Portraits of people with white or Caucasian skin are defined by the shadows. Darker skin–African American, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and Native American are shaped by highlights.

Source of Illumination & Fill Panel

This portrait of Shawn is lit with a three foot Chimera Octa Plus light bank powered by a Dynalite Studio Head electronic flash about two and a half feet from his right. There’s a white panel just out of frame on his left that fills in the darker, left side of his face.


Look closely at the highlights on the forehead, upper cheekbone under his right eye, on the nose and on the right cupid’s bow above the lip. These bright areas define the shape of that side of his face. Here’s an overlay to show what I’m describing.



This backlight comes from behind and off to Shawn’s left. It skims his head, cheek and neck. Because it is so close to being seen by the camera, it looks really bright even at fairly low power. This highlight from behind is also called “hatchet” lighting.2855-0009


Here’s the lighting diagram. Dark Skin Diagram

The setup is really simple; two lights and a reflector. The camera is Canon’s 1Dx with a Sigma 120mm to 300mm f/2.8 Sport lens set to 182mm. The exposure is 1/250th of a second at f/14, ISO: 400. The Chimera Octa Plus is at 400 watt / seconds. The Dynalite 12″ by 71″ strip bank is at 200 watt / seconds. Each light was powered by a Dynalite MP-800 watt / second pack.

Shawns Executive Portraits…

The mood comes from the Octa Plus being close to the subject who is about eight feet in front of the backdrop. Since that light is close and bright, the background goes fairly dark; bringing Shawn forward in the photograph. The highlights from these sources define the shape of his face, add drama and create a strong executive look.

2855-0053 proof2 2855-0212 Proof2For this portrait, a Rosco 72 Blue Azure gel added the cool color cast on the background.2192-PSW LV lightingKevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for Photofocus.com.