One of the best ways to make your photography stand out is with lighting. Lighting helps you to get dimension with your photography and can be so creative when it comes to portraits. Before we get into today’s tutorial there are a bunch of articles on the website around lighting. Check out some of our other articles here: An Intro To Off Camera Lighting, creative lighting for first dance photos, and Using off camera lighting for wedding photography

Let’s jump into how you can use a 3 lights setup for portraits to get some awesome results. This doesn’t have to take forever to setup and can be a quick and easy shoot. When getting started with off camera lighting it can be a little daunting but with some practice you will get the hang of it quick, so don’t be afraid and start to experiment. First you might be thinking why 3 lights, won’t one be enough? One of the main reasons for adding additional lights to a scene is to add extra dimension to your images. Having extra lights to the side of your subject or behind will make the image look more 3 dimensional and give the photo more depth and pop. I’ll walk through what the lights all really did in this image and give you the tech settings so its easy to understand and for you to get out there shooting your own off camera lighting images.

First the final shot and a little about the gear used. I always love to share recent and real world examples so this was from my wedding a few weeks ago. It was a quick setup at the very end of the night to give the bride and groom something different from what we had shot earlier in the day. There is a awesome olive grove at the venue that they have lights strung throughout the trees. It makes for a pretty dramatic backdrop at night so I knew I wanted to do something with the bride and groom in there. Here is one of the tighter cropped frames so you can see the effect of the lighting.

Creative Lighting for Wedding photography

Other than the lights in the trees the lighting is very dark. There is really no other ambient lights since the olive grove is out in the middle of a vineyard. Here is a view of the setting that I took when setting up the lights. The ambient lights in the trees are beautiful however will leave our subjects in the dark.

Creative wedding Portrait Lighting

I wanted to sit the bride and groom on the ledge of the fountain and setup a very simple and quick lighting setup all with small speedlights. My lights are triggered by Pocketwizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5’s. The main light I set to ETTL and was about 15 degrees to the right of the camera and up high on a light stand. Since I generally only have a few minutes to setup a shot, the ETTL does a pretty good job of getting the exposure correct. For this main light I used a Canon 580II speed light. The purpose of this light is to expose my subject while not overbearing the entire scene so I can still get the beauty of the lights in the background.

The 2nd light is to the left of the bride and groom pointed right at his right arm. This is setup to just give a little more dimension to the image. It should have been angled slightly more towards the grooms back though since it cast a shadow on the brides arm. This light was a Canon 550 set to manual and 1/16th power. It is meant to provide just a small kick to the side of the grooms body to add some dimension.

The 3rd light is setup directly behind them pointed at their heads. This is to give that cool backlight rim that shows around them. Again it just adds a little dimension to the photo and helps them to pop out from the background a little more.

Here is what the scene looked like without the bride and groom. Without having a test subject I used the main part of the fountain as a quick gauge on how I wanted the light ratios to look. Weddings are tricky since you only have a few minutes to setup shots and then have to roll with it.

3 Light wedding photography setup

Also you can see a quick lighting diagram here for more details on how the lighting was setup:

3 Light Portrait diagram

Tech Specs for the shot
Flashes: Canon 580II, Canon 550, Vivitar 285.
Manfrotto Tripod
ISO 400
1/8th of a second at f/ 2.8
Canon 70-200 L lens set to 130mm

Another really cool thing about having a backlight setup is you can change around the angle that you are shooting to include a little bit of the light. Sometimes i’ll position the light just an inch over the grooms shoulder to create some nice lens flare or other times will include the whole light for a more dramatic look. Here is my favorite shot during this time when I just moved position a little to shoot lower and to the side so that the backlight comes into the frame. Remember to always experiment and move around, a few feet to the side or getting real high or low can sometimes make all the difference between a decent shot and a great shot.

If you are interested in learning more about off camera lighting check out this intro I posted awhile back: An Intro To Off Camera Lighting

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