Portrait photography lighting ideas — Three creative ways to use three lights

Portrait photography lighting ideas

Three creative ways to use three lights

From soft, angelic lighting to darker, more contoured lighting, there’s no end to how creative you can be using three lights for portrait photography.

If you’re looking for some creative three light portrait ideas, I’ve put together three different setups you can add to your arsenal. These setups use only basic modifiers and show effective techniques that can help add three dimensionality to an image.

Further examples of three light setups can be found  in the Portrait section, along with one, two and four light examples too.

Three light portrait lighting setup
Three light portrait lighting setup example.

Three light portrait setups don’t get much simpler than this: all you need for this punchy, high-key portrait lighting setup is three umbrellas, a suitable background and model.

Two silver umbrellas create the rim lighting that’s visible on the model’s face and bare shoulders, while a Focus 110 umbrella from the front fills in the shadows and adds extra illumination on the background. The Focus 110, which is part of one of the two light setup examples, also means you can easily control the hardness or softness of the shadows, depending on the look you’re going for.

You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

    Portrait lighting diagram
    Portrait lighting diagram showing how to create high-key lighting using three lights.
    Three light portrait lighting setup
    Three light portrait lighting setup example.

    This next three light setup is ideal for three-quarter length portraits. Using two stripboxes and a background light, the two stripboxes, used in an L-shape, give soft shadows down one side of the model, perfect for contouring and adding three dimensionality.

    You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

      Portrait lighting diagram
      Portrait lighting diagram showing how to create strong bold & dynamic light using three lights.
      Three light portrait lighting setup
      Three light portrait lighting setup example.

      This bright and stylish portrait image was achieved using a combination of three lights — two softboxes, one background light and a reflector.

      The combination of the background light and side light create a really punchy, three dimensional image and the position of the lights, although set in a small studio, allows the model a fair bit of flexibility for movement, which means you can get some really creative poses. The overall result is a versatile setup that yields bold, eye catching results.

      You can see the full lighting setup for this shot here.

        Portrait lighting diagram
        Portrait lighting diagram showing how to create bright & stylish light using three lights.

        As you’ll have seen from these examples, you can achieve some really creative results using just three studio lights. These three setups provide a great starting point if you’re looking for something new to try, and you can find even more ideas in our Portrait section, where you’ll find over 40 one, two, three and four light portrait lighting setup examples.

        While this article and the relevant courses cover the technical aspects of portrait photography, it’s worth remembering the theoretical side of things too. If you’re not too sure about the inverse square law or how to control the hardness or softness of your shadows, it’s worth visiting our Lighting Theory & Equipment section too. The classes in this section cover the theory of light and will help you understand how to get the most out of the equipment you already have.

          Three light portrait lighting setup ideas.

          Recommended Content

          For more portrait photography classes, visit our Portrait section, where you'll find a number of creating portrait lighting ideas using one, two, three and four lights. Whether you're working indoors or outdoors, in a small studio or large studio, you'll find our classes cover a wide variety.

          If you’re looking to grow your lighting skills, you will also find the following classes useful. Here I cover some of the fundamental knowledge of studio lighting and show you how you can take complete control. Whether you’re unsure about different modifiers, flash duration or how to measure and correctly expose your shot, you’ll find all you need to know in these informative modules.

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