighting, the light will be in front and high. Because if it's in front and low, you're just gonna have directional front lighting, it's very flat and not dimensional. Paramount needs to be elevated. And you're going to actually maneuver it based on the individual's nose. You're also going to make sure that you're taking care to look at the individual's eyes. If they have deeply set eyes, the higher you'd go, the more in shadow they'll fall. Depending on the individual's personality and the body language they're putting out, perhaps you want to cast that in shadow. Does that make sense? So, people often associate Paramount lighting with being feminine. However, if somebody has... Goodness, Charlie! My dog is snoring, everybody. Don't forget, Charlie's over here holding up the wall. If somebody, to me, seems to have a sort of pristine demeanor or seems to be. Okay, hold on a second. Charlie! (laughs) (audience members laugh) Oh, I love you so much. Hi, you're so deep in sleep. He's, oh, I'm sorry. His little, he's like, why are you waking me up? Okay, alright, thank you. I love him, okay. You're a good boy, but you snore loud. Alright. So Paramount lighting has the tendency or the connotation of being feminine, but I don't always agree with that. I believe that Paramount lighting is really good to accentuate cheekbones. It has the opportunity to accentuate brows, so for men, for instance. You, sir, have an exemplary brow. Put your stuff down, come up front, please. (audience member laughs) How you doin'? Great. Good. Right, Paramount on a gentleman. Look straight forward for me. So Paramount, watch here for me. They call it butterfly lighting often because the shadow that's cast by the nose, and that's why I put that nice little graphic up, my little butterfly graphic, because they say that the shadow looks like a butterfly. I don't know what they're talking about, I don't really see it. But anyway, for a gentleman, look how this can accentuate his brow. It's different from say, Rembrandt, which is when the shadow connects on the cheek, see that? I have a shapely nose. You have a shapely nose, that works. Versus split. For me, when I look at your face, I see intensity in your eyes, and I've been watching your body language and you seem like a little bit of an intense gentleman. Your brow is perfect for that style. What do you think? Mmhmm. Yeah, you're amazing. I appreciate you jumping on the hot seat for me. You can bring the lights back up, please. (audience member laughs) You did awesome! Now, Paramount can be a foundation to be used with other accent lights. So in the next segment, I'm gonna talk a lot about these foundations in conjunction with accentuating lights. Now, every time I have somebody new in my studio who's working with me, and again, I don't like the word assisting because it seems like too much of an inferior word. When I'm working with my colleagues, I'm always saying to them, short side, front side. So there has to be a little bit of an education done. The short side is in reference to the side of the face that's furthest from camera. So if the camera is this direction here, and my subject is facing this direction, the short side of the face is gonna be the side of the face that's furthest from camera. Short side lighting is really, really good for creating drama. It adds visual dimension. Because now, you're actually, as the photographer shooting from this direction, you're shooting into the shadows. And it's good for regular and fuller faces. Because now you're actually creating a more narrow space, a more narrow view of light, and most of the face is now going to be in shadow. Unless you put fill in, which we're gonna talk about in the next segment. Now, y'all, pop quiz. What side is my short side? Y'all are pointing this way, so it's this side? Yes. Excellent. How about now? [Audience Members] Other side. Other side? Okay. You guys are so sharp! (audience members laugh) Now, broad side. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. The broad side being like the widest part, yknow that sort of sarcastic, it's big, how are you gonna miss that? The broad side actually refers to the face that's most to camera. That's because it's the fullest, you have the full view. Broad side is not for everybody, okay? It does hide imperfections, because if it's lit, it's fully lit, it's not going to necessarily show all the crooks and the crags and all that good stuff like short light would. It illuminates the majority of the face, so now you're shooting into the majority side of the face. However, it really is not best for fuller faces. You really want to make sure that you're looking at doing a broad side light with somebody's face who has the landscape for it. Maybe has a longer face, has a more narrow face. You'd be ideal. Come to me, my friends. Alright. Good to see you again. You too. How you feeling? Good. You doing good? (slaps knees) Yeah. Wonderful. Okay, what I want you to do is maybe turn a little bit toward Charlie right there. Good. I wanna turn my, I should. Da da da da. Do you want cold light or warm light? I think I'll go warm. So come back to front to me. Good. Just my head, or? Whatever you feel like. Whatever you like, how about that? Okay, so now this is called front lighting. This is where, obviously, the light is in the front, everything's being lit. I know, right? (audience members laugh) What should we call this? I think we should call it front lighting. Excellent. (audience members laugh) Alright, so I'm gonna come on around here, and now I'm going to have you angle your body toward me a little bit. Keep going, right there's good. Now, what side am I lighting him on? Short side. Woohoo! And now? [Audience Members] Broad side. I'm hitting the broad side of the barn right there. Now, did you guys note the difference? So I'm coming back around. Little bit of Rembrandt short right there. What do you think? Which do you like better? [Audience Members] Short. Where were you last night? (laughs) (audience members laugh) Okay, we can have the lights back up. I would say, again, when it comes to, thank you so much. When it comes to lighting, it's about the individual, and not about our personal preference. Oftentimes, we let our own emotions and how we think the light should look. Well, this would look really good. Because that's what it looks aesthetically. I want you to get away from that idea. I want you to take into account all that we talked about yesterday with personalities, and remember that it's not about us, it's about them. That we may think that this light's going to look really beautiful, but, surely, it looks really beautiful. Is it the right light for that individual? Does it best amplify the personalities that we see before us? So the last classic we're going to talk about is Loop. Loop is my lazy Rembrandt. Loop light basically means it's not connected, that shadow of the nose is not connected into the cheek shadow on the opposite side of the light. It's also pretty commonly used. I would say it really depends, it's quite classic. It's all around for any shape face. It's really uncomplicated, because then you don't have to worry about any specks of light that are coming through your Rembrandt shadow connection. And it's good for regular, standard faces and oval faces. So it's a nice go-to. Just on its own, it's... It's average. Coupled with some accent lights that we're gonna discuss in the next segment, it could look good. What do you think about this Loop light? Not impressed? Looks professional. What's that? Like a headshot, kind of. Yeah, it's It headshots me. like a standard headshot, exactly, yeah.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

The Foundations of Light (PDF)
The Accents of Light (PDF)

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience and absolutely loved this class! First of all, Stacy is very funny and is really good at explaining and showing examples of the body language. I loved learning about how to read people faces and body to know more about them. And recommended the class to my husband who is a therapist for this reason. The other part of the class was so awakening, I never really thought about how having the wrong lighting for someone's personality would bring something off on the picture. Once again, Stacy was amazing at explaining why this lighting would work with one person and not another by showing us examples. If you want to bring your subject personality into life on photos, I highly recommend this class!

a Creativelive Student

This class is amazing! Stacy is an awesome person and listening to her teach and review the class concepts was so easy and fun and entertaining! It is jam packed with information on how to connect with talent and clients. Plus you get to see Stacy in action with subjects in the Demo and Shoot videos. I highly recommend this class! I learned so much and feel so much more comfortable and confident working with a variety of people now.

Jovi Jhash

wow, what an amazing class to learn from. you covered all from body language to storytelling and to reveal almost the true souls of the subjects through portraits. Amazing work and thank you so much, Stacy and creative live team. Stay blessed

Student Work