What Models Need to Know About Lighting

Newer models tend not to realize how important light is. Light is your friend. No, you don’t have to be a lighting expert or know which ISO the camera is shooting at. You don’t have to know exactly how the camera exposure and technicalities work, though knowing and learning is a plus. What you do need to take away from this, if you take anything away, is that light is extremely important in a photograph and it is your job as a model to find the light.

It’s your first or second shoot and you are nervous and excited all at once. You want to blow your photoshoot out of this world. Modeling, like anything else, takes practice. And before you get too ahead of yourself, here are some basics about the three main types of lighting situations you will encounter.

Natural Light

Cloud Cover
This is often a favorite of models and photographers alike for on-location shoots. Clouds create a natural diffuser of light, making the light soft and spread out. You won’t find hard lines from shadows from a cloudy day.

The sun will usually be the general direction in which you, the model, will face and be cognizant of. This is an easy light to play with because there is light everywhere, highlighting all your features.  There are no tricks to this light; it’s pretty much as simple as it gets.

  • Know that this light will soften your features and smooth out your skin.
  • Think angelic (depending on the concept, of course).
  • If one of your strong features are sharp cheek bones, remember that this light will make them slightly less prominent, as the shading of your cheeks will be more filled in.
  • Usually bluer mood and tones (unless the colors are altered in post-processing. Which very well may be the case).

Take the above into consideration during your shoot. Feel the energy of the photographer, the light and the concept. Teach yourself how to embody the character that is being photographed. It is you, but it is also anyone you want it to be.

Direct Sunlight

Some photographers wince at a too-sunny day. This is because, unlike an outdoor shoot with cloud cover, this type of light creates a harshness that can be undesirable. I did say can be undesirable. Some people love it. Direct sunlight creates harder, more definite lines than diffused lighting. When I think direct sunlight, I think grungey, sexy, edgy, high fashion.

This type of lighting gives more contours, so you have to be aware. Practice in the mirror. If you are going to model, you have to be a just a little bit vain. And by vain, I really mean, look in the mirror often, get to know your features well, and be confident in your ability to move your face and body. Yeah, I really mean vain. If you’re really feeling bored, you can play with different lighting situations and angles on your face to see the subtleties.

  • Direct sunlight can be your friend and it can be your enemy. Make sure the angles you are giving the photographer aren’t creating ugly shadows. If you are, the photographer should make you aware. Once you are aware, stay aware! Don’t make the photographer have to keep reminding you.
  • The main shadow points that could go awry with lighting are the eyes/brow bones, and sometimes the nose. If the sun is too high above, there could be a shadow over your eyes. You can fix this by always having your face in the general direction of the sun.
  • Having said the above, as a general rule to all shoots, always tend to face the main light.
  • Feel the mood of the shoot. Direct sun is hard, so keep that in mind in the context of the shoot.
  • Certain features of your face (and body) will be more highlighted and emphasized. Keep this in mind. If you’re practicing in the mirror, you should be more familiar with how angles and light acts with your face.
  • The more sun, the warmer, oranger the feel of a photo.

Most importantly, have fun and explore. Direct sunlight may be harder to conquer, but it leaves more room for improvement and learning. In my opinion, it should help you improve familiarity with your features as well.


There are many different ways to light a studio. I won’t get into the technicalities (let’s face it, I hardly know the technicalities), so here it is: whatever your “main” light is, treat it like your sun. Studio can be both like the diffused lighting of a cloudy day, or it can be set up like a direct, edgy light.

Whatever the setup may be, you are a moth! If you have half your face to the light, the other half will be darkened and cast into shadow. This won’t look flattering.

Studios are diverse. Most of the time, a photographer isn’t going to sit there and explain the lighting situation to you. Most of the time, you’ll just have to trust him in his directions for you and setup in lighting.

However, you can help. Here’s how.

Remember everything I’ve told you above. The end.

Kidding. Sort of. Normally, in studio lighting, there will be a main light and then a fill light, to fill in whatever shadows are being created. No matter what, you should always become attracted to your main light. The lighting could be in a funkier setup, however. You just have to learn what’s going on behind the lens slowly, as you see the differences in setup and how the images look. Your main concern will be to look at how your body and face are positioned and how shadows and light interact with your face.

For example: maybe a slight shadow appears around the edges of your mouth when you make a certain expression. While not a huge deal (and perhaps this could be easily photoshopped), it is a good idea to know these interactions.

Understanding light and your face, angles, and movement, are fundamental to producing quality images. It can be a slow process, but it will become second nature with enough practice.

Be Fierce!!

Briauna Mariah (:

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