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Three-Mild Setup for Portrait Images

On this studio portrait lighting tutorial, you are going to learn to use three flashes in your photos. The three-light setup is so essential in portrait images—studying it’s usually the purpose the place hobbyist images begin wanting extra skilled.

After all, you possibly can all the time add extra lights to a setup, and typically you may have to, however I might say that three lights are sufficient for 90% of the images that almost all photographers are making.

Beginning With a Third Mild

In earlier tutorials, you discovered find out how to use a flash to provide a key gentle and a fill gentle. So what are we going to do with this third gentle? Nicely, there are a number of issues that we are able to do with the third gentle. It may be used as a hair gentle, a rim gentle, or a kicker gentle!

Many photographers use the phrases hair gentle, rim gentle, and kicker gentle interchangeably, however I contemplate them to be three totally different varieties of sunshine. So I will provide you with three totally different definitions.

Let’s begin with hair gentle, since that is the one I most frequently use in portrait images.

Hair Mild

Hair gentle is a really delicate manner so as to add a spotlight to your topic’s hair, giving some separation and a little bit of depth to the portrait. Let me present you what it seems like in observe.

Here is a picture that has two flashes firing. The important thing gentle is up and to the precise of the digicam, after which the fill gentle is on digicam left, a little bit bit decrease than our key gentle.

image that has two flashes firing.image that has two flashes firing.image that has two flashes firing.

If we have been to cease there, I might say that we’ve a fairly good picture, however look what occurs to the identical picture with the addition of a hair gentle.

addition of a hair light.addition of a hair light.addition of a hair light.

It is a very delicate distinction, but it surely helps to present your photograph a extremely polished {and professional} really feel. A hair gentle may also spill a little bit bit of sunshine onto the shoulders of your topic, and it will assist outline the form of your topic.

This type of gentle is particularly helpful in case your topic has darkish hair or a darkish shirt, they usually’re on a darkish background. It offers some definition that separates the topic from the background and retains them from mixing into the background. This type of lighting is likely one of the mostly used lighting setups by professionals in each nonetheless images and in movie. Now that you have seen it, you will begin to discover it in every single place you look.

One other solution to create separation between your topic and the background is to make use of rim lighting.

Rim Lighting

Rim lighting creates a skinny define of sunshine that traces round your topic and separates them from the background.

Here is a fast instance of two photos. They’re the identical besides that the primary picture has two lights (a key gentle and a fill gentle), and the second picture has the identical two lights plus a rim gentle.

comparison of two images with different lightingcomparison of two images with different lightingcomparison of two images with different lighting

Do you see how delicate the distinction is, however how a lot it provides to the photograph?

The ultimate manner that I like to make use of my third gentle is as a kick or kicker gentle.

Kicker Mild

Like the opposite sorts of backlight we have been utilizing, a kicker gentle offers separation of our topic from the background, and it brings a bunch of dimension to your images.

Let’s have a look at what a kicker seems like in a photograph. As soon as once more, this is a easy two-light setup with a key gentle and a fill gentle, and what it seems like after we add a kicker gentle.

adding a kicker lightadding a kicker lightadding a kicker light

The kicker provides a spotlight to the shadow facet of the face, and does simply what the title implies; it kicks up the impression of your images. I really like utilizing a kicker gentle, particularly for portraits of males.

If you wish to see the grasp of kicker gentle, in my view, it’s best to search for the portraits of Yousuf Karsh. He was superb, and he actually knew find out how to take a portrait that had a whole lot of depth and emotion.

So now that you already know what these three totally different lights seem like in a photograph, let’s carry again our topic and present you find out how to set them up and get them occurring an actual shoot.

Easy methods to Set Up a Hair Mild

Let’s begin with an analogous setup to what we had within the earlier tutorial.

studio setup for portrait photographystudio setup for portrait photographystudio setup for portrait photography

We have our key gentle modified with the 18-inch softbox in a loop place. For our fill gentle, I’ve changed the umbrella with a scrim. A scrim is a bit of silk that may soften the sunshine, so our fill flash goes to be firing by way of the scrim, which supplies us a extremely massive, spherical, comfortable gentle.

Let’s take a fast image and see what we’re getting right here.

portrait with standard loop lightingportrait with standard loop lightingportrait with standard loop lighting

Nice. In order that’s our commonplace loop lighting. We have a fairly good fill, and we’re at round a 2:1 ratio. One of many issues I believe actually kicks up your photograph is to create some splashes of sunshine across the type of your topic.

We will begin with hair gentle. I will begin off with this third flash set to the bottom energy that it will go, as a result of we wish to make it possible for we’re not overwhelming the opposite flashes within the scene. It is a very delicate gentle, and we’ll goal it on the high of her head.

image with hair lightimage with hair lightimage with hair light

The sunshine will splash off the highest of her head and her shoulders, and it should create a pleasant cascade of sunshine that comes down over her hair and shoulders. Let’s have a look at how that appears. 

portrait with hair light addedportrait with hair light addedportrait with hair light added

I believe my hair gentle is aimed a little bit bit too excessive. I wish to tilt it down a bit nearer to her shoulders as a result of it isn’t fairly highlighting her shoulders but. And let’s give that one other attempt.

portrait with hair light aimed lowerportrait with hair light aimed lowerportrait with hair light aimed lower

The hair gentle has added a extremely delicate glow on her shoulders. Excellent. That is how I method hair lighting in portrait images.

Easy methods to Set Up a Rim Mild

Let’s proceed this studio portait lighting tutorial by find out how to arrange a rim gentle.

With a purpose to flip our hair gentle right into a rim gentle, let’s begin by decreasing the flash. We do not need it coming from above anymore—as an alternative, we wish to sneak the flash in behind our topic, aiming at their again. That is going to create a silver lining round them, separating them from the background.

setting up a rim lightsetting up a rim lightsetting up a rim light

Lastly, we wish to enhance the facility output fairly a bit. In our hair gentle setup, the flash was on the lowest energy output, 1/128th energy. For a rim gentle, we’ll carry that energy up, beginning at 1/4 energy.

Let’s take a photograph and see how this seems.

portrait with rim lightportrait with rim lightportrait with rim light

So now we’re getting that good type of silver lining across the left facet of her shoulder. It is undoubtedly giving us some separation from the background. Let’s flip off our key gentle and take one other photograph to indicate you what that gentle goes to seem like.

portrait with key light turned offportrait with key light turned offportrait with key light turned off

You may see that we’re getting a delicate halo impact. When you may have your different lights on, it isn’t going to be one thing that lots of people discover immediately, however it’s one thing that they’ll miss if it isn’t in your photos. I believe it actually provides a refined look to a picture. I like it.

Easy methods to Set Up a Kicker Mild

The ultimate setup with our third flash is a kicker gentle. We will place our flash reverse our key gentle. The best way I like to think about utilizing a kicker gentle is to skip gentle off the facet of the topic’s face and into the digicam lens. It’s going to give us some beautiful definition on the shadow facet of the face.

The place of this kicker gentle will take a little bit of trial and error as you wish to goal it simply onto the cheek. We’re additionally going to carry our flash again right down to a extremely low energy output as a result of we’ll be seeing the mirrored gentle.

setting up a kicker lightsetting up a kicker lightsetting up a kicker light

Lastly, I wish to zoom within the flash head fairly far. I do not need the sunshine spilling throughout, and I undoubtedly don’t need it going into my digicam lens, creating lens flare.

Let’s have a look at how that is wanting.

portrait with kicker lightportrait with kicker lightportrait with kicker light

As a result of the kicker gentle is on the topic’s shadow facet, one of many issues I believe I would love to do on this state of affairs is decrease the facility of my fill gentle. This creates a little bit extra drama on that facet, and you will see that kicker gentle a little bit bit extra.

So I will carry down the fill gentle even additional than it was, and see how that appears.

portrait with fill light lowerportrait with fill light lowerportrait with fill light lower

That is good. Now we’ve a little bit bit extra drama, we’ve extra shadows as a result of our fill gentle energy is decrease, and we’re getting that actually cool modeling impact on the facet of her face from the kicker gentle.

In order that’s just about it! These are the commonest makes use of of a three-light setup.

Three-Mild Abstract

Here is a fast abstract of three-point lighting:

  • Mild 1 (Key Mild) does many of the work.
  • Mild 2 (Fill Mild) softens the shadows reverse the important thing gentle.
  • Mild 3 (Hair gentle / Rim Mild / Kicker Mild) accentuates the topic.

Mainly, the distinction between the three choices in your third gentle is:

  • Hair Mild is on the identical facet as the important thing gentle.
  • Rim Mild is behind your topic, illuminating throughout them.
  • Kicker Mild is reverse your key gentle, skipping throughout the facet of the face.


So now you may have a stable understanding of the three totally different ways in which you should use a 3rd flash. Now it is time for some homework. I need you to observe establishing your third flash in these alternative ways and experimenting till it seems excellent.

Then I need you to overlook all about what I’ve taught you, and I need you to mess around with totally different setups. I need you to have the liberty to maneuver any of the lights in any locations that you really want and attempt to get one thing actually fascinating.

As a little bit of inspiration, this is a setup that I actually like to make use of, and I name it the double kicker setup.

double kicker setup.double kicker setup.double kicker setup.

You are a single key gentle within the loop place and no fill gentle. As a substitute, I put my different two lights within the kicker place on both facet of my topic. As you possibly can see, we get an important gentle that actually accentuates type. I’ve actually beloved utilizing this sort of gentle for any health shoots.

So now it is your flip. I need you to go do one thing actually fascinating and thrilling! Don’t be concerned about messing up or taking unhealthy images. Simply play with the lighting till you get one thing that you simply like.



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