Portrait Lighting Diagram...

This portrait was created recently, and after posting it to Facebook, a relative of the subject inquired about the equipment used.  While that is often the most asked question by amateurs (no offense intended...we were all amateurs once), perhaps a better question would be to ask why the portrait was created this way.  The below lighting diagram should help explain how this image was created.

                                                                  Willie C. Leach, F-86 pilot in Korea.

                                                                  Willie C. Leach, F-86 pilot in Korea.

The diagram below depicts the basic setup.  I use Profoto lighting gear, mainly because it's durable, lightweight, compatible with voltage all over the world...and Profoto makes great light modifiers too.  My favorite by far is their 20.5 inch White Softlight "Beauty Dish" reflector.  Positioned close to the subject by many fashion photographers to produce a soft, enveloping, shadowless light, I like it a bit further back from the subject.

One of the basic "rules" of lighting is this: the closer the light is to the subject, the softer the light will be on your subject. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true.  Try it.

In this instance, however, I wanted a bit more drama to the lighting, and thus positioned the light about three feet away, and slightly higher and off axis from the camera, which provided a "catch light" in both eyes.  When positioning a light between the camera and the subject, lens flare is a definite possibility, and care must be taken to block it from hitting the lens directly.  A lens shade usually does the trick, but there are times when a flag is needed to keep the light out of the lens. The dish was not pointed directly at the subject, but positioned so that the light washed across the subject.

The rear light was positioned so that it illuminated the other side of the subject's face and shoulder, thereby separating the darker edge of the subject from the background. A grid was used on the small softbox to control spill light, and direct it right where it was needed. White foamcore fill cards helped to reduce the contrast just a bit, even though they were just "kisses" of light.  The black background was used to match a previous series of images, and to focus all of the viewer's attention on the subject.  It can be very dramatic in black and white too...

Perhaps one of the most important things any photographer can do is experiment with lighting.  There are so many methods of lighting that it's virtually impossible to say that one way is "definitive".  Get your lights out and see what you can come up with...