How To Set Up A Hair Light

by William Lulow

I have written before about the hair light and what it’s supposed to do, but I thought it a good idea to repeat the directions with a different illustration.

Basically, the hair light is an accent light that just gives light to the top of the head. It helps to separate the subject from the background. It should not be allowed to spill over onto any part of the face. It’s a good example of how each light you use should serve a distinct purpose. Ideally, no one light should do the work of two or more. Each part of the subject should be lit separately.

If I want to use just a hair light and no other accents, I usually place it on a boom that is angled over the subject. I place a barn door (shade) on it to keep it from hitting the camera lens. Most often I find that it is easier to set up two edge lights, one on each side of the subject. This often accomplishes a similar purpose as a hair light without having to use the boom. But, the top of the subject’s head won’t be lit quite the same way.

Here’s a diagram:

HairLightONLYThis diagram shows an umbrella mounted on the boom. But it can just as easily be a smaller, spotlight.

When I am on location, I often use the sun as a HAIR LIGHT and fill in the shadows with a portable flash. It’s almost the same as using a HALO LIGHT when outdoors.

Don’t forget that all accent lights should be one stop brighter than the main light you are using. Otherwise, it won’t register as a highlight.

Here’s a good example of the hair light just lighting the top of the head:


 Again, remember that as you are going about adding lights to your set, each one should have its own job to do. If it’s not contributing to the overall appearance, don’t use it.