How To Add Multiple Lights

By William Lulow

Adding a fourth or fifth light is almost like gilding the lily a bit. It’s not really necessary, but it can come in handy in creating more depth to your portraits. Usually when I add a fourth light it is basically just another accent somewhere. But it can also be a background light. The background should always be lit separately.

There are many reasons for this:

  • If you want the background to reproduce as the color it is
  • If you want the background to reproduce as pure white
  • If the lamp-to-subject distance of the main light is too great to light the background
  • If you want to reproduce gradient tones on the background
  • If you want details in the background to show

My studio portrait set up consists of a main light, a fill-in and two edge lights which create beautiful accents that make the subject  stand out from the background as well as a light to give the background some tone or detail.

Here is a diagram of this setup:

5-Light Studio SetUpHere you can readily see the placements of all five lights: main, fill-in, edge lights and background light. The placement of the background light is usually below  and behind the subject so that it is hidden. This works well for one or two people, but if you have a larger group, then the lights must be placed on both sides of the background so as to light it evenly. In which case you would need six lights total

Here is one result of this setup:

Nikko_021RThis image was made with a main light, an edge light and a background light. I chose not to use a fill-in because I wanted a little shadow to shape the face. I also chose to use only one edge light because on man’s portrait you don’t always need to highlight the hair from both sides.