DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - Point and Shoot Cameras

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Portrait Lighting Scenarios
How To Create Lighting For Your Portrait Shots with Point and Shoot Cameras - People and Pets

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The Basics - Taking Portraits

To have the best portraits, you need proper lighting on your subject. In photograhy, there are tried and true methods that are used to create portrait lighting scenarios. Anyone can learn these lighting scenarios. You just need to know how to arrange the lighting.

Some common lighting style scenarios are Short Lighting, and Broad Lighting, and for a more dramatic look to your portrait you may want to include a Split Lighting style. With any of these lighting styles, you can add a backlight, a highlight, or both. In this digital photography tutorial, we will explain how you can create these lighting scenarios for your portrait shoot, and how to add a backlight, and a highlight for a more creative look.

For our example photos, we are using a point and shoot camera - the Nikon L32; the same camera used for most of these tutorials.
You can read about the Nikon L32 camera here

Short Lighting Scenario

Short Lighting puts the light on the subject's short side - the side of the face furthest from the camera they are facing; the side of the face that is closest to the light source. Standing or sitting, the subject looks to their right or left, turns slightly, (head and shoulders turn together). If the subject turns right, then the light source in on their right side, and if they turn left, the light source is placed on their left side. The light is not directly horizontal from them but at a degree of about 40 and about 4-5 feet in distance from them.

The light source may be a tad closer or further from them depending on the amount of light(bulb wattage) and type of softbox being used. Smaller softbox can be closer and larger softbox can be placed further away. And, if your using a LED light ring for your shot, you can place it quite close to your portrait subject.

Position the height of the softbox at eye level or above of the subject, and position your camera eye level of the subject your shooting. The angle and distance of the softbox depends on the type of portrait your shooting and the result you want. If your using a larger type softbox, like 30", position the light so it is just above their head level. For smaller softboxes you can place it at their eye level or above.

Take A Test Shot

As mentioned, make sure the Light is placed at or above eye level for a portrait shot whether the subject is standing or sitting. The same for pet shots.

Catch Light

Besides providing adequate lighting for your subject; when the light is properly positioned at this level, you will get the catch light in the subject's eyes. The catch light is important in photography, because without it the eyes can appear somewhat life-less and this takes away from your portrait's composition.

Look at these photos:

The catch light is the little square, or round shaped light in the eye you can see in these photos. It is created when the light source is properly positioned for your subject. Putting your light source at eye level or above of your subject will put the catch light in their eyes.
Most softboxes have adjustable stands so you can easily extend or shorten the softbox height.

Catch Lights Pet
No Catch Light in Eyes because Light Source is not properly positioned.

Catch Lights Person
Catch Light in Eyes because Light Source has been placed at eye level or higher.

Catch Lights Pet - cat
Pet Shot - Cat, with Catch Lights

Portraits - Pets

You can position your light source for pets the same as you do for people. Although pets are a tad more finicky to work with for portraits, you can still get good portraits with a little cat know how. Use their favorite toys to get their attention while you shoot. Use different voice pitches to get them looking in your direction. Dangle strings, ropes, whatever you have in front of you and them to get them looking towards the camera.

You may need to hold your camera in one hand and use the other hand to try to prompt them into a portrait position.

Shooting free hand may work better for pet shots as they tend to move unexpectedly and quickly. If your using a tripod you may miss a good shot. Make sure you have your image stabilization feature enabled as this helps with blur from unsteady shots.

Just keep shooting, because the more shots you take; chances are you will at least get a couple of good ones.

Short Lighting Pet Shot

For this photo shot of Tankie, I squatted to be at his eye level; I zoomed in a tad for the shot, f4.9, Shutter 1/30, No Flash
Light Source: Octagon 30" SoftBox 85Watt Photography Bulb positioned at about 6 feet tall and angled downward at about 20 degree and placed to the right of the cat(his right).
The distance from Tankie to the softbox is about 5 feet at at a 40 degree angle.

I put dark cloth over 1/3 left side of the softbox to give the light a more focused area and so that the side we want most lit; his right side, has more light than the left side of his face.

The right side of his face has the most light; and his left face side has more shadow. His face is just slightly turned.

This is Short Lighting because his right side of face is closet to the light source and it has more light than his left side of face.

Short Lighting Pets - Portraits
Photo of Tankie 6 years old -
Shot with Nikon L32 Point and Shoot Camera, shot at about 4 feet from the cat:

Photo of Tankie - Shot with the same Light Source placed in the same position;
Only difference between this photo and the one above is that he turned his head more towards the light.
In this photo his entire face is evenly lit; he has catch lights; and there is some shadow on his crest and stomach.

Photo 1 - This is an example of a basic portrait photo, as his face is evenly lit.
Shot at f4.9, shutter 1/80
Pet Portrait with Body Shadow


Backlighting is when you shine a light onto the backdrop which adds more light into
your photo, and gives it a different perspective because the light is behind the subject. Having a backlight in your portrait shot is not a requirement; but it is often used in portrait photography.

The light I used for the backlight is a 72 bulb LED light, with adjustable dimmer switch. The dimmer switch allows me to adjust the light from 0 to whatever I choose. I put the light onto a 1/4 inch standard adapter and put that onto my tripod as shown in this photo(1/4 is standard for most tripods) I put the tripod height at just tall enough so it would shine directly behind the cat at his head level.

Backlight for Photography Portraits, Photography Tips
Backlight: The tripod is positioned just off to the left side of where the cat will be posing; and angled toward the backdrop.

In this shot,(photo2) Tankie is well lit on his right face side; and his left face side has more shadow.
The light source, softbox, is placed to his right. The backlight, LED light, is placed to his left.

This is an example of Short Lighting. The side of his face with the most light is facing the light source(softbox).

This photo is using the exact same backdrop as the previous photo(Photo 1) of Tankie; only difference being I added the backlight (and Tankie has a different pose).

When using a backlight, it's important that the light from your backlight doesn't add additional light onto your portrait lighting(the light source that is lighting his body and face). We wanted the Short Lighting Style in this portrait, and even though we added the backlight to his left, we still have our shadow on his left face side. Because we positioned the tripod with LED light directly parallel with the subject and angled it towards the backdrop only; no light from the LED light is shining onto the subjects face.(the cat)

This doesn't mean you cannot get creative with your lighting; but in this instance; we wanted the Short Lighting style with the backlight shining on the backdrop only.

Small strobe lights are also used for this purpose.

Photo 2 added Backlighting
Shot at f5.3, shutter 1/20
Cat Pet Portrait with Backdrop Lit

You can add just a tad of light so it appears smaller and focused just behind your subject; or as I did, more light which covers more area of the backdrop. As you can see, the lower part of the backdrop is less lit whereas the top of the backdrop has more light. LED lights that are dimmable are ideal for backlight as you can adjust the amount of light shining onto the backdrop, and this lets you be as creative as you want for your shot.

By cropping the photo in this rounded shape; we can make the background appear lighter than the original photo because we cropped out the lower area of the backdrop.
This is an example of Short Lighting; as the right side of his face closet to the light source is lit while the left side has shadow. He has catch lights in his eyes.
Cat Pet Portrait posing Round Cropped

LED lights have now become commonplace for photography and video. Most camera stores sell them, and you can buy them on Amazon. The prices vary, depending on the bulbs included; the one used has 72 LED lights and it cost about $80 Canadian. It is square in shape and it included the 1/4 inch adapter, so i can use it with a tripod, or with a DSLR camera shoe. It has a built-in diffuser, so it is great for photography. Most also include a rechargeable battery pack. And, its' best feature is that it is dimmable. This is very useful if you want to use it for a backlight or a highlight.

Broad Lighting

Broad light is the opposite of short lighting. For these shots; you want to put your light source on the broad side of the face; the side of the face closet to the camera. Like short lighting, you can shoot from either the left or right. Just position your light source for whichever side you choose.

If your turned to your right; and the left side of your face is closest to the camera; then put your light source on the left of you.
If your turned to your left; and the right side of your face is closet to the camera; then put your light source on the right of you.

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    Split Lighting

    Split lighting is when you place your light source on either side of your subject so that only one side of their face(head shot) or body(full body shot) is lit. Your photo subject looks directly at the camera; or in the direction of the camera.

    This creates a dramatic photo effect. You can shoot the scene with a backlight or without one. You can get quite different results with or without the backlight as shown in these split lighting photos of Tankie.

    For the light source; I used the octagon 30" softbox. I put a felt cover over it and made three sections so i could lift any of them to adjust my light source (less or more light) and its direction. For my split lighting photo shot; i wanted a focused light so i only used the center of the softbox; and put the felt cover on my outer edges as shown in this photo of the softbox. I used clothespins to hold the felt in place. Felt is ideal because it is lightweight.
    Softbox Shot

    In this first photo, Tankie is looking at the camera and his body is aligned in a straight fashion, the light source is placed to his right, directly across from him at about 5 feet distance and at about 5 feet tall.

    For this first split lighting photo, I used a backlight. I put a backlight on his left side pointing it at the backdrop only. The backlight is putting light behind his body between him and the backdrop.
    The right side of his face and body is lit; while the left side of his face and body is mostly shadowed; but because of the backlight; it is not too dramatic looking.

    Split Lighting, with Backlight
    Pet Portraits with Split Lighting, Photography Tips for Point and Shoot Cameras

    In this next photo, Tankie is looking at the camera; his body is aligned horizontal so we can see more of his body in the photo. The light source is to his right, same as the previous photo and at the same height position. I did not use the backlight in this photo, and you can see the backdrop is not lit at all.

    Because there is no backlight used in this photo and because his body is positioned horizontally, the photo has a more dramatic look to it.
    The right side(his right) of his face and body is lit; while the left side is shadowed. He has a catch light in his right eye. Notice how the light and shadow on his face is evenly split. This is the essence of split lighting.

    Split Lighting, No Backlight
    Dramatic Split Lighting Example, Photography Tips for Amateurs

    People are a tad easier to work with when taking portraits; however, the unpredictability of your pet when taking their photo can add fun and creativeness to your shots. Although it looks like Tankie posed perfectly for both his split lighting shots; it was in fact, a split second that he stood still and I managed to get the shot taken with my Nikon L32 point and shoot camera. Unlike DSLR cameras which can shoot in a split seconds time, point and shoot cameras in this price range are a tad slower which means you as the photographer have to be more prepared when taking your shots - especially pets.

    Use Your Camera's Tracking Feature

    Most cameras have a 'tracking' feature; which allows you to compose your shot; then follow your subject till you get the shot you want; then you just shoot. To do this for your photo shot; just press the shutter halfway which will lock the composition for you until you take the shot you want.

    For the shot above; Tankie is sitting on his cat house, which is on top a table same height as an end table; which makes his height about the same as someone sitting in a chair for their portrait shot. To take the shot: I put the cat on his cat house; dangled some strings and toys to keep his attention while I prepared his shot; For the shot: press the shutter halfway; this will lock the photo and composition for you; then you can still follow the cat;(still hold the shutter halfway), and when you get the composition you want; just shoot. I shot about 3 to 4 feet away from the cat with some zoom; my aperture was at about f5.3.

    Like shooting people, pet portraits tend to look nicer when you stand back from your subject(the cat), and then zoom in somewhat. If you shoot them too close; then their face may show disportionately. By shooting at some distance, you lessen the chances of that happening in your shot. A good example of this is a person's nose; if shot too close it could appear larger or odd angled compared to the rest of their face.

    Split Lighting - People Portraits

    Split lighting shots for people are taken using the same method as pets; arrange your light source directly across from the subject; have them look directly in the direction of the camera - head and neck squared to the camera. You can also take a full body shot which includes body and head shot; one side of body is lit and the other is in shadow. Although split lighting can be shot with any photo subject; it is popular with certain demographics; like musicians, artists; those who would like a dramatic looking portrait either of them or perhaps their band or group.


    Using a Highlight is similar to backlighting; only difference being you shine the light directly on your subject; usually their hair to add highlights. The amount of light you shine is up to you. This would depend on the creative shot your trying to create.

    Photo Specs

    Once you upload your photos from your camera card to your computer; you can view the specs on any photo you took. To do so, just click on a photo, then right click with your mouse; then choose Properties, then choose Details. Now you can view the info about the photo you took such as; F number, Shutter Speed, Focal length(the zoomed distance), whether flash was used, the ISO number (usually 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800), the photos dimension, resolution, Exposure bias, and even shows the name of the camera that took the photo.

    The more you know about photos you have taken will help you to improve your shots, and in time you will become skilled in the art of photography.

    Shadows and Light - Portraits

    In portrait photography, your subject should have proper lighting, however there are times when adding shadows can make for a more interesting composition. Harsh shadows are usually avoided in basic portraits altogether unless your going for a really dramatic look; and shots that are well-lit - people and pets, with subtle shadows are usually the norm.

    By viewing the photo examples on this page, Short Lighting, Broad Lighting, Split Lighting, Backlighting, Highlighting you can see how shadows and light when properly photographed, can add dimension and character to a portrait that might otherwise appear flat or uninteresting. Photography is all about creativity. Whether it be using shadows, colors, or tones; you can use these elements in your photography shots to get creative and compose your own masterpieces.

    In our next tutorial article, you can learn additional Tips For Composing People In Portraits.