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How to get self portrait lighting for great photos?

In the realm of photography, self-portraits stand as both a creative endeavor and a journey of self-discovery. The key to creating stunning self-portraits lies not only in the composition and pose but also in mastering self portrait lighting. Whether bathed in the soft glow of natural light, sculpted by precise artificial sources, or imbued with the moodiness of creative lighting setups, the interplay of light and shadow can elevate a self-portrait from a simple snapshot to a compelling visual narrative.

COLBOR CL60 is used with COLBOR SL20-B to create various lighting patterns for self portrait photography.

Why is taking self portraits popular?

Self-portraiture offers numerous advantages. It enhances general photography skills, such as mastering lighting techniques and understanding camera operation. It serves as a platform for exploring various photography techniques.

It also enhances broader photography skills, providing insight into the model's perspective and fostering empathy towards subjects. At the very least, it enables you to discover your most flattering angles.

Engaging in self-portraiture has empowered many photographers, making them more at ease in front of the lens. Through experimenting with poses, expressions, and perspectives, individuals become more comfortable viewing themselves in photographs.

Experiment with various angles of natural light for self portrait

Natural light can impart a gentle glow to your portraits. It serves as an excellent alternative when professional lighting gear or lamps are not at hand. However, you have less control over the direction of natural light. Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to your position relative to the sun. Here are some common lighting angles you can try in self portrait photography.


If the light source is positioned behind you, it will result in backlighting for your photo. There are two straightforward methods to utilize this type of self portrait lighting effectively:

  • Increase the exposure slightly to achieve a soft glow around your face. Adjusting to a higher ISO can compensate for the additional exposure.
  • Create a silhouette in your self-portrait by maintaining normal exposure or slightly underexposing. This approach obscures facial details while highlighting the outline of your body, offering a visually striking silhouette. Experiment with various props and poses for creative outcomes.

Backlighting is particularly appealing during the golden hour, characterized by its soft and flattering light quality.

Side light

This is light that illuminates just one side of your face. When shooting indoors, position yourself sideways to a window rather than facing the camera directly. The window's natural light will produce a gradual transition, giving your self-portrait a painterly quality. Side lighting is ideal for creating mysterious self-portraits, as it enhances depth and emotion even with subtle expressions.

Direct light with shadows

Direct light directly illuminates your face, which is easy to achieve when the sun is shining brightly. A self-portrait captured in direct light exhibits pronounced contrast and captivating textures.

While direct light is typically harsh and unflattering, incorporating shadows can yield the opposite effect. Shadows from leaves, hair, branches, and other elements can create visually appealing patterns on your face. These shadows can enrich your narrative with a playful and natural touch.

Final self-portrait image of using COLBOR studio light

Get lighting for self portraits with studio light and modifier

The one-light setup is widely favored for self portrait lighting due to its timeless appeal. Utilizing a photography light and a beauty dish allows you to evoke the essence of a Renaissance painting or adjust positions slightly to get dramatic lighting for self portrait.

A popular technique involves adopting a Rembrandt-style lighting technique. This entails positioning a studio light like COLBOR CL60 with a modifier like a beauty dish or softbox to one side of the subject, about three-quarters, elevated and angled downward. This setup produces the triangle of light on the opposite cheek known as Rembrandt lighting. By shifting your position slightly, you can achieve attractive loop lighting. These lighting techniques remain enduringly stylish and are easily adaptable - from professional headshots to artistic portraits.

Alternatively, slight adjustments in light placement can intensify the drama. Elevating the light higher and positioning it more directly overhead can create striking butterfly lighting, ideal for capturing cinematic-worthy images.

Be creative with self portrait lighting to try various light sources

Once you've experimented with both studio lighting and natural light, it's time to explore further. Challenge yourself to think innovatively and explore all the resources available to you. Have you ever considered incorporating a projector? It's an exciting new light source. Connect it to your laptop and project captivating visuals like quirky tree silhouettes, underwater scenes, or beautiful clouds. Let your imagination run wild and create unique in-camera overlays. Another idea is to experiment with looping videos featuring vibrant, glittery animations. The projector is just one example of alternative lighting. Have you thought about using a bedside lamp? It can add a moody and warm atmosphere to your photos.

Tips for stunning self portrait photos

Embrace the Power of Color: Harness the emotive potential of color to set the mood in your portrait. Experiment with various lighting setups to discover which color best capture your mood and personality.

Seek Softness: Opt for a lantern modifier to achieve gentle, flattering light that accentuates rather than overwhelms your features.

Explore and Experiment: Innovation is key to creating outstanding self-portraits. Embrace new techniques fearlessly. Every shot is a chance to learn and improve.

Consider Your Brand: Align your self-portrait with your personal branding strategy. What message do you aim to convey through your image?

Keep It Simple: Begin with a basic setup and gradually incorporate new elements as you gain confidence. Often, simplicity in setup yields the most impactful results.