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Where to Position Your Main Light

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Your strobe should be up high on a light stand, aiming down at an angle (kind of like the sun aims down on us), so it creates a more flattering look to our light. Also, keep in mind that the closer the light is to your subject, the softer the light is. Now, there is no absolute “right” place to position your lights, so it really comes down to your personal preference about how you want the shadows to look on your subject. Shadows are what create depth and dimension on a person’s face (and having soft shadows on your subject’s face is usually very flattering), so I usually position my main light so it’s at a 45° angle to the subject. So, for example, if your subject was standing at the center of a clock face, and the camera is straight in front of them at 6:00, then you’d place the light at around 7:30. This creates some nice soft shadows on the side of their face that’s farthest away from the light (the side opposite the light). If you want more shadows on that side of their face, you’d move the light to around 8:00. Want more shadows? Move it to 8:30. Want that whole side of their face totally in shadow (often seen in dramatic portraits of men)? Put the light right beside them at 9:00. Okay, what if you actually want less shadows on that opposite side of their face—maybe just a hint of shadows? Then, move the light closer to the camera position—to around 7:00. If you move the light right in front of the subject, their whole face will be lit evenly with no shadows on their face. This is “flat lighting” and it usually looks okay on someone with really good skin. Okay, so which one of these positions is the “right” position? The one you choose—it’s totally up to your personal preference (my preference has me positioning my light at between 7:30 and 8:00 most of the time).

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