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Layer Three: Accent Light

Lesson 7 from: Editorial Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

7. Layer Three: Accent Light


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


How to Make Senior Photos Stand Out


What is Lighting in Layers?


Build a Lighting Foundation


Layer One: Main Light


Layer Two: Fill Light


Layer Three: Accent Light


Layer Four: Additional Light


Lesson Info

Layer Three: Accent Light

So, the next layer is accent lights. Those are also known as edge lights, hair lights, rim lights, et cetera. It's basically any light that is accenting something that your main light and your fill light aren't touching. So, everybody knows that hair light is coming from above to light someone's hair. A lot of times with shots of athletes, you'll want that edge where it shows muscle definition and that type of stuff. You'll use an accent light from behind to kinda give that look that you see in a natural sports moment of a basketball player in an arena where they have the light coming from behind them and it's providing that accent. So, those can be placed a lot of different places, it's kind of depending on the goal of your image. They can be placed anywhere, but a lot of times they will affect other things that you don't want, so I usually select something that's more controlled. If you're using a big soft box for your main light, I'm not gonna use a big soft box as an accent light f...

or a number of reasons. One, I probably don't have room behind the subject to put a big soft box. Two, I don't want that light spilling everywhere, I want it accenting a certain spot, and those are the main reasons. So, a lot of times what I'll use for an accent light is something like a strip box, so maybe a soft box that's 10 inches wide and 30 inches tall. Something that's narrow where I can really aim it, it can stay out of the way, and a lot of times, more often than not, I'll put a grid on those lights to really control it because an accent light, when seen through your lens, can cause lens flair, so you wanna keep it out of the lens, unless you're trying to do it on purpose which can provide its own effect. So, it's just being aware of why you're placing the accent light where you're putting it and how it's affecting the shot. The other thing, similar to your other lights, is how specular do you want that accent light? I did a shoot a couple years ago for the Minnesota Vikings. It was all football players in their gear after practice so they had, you know, looking a little sweaty, had a glisten to their skin and they wanted it to look like they were sculpted, so I thought, alright, this is gonna be a situation where we're gonna use harder light, so I used, basically, just small seven-inch reflectors on my lights with grids. That gave a really specular quality to the light, it also controlled it so it wasn't causing a bunch of lens flair. Whereas if you're, I had a shoot with a bunch of attorneys recently and we needed to separate them from the background, that was why we were using an accent light, so we could separate suits and hair and everything else from the background, and that didn't, I didn't want them to look like football players because they didn't, so I wanted to use something that was softer so we used a 10-by-36 inch strip light with a grid on it to give nice, soft light, but still accent them from the back and give that separation from the background and accent their hair and other features. So, they can be placed anywhere, but they usually need to be controlled. Alright, and the last part, like I said, use grids or smaller modifiers to aim the light where you want it to go. Here's an example. This was a senior. One light from your guys' left, there was no fill light here, we wanted that shadow. You can see, earlier when I was talking about falloff, look at his face versus the bottom of the frame. You can see how it went to dark, so that tells me that light must have been pretty close to his head and not really far away because that falloff, but the main point of this image is, on the other side, his left, our right side, you can see that accent light, so I wanted to show off kinda that, you know, a little more aggressive look, so I used a bare-bulb flash behind. And the other thing to know, earlier when we talked about lighting ratios, these can be measured the same way with a fill light. You can measure your light coming from the side of your main light or turn around and measure where your accent light's coming from, and if those light powers are the same, you know, that's like a one-to-one ratio of your main light to your accent light. So, sometimes with, the guys with the Vikings, we actually went more than, it was like a one-to-two ratio. We really pumped up those accent lights so it was just blasting in light, where the photos of the attorneys, it was subtle, it was almost two stops below. Was just a little touch of light to give them that separation, but I didn't wanna blast them with light like this guy. So, it just depends on what look you want.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Lighting Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting Terms Guide

Ratings and Reviews

pete hopkins

awesome teacher and awesome technique. after soooo many webinars, it's really great to see someone break it down to the bare bones of lighting with exceptional quality results. i can listen to Dan all day. no pretense, no over the top emotional pleas, no drama! did i say awesome!!!! Plus, I'm a huge fan of the B! and B2 systems. Freedom is key. Now I can shoot anywhere, anytime. Thanks Dan.


This is by far the best class on senior photography I have found on creativelive. Dan explains the technical aspects in an easy to understand format. He does a great job going through studio shots, outdoor shots, editing and marketing. He's given me some great ideas and inspired me to be more creative. I am going to rewatch the lighting set up for the "hero shot". It's super cool!

Tristanne Endrina

Dan was great. His class was very comprehensive but easy to follow. The slides he used weren't flashy. Instead, they were simple and he went at a good pace. I left feeling like I could really pull off the lighting techniques he taught. I'm excited to put what I learned into my photography. :) Thanks, Dan.

Student Work