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We naturally know a lot about lighting already. Think about the last time you were outside enjoying a sunny day. You probably appreciated the sun on your face. The sun was the main or key light. It created a pattern of highlights and shadows on your face. Now you've moved to a white concrete driveway. The sun is still the key light, but there's lighter reflecting off the concrete and filling in the shadows, that's fill light. Let's bring it inside. It's a stormy November day in Seattle and you want to read a book, so you switch on the reading lamp. That lamp is now the key light, because it's the brightest light in the room.
If you pull your book closer to your face, it reflects some of that light to show the shadows. In both of these scenarios there are two light sources. In almost every lighting setup there is a main or key light that reveals the form and shape. In both of our examples, light was bounced back into the subject by reflector, but you can also use lights to add fill. The rest of the lights you use are named for what they do and that makes it pretty simple to remember.
A hair light adds detail to the hair and separates a subject from the background. Because of this it's sometimes referred to as a separator light. Some photographers like this brighter than the light on the face and others like it more subtle, so it just brings out the detail in the hair. With hair light, another consideration is the angle of light to the hair and the reflective quality of the hair itself. Whether the hair is light or dark, matte or shiny, affects how much light is reflected.
A background light, lights the background. This adds a sense of depth to the photograph and can be positioned to draw attention to the subject. It's common to use a background light to create a vignette around the subject. Accent lights or kicker lights add just a little more illumination to emphasize a small area of the subject or to show texture. These are normally placed behind or to the side of the subject. So those were the basic building blocks that make up a lighting setup, whether you use one, two, or all of these lights, depends on your subject, and the message that you want your photograph to convey.
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