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Lighting Tutorial: The Double Profile

By Jeff Lubin, M.Photog.Cr.

One of the most interesting and challenging but least-taught studio lighting patterns is the double profile. All effective portraits attract the viewer’s attention to where the artist wants to draw the eye. In the case of this portrait of 5-year-old twins, we want to enjoy the great expressions and interaction of the subjects.

In most portraits the photographer wants to light the mask of the face. When the subjects are in profile, the mask is a very slim area showing the forehead, outline of the nose, and chin. Because the subjects are facing each other, a single key light can’t outline each face, and the scene will require lighting from separate light sources. Let me take you through the setup and settings to achieve this high-impact but subtle result.

We are using four lights for this setup, a 60-inch Larson umbrella, a 36-inch Larson strip light and two Photogenic parabolics with white diffusers and 16-inch barn doors. The camera is a Hasselblad H2 with a 39-megapixel digital P45+ back by Phase One. The background was painted by Ron Dupree.


©Jeff Lubin

The camera is set to 1/125 second at f/8.5. We start by lighting the overall scene using the 60-inch umbrella for the fill light, reading at f/5.6 on the shadow side of the faces.

The hair light is set to f/8. Be careful when using a hair light to stop at the top of the head but to not light the tip of the nose. The barn doors on the parabolic lights are 80-percent closed, so only a small strip of light is emanating from each unit.  

It’s important to remember not to direct this light source fully at the subjects' profile—just use the edge of the light. If you direct a parabolic right at the face, you risk burning up the highlights creating a garish effect. Each parabolic is aimed towards the center of the set behind the boys, set at f/11, as shown in the diagram. We want the shadow side of the face to match the tone of the background, so we did not add a background light, allowing the profile light to stand out more prominently.   

When posing the subjects in a profile, pay careful attention not to distort the faces by allowing them to turn too much into the camera, revealing the second eye to the lens, or turn away and lose the split effect of the faces. I had the subjects telling each other something silly to get them interacting and their mind off the camera. Once the lights are set and the faces are exactly at the right angle, it’s only a matter of timing and waiting for the perfect moment when the expression and position are right.

The double profile may seem like a lot of work, but it makes all the difference in the world when compared to a flat frontal light that would not translate nearly as well on the client’s wall.

Learn to become an artist with studio lighting and posing. It’s one way of separating yourself from the pack who shoot from the hip with no effort at learning technique. Painters take care of adding light exactly where they want it. Photographers should learn to paint with light as well. Sometime the simplest lighting and posing techniques are the most effective because full attention can be paid to the subject’s expression and personality.

Jeff Lubin is a Burrell Mentor. He spoke this year at WPPI  and will be lecturing at the New Jersey PPA convention in April in Atlantic City and on Jeckle Island for the Georgia PPA in October. You can see more of his work at www.jefflubin.com.