Simple positions for classic portrait work

The essence of portrait work lies in just five simple positions.

Nearly all the shots you take will be based on these simple set ups. All photography students learn to do these positions. The video today is all about how these sets are put together. It really is simple.

The five positions

The five simple positions are…

  • The Short: Often used to help rounder people have slightly longer faces. The face is angled so that the shadows are on the side of the face nearest to to the camera. The lighted side is on the side furthest from the camera.
  • The Broad: The subject faces the camera nearly straight on. The light comes in from the side. The shadow of the nose and the face on the other side of the nose are lit, but only softly.
  • The Rembrandt: A classic position – it is intended to show a triangle of light on the face on the side away from the light. The lighting is set high so that one side of the face is lit, and only the top of the cheek is lit on the other side.
  • Split lighting: one side of the face is lit. The other side is in soft shadow. This lighting technique is often used as a way of stopping shadow from a hat falling on the face.
  • The butterfly: The light is full on to the face. Generally this one is done slightly higher than the subjects head to ensure that the underside of the nose is slightly dark, but there should be no triangle of shadow on the space under the nose to the top lip. This gives a nice broad light to the face and shows off the eyes to an advantage.

More after this…

In the video these positions are shown off with a good measure of advice on how to set up the lights. A great video with a comic twist at the end. Enjoy!


Portrait Lighting for Photography and Video!
TheSlantedLens  External link - opens new tab/page·50 videos

In the near future I will be doing more on portraits. This post is a way of getting that going. If you have any questions or want me to tackle a specific portrait question let me know in the comments or via our Contact Us page.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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