Portraiture: Side Lighting

Whether it’s boudoir or glamour, an editorial shoot, a band publicity photo, or a product shot, when it comes down to it, it’s all really just portraiture to me.  When I shot the promotional photos for Andrea Marie & The Magnolia Band, it was probably no surprise to them when I asked the members to pose for me individually.  Sure, I love a good group shot, but there’s just something great about working one-on-one with a person to get a nice portrait.

The shot above was taken outdoors.  But we wandered into a nearby beer joint to get some interior shots, too.  After all the main setups were shot, I asked each band member to sit individually by one of the windows and pose for a few frames.  I setup an umbrella, in shoot-thru configuration, opposite the window as shown with a 580EX II as the light source.  Below the diagram are my shots of guitar player, John Fink.  He’s got a great look which is perfect for demonstrating the effectiveness of having the subject simply turn their head when using this sidelight setup.

Notice how we can get a soft and contemplative look, as he looks out the window.  Then, more dramatic and intense looks as he turns his head away from it, letting the double side lighting really bring out detail and texture.  The shadow side, as you you can see, is always toward the camera.   A very similar effect is often created in the studio by placing two identical light sources opposite each other on either side of the subject.

Flash was set to approximate the intensity of the light coming in through the window. However, keeping the flash at a distance of about 10 ft. gave us a "harder-looking" indoor light effect.

For these shots, I used my Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM at f/1.8.  ISO was 200, shutter speed 1/100 sec.  The big window light is noticeably softer here.  You might wonder why the lighting from the shoot-thru umbrella is harder.  Consider that the umbrella was actually positioned about 10 ft. from the subject.  This, in effect, makes it a smaller light source than the window (relative the the subject), giving that side a more contrasty/harsh effect.  If we’d brought the umbrella closer, it would have provided a softer light, similar to the window light.

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Mike Jackson

Thanks Ed, I always benefit and enjoy reading your newsletters. I am in the process of learning as much as I can on lighting. I have two SB600 flashes and I have purchased the gear from FlashZebra.com to set them up for remote use. I still need a good, reasonable priced light stand and pocket wizzards to have more flexibility with the remote flash units. Mike

Hennie Barnard

ED, All there is to say is that the techniques and tips are fantastic.The more I read,the more I want.
Thank you.
Hennie Barnard
South Africa


Hi Ed, Do you use a light meter to measure the output of your flash? If not what technique do you use?

Ed Verosky

@Tony: I don’t use a light meter most of the time. It’s more likely that I’ll meter light sources if I’m shooting film, especially if I don’t have a digital camera on-hand to do some testing. Otherwise, my shooting style doesn’t really necessitate using a meter, but at times it can be helpful.


Thank you Ed, its very helpfull reading your letters and phtographic tips, they are simply great, I work as a magazine photographer in India’a southern state, I wants to know about the tripod, though most of the time I go with the available light and bounced flash, please am interested in improving my photography by using a tripod…

Victor Belmar

Hi, Ed, I agree with all the comments posted here. Since I read your book on flash photography I completely abandoned my light meter for most of my pictures.

Do you shoot your images in Raw or jpeg?

Thanks you

Ed Verosky

@Victor: Definitely RAW. I like to start out with the most information available from the camera. The choice to downsample, save a finished JPG, and dump the original RAW is always there.

Ed Verosky

@m.hussain: I don’t use a tripod for most things. I tend to change my perspective every few frames, so a tripod would not be useful to me. There are some cases where it is helpful, but I don’t encounter those very often.

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