Consider Light’s Effect on Your Close-Up Subject - dummies

Consider Light’s Effect on Your Close-Up Subject

By Thomas Clark

The direction of your light affects how subjects are depicted in a photograph. When shooting close-ups of people, be aware that the texture of their skin becomes very visible. For some subjects this may add to your intended message, but for others it may cause problems. Most people don’t wish to make their pores and hair follicles visible in a photograph.

Use a flat light source, such as a ring light, or open shade, to minimize how much texture can be seen in a subject’s skin. Flat light is light that comes from the camera or has no obvious direction. It casts minimal to no shadows, and therefore hides texture. This photograph shows a close-up portrait taken with a ring light.


100mm, 1/160, f/11, 100

If your subject is an older person, or a salty sea captain, and you wish to emphasize texture in the skin to help tell his story, then you want to use a sidelight. Doing so maximizes the amount of shadows cast over a textured surface, creating a dramatic depiction of your subject. Notice in this photograph how the lighting causes the subject’s life experience to come out in the photograph.


50mm, 1/60, f/8, 400

Of course, you don’t have to be so extreme in either direction when it comes to lighting human subjects for their close-up portraits. Each person is unique, and your lighting direction needs to fit the subject and message.

A 3/4 light is between flat and sidelight. This style of lighting shows some texture, but is not as harsh as side lighting. Just remember that the farther your light source is to the side of your subject, the more it reveals texture. The closer the light source is to the camera, the flatter the light becomes.