Portrait Lighting Cheat Sheet

In an attempt to better pre-visualize how I might want different lights to affect a portrait session I went searching for a suitable method that would allow me some flexibility.  I was lucky enough to find a highly detailed 3D scan of a gentlemens head, along with hi resolution texture images (and bump maps), that would allow me to digitally reconstruct the perfect portrait headshot model.  He would never get tired of me fooling around with different lights and trying new things out, and would always look great doing it!

 Courtesy of Infinite Realities (CC-BY) Lee Perry-Smith

Clamshell lighting setup (softbox above and below subjects face), with kickers.

So I managed to import this highly detailed 3D model into the open source 3D modelling software Blender 3D. What is nice is that I was now able to easily and quickly add different lights to emulate my real world speedlights and modifiers such as a bare flash, softbox, and ringlights.  Now I had the power to add as many lights to a scene as I wanted, and to place them in any configuration I wanted to try out.

This really gave me an opportunity to try out new things before even unpacking a single light, and to get immediate visual feedback of what the contributions would be from each light.  I wasn't confined to speedlights, either.  I could just as easily model the light that might come from a large north-facing window for instance.  The only constraint is my patience and time to emulate the real world lighting condition.

I outline what I am trying in much further detail on my blog here:

Visualize Lighting Setups in Blender

I also include a download link to the Blender .blend file to play with this same model and to hopefully help anyone else who may want to use this resource!

A nice side-effect of having these lights virtualized is that I can quickly and easily generate a lighting map using the light modifiers as they are moved through different positions.  So I can create a lighting cheat sheet of a softbox for instance, level with the subject, at different positions around their head.  Those can also be found at the blog link to download and use as a reference.

 Softbox level with subject, wrapping in 5° increments.

 Softbox at 30° up, 5° increments.
 Softbox 60° up, 5° increments.

 I would love to hear any feedback/suggestions!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 2
jerry  eisner
By jerry eisner (Apr 25, 2012)

i suggest adding another series of the most commonly used lights, in the most commonly used positions. So for example, there could be a hard light coming out of a 10 inch silver reflector at a 45 degree angle from 12 inches higher than the eyes of the model.Next to that would be another shot of the same set up but from 90 degrees and Then a shot showing how the 90 degree angle looks from profile position. Then show the model with the 45 degree main light and a fill light from an umbrella, then add a hair light. Show the differences between one light and two lights and three lights. It would more dramatic in my opinion to give the main lighting positions and main angles of the face with the various classical lighting patterns. If you add what i am talking about people will have an easier time seeing how dramatic each change is and how the lights and facial angles work together. thanks for your very excellent work. je

By Silverwind (Mar 9, 2012)

Nicely done. Something similar has been done at this link. I know it's with continuous lights, but you get the idea.


Total comments: 2