Photo Tip – How to Use Accent Light in Your Portrait Photography!

In the last few portrait photography photo tips articles we’ve discussed how to light portraits. So far, we’ve covered how and when to use 4 different lamps. Three sets of basic lamps and the first special light – “hair lamps”.

Today’s portrait photography photo tip will end our lighting discussion with the final special light, “accent light.”

How is light used in portrait photography?

While I refer to specific lights today as “accent light,” we use them most often to put catch light in the eye – so you’ll often hear it referred to as “eye light.” Sometimes, it’s also called a “kick light”.

By the way … you are not limited to just one!

You can have accent light for the eyes and have others accentuate whatever you want! If for some unknown reason you want to accentuate these things, you can have accents for her jewelry, fingernails or even a certain point in the background. Anything you want to encourage the viewer’s eye – and attention – for.

It’s like a mini highlight.

So while I say there are 5 types of lamps, I am referring to the category, not the number used. Your set can literally have dozens of accents. (Technically, hair lights are an accent – but we use them so often that it deserves a category of its own.)

Keep in mind that three basic light sets will handle most of your needs. You should only add extra accents if you really need them. Every time you add extra light, you increase the technical difficulty and chances are it will mess up your photo.

In other words, just because you have additional lights doesn’t mean you need to add them.

Today’s portrait photography photo tip – use “eye light!”

Sometimes you will have a pattern that makes it difficult to place the catch light in both eyes. An example is a separate lighting pattern.

One side of the face is bright, and the other side is in shadow.

If we want deep shadows, we can choose not to use the fill flash, so that no catchlight hits the eye shadow!

Or, you might have a subject with a large nose that blocks out light – or even very deep eyes – that don’t let the light catch.

Catch lights are essential! You MUST have them! Without capturing light – in both eyes – the eyes look dead and lifeless and your viewers (and subjects) will NOT like portraits. So, we added “eye light.”

It’s nothing more than a little light that is aimed at the eyes – or whatever else you’re trying to accent – and is blocked as much as possible from hitting anything else.

Portrait Lighting Essentials

This is where using arrogant will come in handy.

Snob is a photo gadget that you tuck in over the lights. It looks like a cone and narrows the block so that it hits just whatever area you’re trying to accent. In the case of eye light, you will focus the beam on the face – in the eye area.

Caution: it is almost impossible to have an eye light that ONLY illuminates the eye. It will light up at least some faces and the effect can increase the exposure value. Be careful that you don’t set it to be too bright!

Another problem with setting it too light is that it can introduce another set of shadows on the face. That’s a no-no. The only shade we want has to be from the key light.

The good news is that since the eye is literally a mirror surface, it doesn’t take much force. It can be very weak and still do the job.

Another precaution is to make sure you only have one light catch in each eye. We’re trying to make the eyes look bright, smart and natural … some catch lights just don’t look natural.

Arrange your accents in such a way that there is only one light catch. If you can’t do this, you’ll have to go into Photoshop and remove the extras. (They must be round too!)

Practice adding accent lights – especially eye lights. The results are worth it!

Today’s portrait photography photo tip – use accent lighting – will end our current lighting discussion. If you’ve read all of your previous lighting articles – and put them into practice – you know more about lighting for portrait photography than 90% of all photographers out there. Including professionals!

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