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Lighting Faces


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#1 David Calson

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 04:09 PM

So I need advice on what direction to put my light with different types of faces, big face, no chin, big forehead, small nose, etc.
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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 04:21 PM

In general, how you light a person depends on how you want/need it to look.

Again, in general, you're likely looking for something that appears natural and "unlit." You usually don't want to draw attention to the fact that you're aiming a light at someone's face.

So, in general, larger sources of light that are diffused can be used to, in effect, simulate natural sunlight outdoors or daylight from a window when indoors. The smaller the unit (source of light), the more directional and "spotty" it becomes and therefore, in general, it appears less natural.

With that in mind, most men look better when you model their faces a bit, meaning, give them some shadow on one side of the face. So if your male subject is looking from screen left to screen right, he'll look better if the key light is on the right side of the camera. How far from the camera depends on a lot of factors not the least of which is the overall look you are trying to achieve. If you get so far over that it is entirely to his side, you'll get a half lit effect on the face so one side is in shadow completely. Bring the key light back toward the camera and you'll see the light even out a bit and the nose shadow will be reduced. The shadows are more pronounced the more undiffused the light is. Diffuse it more and the light will grow softer and the shadows won't be as sharp.

For most women, they do better with the light flattening their features out. Achieve this be keeping the light as close to the lens as possible. The older and more wrinkled the woman is, the lower the light. I've shot some women with the diffused light sitting right over the lens. Younger women can look better with the light still over the lens, but slightly higher. In general, avoid taking the light to far to one side of the lens or the other as you would a male.


Your backlight (rim light) on the back of the head and shoulders is used to separate the subject from the background. How intense this is also depends on a lot of factors. The note here is for balding males. If you simply hit them with a diffused light from behind, you wind up with a glowing "highlight" somewhere on their bald skin. To get rid of that, you have to flag the light off of the top of the head but allow the light to hit the shoulders. Barndooring the light doesn't work. You have to use a separate grip flag on a C-stand.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 05:16 PM

Think about where you want the shadows to fall on the face. A side light will make a round face look thinner, for example. A higher light will produce a chin shadow but also bring out any bags under the eyes. A lower light gets rid of the chin shadow and the bags but may make the tip of the nose look rounder and the neck weaker.

Obviously a profile shot will be the worse for showing a weak chin or a long nose (though personally I like strong, expressive noses, even on women... as long as they are not bizarre.) Frontal shots in frontal lighting make it hard to tell the size of the nose or the shape of the chin.

Faces are not symmetrical either. A side light may look good on one side but not as good on the other.
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