Some scenes are dynamic with subjects, such as horses moving around through them. Traditional portrait lighting won’t work for this type of situation so we normally use a lighting technique we call zone portrait lighting. It will look familiar to event photographers that shoot with off camera flash.
Zone Portrait Lighting
When I make portraits, I often build a dedicated lighting set up for each shot. I have a very specific goal in mind and I move and adjust the lights until I get what I want. This is time consuming of course. My goal is a small number of highly refined photos rather than a large documentary set. I have control over my subjects and can ask them to make small refined movements. I can position subject and lights exactly where I want them.
When you add a horse to the mix, that doesn’t work very well. Instead we create a zone of light. The approach looks very similar to how we light wedding venues for receptions. After we set the zone up, we photograph the subject from different positions. We are free to follow the action and can capture moments when they happen. Moving around, we capture different types of light from different position.
Want New Lighting? Move the Photographer.
For a zone portrait lighting setup like this, our lights are at different distances, using different powers and even different modifiers in some cases. We can many different lighting looks without changing the setup at all my moving around. The light is from the front from some angles and from the sides or back from others.
The creative aspects of the shoot shift from the lighting set up to camera position, lens choice and timing relative to the subject. The lighting is less refined, less perfected, at least to a photographers eyes. We trade being able to work with subjects and situations that aren’t possible in the more refined and controlled dedicated lighting setups.
The Zone Lighting Setup
We have an idea of the look and feel the portraits should have from talking to the client, seeing the location and pre-visualizing the results we wants. That vision allows us to make some high level choices: what light modifiers are appropriate, how large a space is needed and therefore must be lit, and are there any environmental factors that change the situation (rain, wind, volcano, etc). These factors drive the choice of light positions and modifiers.
In practice the choice is simpler than it sounds because factors outside of our control cut down the options. In this case, we needed a large area to allow for the unpredictable nature of the horse and for shots involving its movement. The lights needed to be far back (10 to 20 yards) so that the light would be relatively even in the central shooting area without excessive fall off. Those factors drove the decision. We used small efficient light modifiers for three of our lights.
We placed a large soft-box close to the center as a key light because we wanted some soft light.
The net result was 3 lights with long throw projectors on them around the side and rear edge of the shooting areas similar to stadium lighting. The key light was closer to the center of the area with the largest soft box we have (3’x4′) mounted. Our subject rode or walked the horse through the area. She passed near the key light but still had plenty of space to “escape” in most directions. To change our shots, we would change our position or lens leaving the lights as they were.
Here are some example of the variety that is possible in a lighting setup such as this:
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.