Tips + Techniques

Artistic and Cinematic Lighting Setups for Portrait Photographers

August 28, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Nick Fancher

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We asked several portrait photographers who are known for a more artistic and cinematic lighting style to give us behind-the-scenes looks at how they manage to make their photos look so darn artistic and cinematic. They each broke down three photos, with diagrams, to show us what they did and tell us how they got there with their lighting equipment.

For loads more lighting know-how, check out these next-level lighting tips for wedding and engagement photographers, honing your portrait lighting basics, expanding your repertoire with more creative techniques, perfecting how to photograph with only natural light (and, when you don’t have it, how to imitate natural light no matter where you are), and mastering your lighting tools.

Chris Knight Breaks Down His Cinematic and Artistic Lighting

© Chris Knight

Anyone familiar with Chris Knight‘s photography knows why we had to ask him for his lighting approach. The portrait and commercial photographer is heavily inspired by paintings and films, and he translates that beautifully on set. Knight explains how he used his lighting gear to create portraits of a 20th century boxer character, a Vanity Fair-inspired Old Hollywood star and an entirely new (to him) spotlight effect on a model.

Nick Fancher Creates Dramatic, Experimental Illuminated Portraits

© Nick Fancher

Nick Fancher is practically encyclopedic when it comes to lighting. He’s known for his experimentation into techniques like color lighting and for refining a fairly speedy approach. “I learn by trying new things,” Fancher says. “Don’t just light your subject with an umbrella at a three-quarter angle because you know it will look decent. Think about what you’re trying to convey.” Here, he showed us three ways he creates drama-filled lighting while still mixing it up from shoot to shoot.

Tom Sanders Explains How He Uses Lighting to Match a Portrait’s Mood

© Tom Sanders

Lighting can do a lot to enhance a story, as Tom Sanders will tell you. To illustrate this, he showed us how he chose what to use when he photographed aging veterans (one of his portrait niches), a celestial-inspired portrait (you’ll be surprised by the technique behind that one!), and a leather-working fashion designer. Each lighting setup truly leads the stories behind the portraits, rather than simply following a concept brief.