Can anyone please give any tips to improve three or four lights setup depending on model's face type (round, oval, triangular, heart-shaped, etc) or face features (blemishes, wrinkles, etc)?

In particular, I have difficulties making headhots of people who have a triangular face type. It's obvious to me that back light deforms the face by highlighting one of the model's cheek and by leaving the opposite one in the shadow (in the deep shadow without fill light). But I think getting rid of the back light will not completely solve the problem.

Are there any good recommendations list on common portrait/headshot mistakes and solutions?


2 Answers 2


The backlight shouldn't light the face, only the outline of the face in order to separate it from the background, also, you shouldn't have deep shadows with no fill (unless you want them) - you need to move and change your light's power as needed, not blindly follow some diagram.

Just build your lighting setup on light at a time, one method is to start with the key:

  1. First take a shot with all the lights off, you should get a completely black picture.

  2. Turn on the key, move it around and take test pictures until you like how the light falls on the model (ignore deep shadows).

  3. Turn on the fill, aim it at the shadows, set it to low power so it just lifts the shadow a little without drastically changing the light.

  4. Turn off the key and fill, turn on accent lights (backlight and/or background) take test shots to see they only light what they are supposed to light (the model should be a completely black), if they light the model move them or change power.

  5. now you are ready, turn on all the light and take another test, make any last adjustment if needed and take the shot.

Another method is to start with the fill (especially useful if you use ambient light as fill):

  1. place the fill close to the camera so it completely lights the subject but set it to low power - this will determine your darkest shadow - take test shots and adjust until the picture is dark but there aren't any shadows that are too dark.

  2. Add the key, adjust it until you get proper exposure.

  3. Like before, test accent lights with the key off to make sure they don't light the model

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great Tips @Nir \$\endgroup\$
    – DeZigny
    Sep 12, 2013 at 5:54

The bigger thing that necessarily moving the light is adjusting intensity. If the highlights are falling in the wrong spots or casting shadows in the wrong spots, then moving the light to adjust for this might be needed, but if it is simply producing too much highlight in the right spot, then you need to either dim, gel or shorten the exposure from that light relative to the others.

You don't want to get rid of the backlight, though moving it further back may also help in this particular case. The idea with the backlight is to light up edges to give it more pop and increase edge definition. Ideally, further back is better, but this often results in insufficient power, putting the light in the shot, or simply running out of space due to backdrops and such.

If shadows are too dark, either increase the fill or decrease the key. If image doesn't have enough pop (strong enough edges), increase the backlight or decrease both the fill and key proportionally. If the shadows fall wrong, then move the key, if they don't fill in well, move the fill or include additional fills.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.