3 Simple Steps to Dramatic Portrait Lighting

We took this photo a few weeks ago with some clients as part of one of our Aztec Workshops here in Mexico.

This was a tricky photo to light as we wanted it to look both flattering and dramatic. The idea was around ‘sun worshiping’ to the deity Huitzilopochtli. This practice is part of the Aztec religion and we wanted to try and show it’s cultural importance.

Step 1: Logically the context of this would place the sun in front and above the subject. But as that would provide flat light on the face we decided to place the key light camera-right instead. We used a large octagon here, so that the light was really soft and the catch lights in the eyes very wide.

Step 2: We then placed a reflector camera-left to keep the shadows to a minimum. This simple setup gave us a good quality of light on the subject’ face.

Step 3: We also wanted to backlight the feathers – to make them really pop out. This is counterintuitive because we wanted to try and make this look un-staged. To try an get round this we kept the back-light (a bare speed-light) low, so it would not cast too much of an outline around the subject.

That’s it! I then opened up the aperture on my 50mm lens to separate the subject from the background vegetation and we snapped away until we got a good symmetrical pose.

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