The Hand Trick for Better Portrait Photography

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One of the most challenging things about portrait photography is trying to find the right lighting for your subject to stand in, or what flash settings to use to light them correctly. That’s right; portrait photography is just like the other genres of photography in that light means everything to a great photograph.

While light can be challenging, there are certain tricks and tools you can use to get better lighting to improve your portrait photography. Yes, you can purchase all the flash stands, umbrellas, and light boxes that you want, but if you want to keep the light completely natural, there’s one free trick to use. To see where the best light is going to be, use the hand trick for better portrait photography.

Facial Modeling

One of the most difficult things to get right in portrait photography is the lighting on the face. You don’t want the shadows to be too harsh, and you don’t want their face to be extremely bright. There is a delicate medium that takes place  when you get the lighting perfect on the face. It reveals facial features through soft shadows so that you see a smooth transition from soft shadows to properly lit areas.

Facial modeling is the sweet spot in facial lighting that has both soft shadows and soft light. It’s definitely not easy to master, either. The goal of facial modeling is to show the unique facial features of your subject in a portrait photo.

I was first introduced to facial modeling by one of my photography friends while we worked on portrait lighting in his studio using only a manikin and a window. While we took photos of the manikin at different angles using only a window in a dark room for softer light, we realized that the softer shadows at different angles made certain photos look better than others because it revealed features on the manikin that we hadn’t noticed before (now that I think about it, it would have looked pretty weird if someone had walked in on use photographing a manikin and being really excited about it…)! It was definitely a light bulb moment.

To show you a great way to achieve facial modeling in a simple way, I’m going to use one of my own humanitarian photographs as the example.



As you can see, there are soft shadows on the left side of his face, and good lighting on the right side of his face. If you’ll notice, however, that you still have some illuminated areas on the left cheek. Now, normally if you have light on the right and shadows on the left you would think that the light source would be on the side. That’s not the case!

To achieve the same effect, move your subject so that their face is at a 45 degree angle from the light source. That way, you will get light and some soft shadows on both sides of the face, which makes nice facial modeling, revealing unique features.



So, the question is how do you get soft light and soft shadows? All you really have to do is used diffused light. So, that means taking a photo under cloudy conditions, or using a simple light diffuser to reduce the amount of light from direct sun.

If you’re taking the photograph in a studio with a flash setup, just use umbrellas or put diffusers on the end of each flash. That will leave you with proper soft light to illuminate the face and create facial modeling!

For more portrait photography tips, visit this page!

The Hand Trick For Better Portrait Photography

Sometimes, judging where the light and shadows are going to fall on your subject’s face can be challenging. That’s why I often use the hand trick to understand where the subtle differences in light and shadows are going to fall.

The hand trick is incredibly easy. All you have to do is hold up your hand in the light where your subject’s face is going to be. Then, study your hand and try to see if the facial modeling is going to be pleasing, or if there is going to be too much contrast in the light.

Are the shadows that appear in between your fingers light and soft, but still show enough definition to reveal changes in angles? If so, you are probably going to have nice lighting in your portrait. If you see distracting highlights from the sun, or unwanted shadows on your hand, move around and try a different location.

Using the hand trick is a definite way to keep the lighting pleasant in your portrait photography.

Want more lighting tips for your photography? Look just below this post for some suggestions!