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Flat Lighting as a Portrait Style

I admit I’m a simple guy. Or I try to be.

I employ a minimalist approach to my photography, born of influences such as Bert Stern and Don Giannatti. What this means is that I prefer what I consider to be “clean” images; the less distracting elements in the picture, the better. Often backgrounds that are simply white or black.

There is a current trend in portrait photography which extends this to lighting as well. Classically, portraiture involved lighting patterns: Rembrandt’s influence, Vermeer, etc. Basically these involve a key light at about 45 degrees to the subject resulting in (primarily nose) shadows that defined the style: Rembrant, short, broad, loop, split, etc. The newer trends employ a much flatter lighting style reminiscent of beauty and glamour.

I generally employ this style of lighting for head shots of women, but I decided to experiment lately and employ a technique using back lighting. In other words,, the subject is lit with reflected light only. This results in very flat lighting and very high key images. You do lose contrast, due to the light coming directly into the lens, but that contributes to the look.

For example:

While flat lighting does not sculpt the face, it does eliminate highlighting any flaws (which is why I prefer it for head shots). A side effect is that the pose is emphasized and is used instead to sculpt and shape.

The result is a portrait very much in a beauty/glamour genre. I tend to warm my images a little more than is customary, but I prefer that look.

This isn’t to say that you have to stay with a colorless or plain background; editing can produce variations such as this:

Flatter lighting styles definitely produce a different look, and one to consider when being photographed.

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