How I light Portraits


If you’ve had a camera in your hand for any amount of time you’ve probably heard about the rule of thirds, the “law” of composition where you divide the frame into 3 vertical and 3 horizontal sections and align the pieces you’re composing along those lines and cross points. If you’ve looked up anything to do with artificial lighting or speedlites you’ve probably heard about power outputs, color temperature, and so on and so forth.

You may see these as hard and fast laws to abide by when making images. Well that’s great to learn.

It really is.

But, and this is a BIG BUT. I would like to tell you about a theory that one of my most beloved photography mentors told me.

“Learn the rules so you know how and when to break them.”

Photo courtesy Chinniah Poosapadi


You can probably tell that I like to use artificial lights a lot when I can. I’m particularly fond of dramatic and borderline exaggerated lighting to create a sense of intrigue and story.


This first image was just a test shot I made of my little nephew Brandon in the front yard. He was lit from the front left by the sun and behind right by a speedlite set about head height facing right at him with no light modifiers. “NO LIGHT MODIFIERS? YOU’RE CRAZY!” you probably said to yourself. Well friend, let me tell you WHY I did what I did. Actually, just look. It looks tight. The Speedlite gave a sweet flare and decreased the contrast without having to do that Lightroom “fade” filter that’s so popular these days.


This next image was really very simple in execution but *I feel like* it had great results. Basically, I had an assistant (my lovely girlfriend Madison) hold a speedlite with a little octabox as high as she could above and the right of the model, pointing straight down at her. I did this because to me it felt like it gave the scene this sort of extraterrestrial vibe, like aliens were coming down to beam her down from their flying saucer. Which would explain the odd attire!

This last image was made for a clothing company lookbook. You can probably guess what trick I used for this one too! Speedlite set just above head height pointing directly at the model from behind, again with no modifier.

I guess the point I’m trying to make with this post is that people are going to tell you a lot of things, their opinions, stuff they believe as gospel, and sometimes just a big fat pile of horseshit. They’ll criticize your use of a certain look, certain way you edit your images, or way you photograph. Don’t let the fuckers get you down and discourage you. DO WHAT YOU THINK LOOKS SICK and fuck all the rest of it!

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