Five Point Lighting

// September 9th, 2009 // Technique


If you’re trying out a new piece of equipment or a new technique it’s vital to practice before using it on an assignment. It’s all very well reading about something and seeing pictures or being told how to do it, but until you actually try it yourself you won’t truly understand what’s going on and the potential problems that can arise. On a job time is money so any delay can be costly, and if you’re unsure of what you’re doing you can lose the confidence of the people you’re working with and make things much, much harder than they need to be.

Owain’s been wanting to try five point lighting for some time, and finally a couple of evenings ago we managed to get all the equipment necessary into one place and find a couple of hours to give it a go.

Five point lighting uses, you guessed it, five light sources and requires quite precise positioning of the lights, the camera and the subject. It’s definitely something you want to try out in cold blood the first time. The basic idea is to use two small lights behind and to the side of the subject to draw a line of brightness around their outline, two larger light sources as main light in front and another light on or very near the camera for fill.

You can see the setup in the picture above. Owain is acting as the model. He’s holding a bounce card to throw light back up into his face from the main lights, but we didn’t make use of it in any of the subsequent shots so I wont mention it again. There are two white shoot through umbrellas in front of him and if you look closely you can just make out the camera that will be used for the test shots, sitting on a tripod in front of him. The glow of light around the camera is a Ray Flash ring flash adapter.


The bright star of light is one of the rear lights, the other is hidden behind the small white rectangle to the left of the picture. That small rectangle is a ‘flag’, a piece of solid card that needs to be put in just the correct position so that the flash it’s flagging is not directly visible from the camera position but still throws light at Owain’s back.

Here’s what those rear lights look like from the camera’s position before the flags are moved into position:

And here’s the same shot with the flags moved into place

Even thought the final photos will be composed with the rear lights completely outside the frame, the flags need to be there, or some of that wash of light will show up as non-imaging light or flare.

Separation Light

The two rear lights give what’s often called separation light. Here’s what Owain looks like lit just by the two rear lights:
Owain Dark

And here he is again, this time with the addition of the two main frontal lights, those fired through umbrellas. The ring flash isn’t turned on here.
Owain Light

The Final Product

We’re nearly there now. Let’s zoom in and turn the camera on it’s side to get a close cropped portrait picture, this time with me in the photo. We experimented with the frontal lights at this point, and for this image they were brought around to my sides more and the umbrellas removed. The front lights hit each side of my face separately and don’t quite reach the very front, giving the characteristic dark line down the middle of my face.

Mei Lewis

Here’s Owain, and we’ve turned off the umbrella lights and instead have the ring flash acting as main light.
Owain Richards

So What About 5 Lights?

We didn’t quite get that to work. With the rear lights set correctly, changes to the frontal lighting, gave only very slight changes in appearance, as you can see in the two images above. Using all five lights just didn’t seem necessary.

We also learned that the whole set-up requires very precise positioning within a couple of inches for the flags and camera, and that it really hurts to look straight into a ring flash when your eyes have got used to the dark!

Equipment List:

2 x Interfit 150w flashes with white shoot through umbrellas.
2 x Vivitar flashes on Interfit light stands, no light modifiers.
Thick black A4 card as flags, taped to another two light stands.
Ray Flash Ring Flash adapter attached to Canon EX 580 MkII on-camera flash.
Canon EOS 40D
Pocket Wizards to synch flashes.

(The image at the top of this post showing the whole set-up was taken with a Canon 30D camera, hand held. We’d run out of pocket wizards, so Owain set the 40D on timer and quickly stood back in the shot. I had my camera on the correct aperture and ISO, but with a long 1 second exposure. Owain looked at the countdown lights on the tripod mounted 40D and told me to press my shutter button just before his camera fired and fired the flashes. Because the ambient light was so weak it contributed almost nothing to the final image).