Easy Rim Lighting for Portraits with Simon Terlecki


by Simon Terlecki


We often think that special effects in photography are very difficult or out of our budget or experience to do. However, many of these effects actually are very simple and easy to execute effectively with very little equipment.

One such effect is in the rim-lighting as seen in the photo above. Normally, we tend to see this effect used with a sunset in the distance. Although pretty and works quite well with a romantic shot of a couple, it is also cliché and we want to do something a little different.

What do we need?

- a camera, of course. 1 Flash or strobe, 1 light stand.

(optional although recommended:  either someone to help keep the light-stand stable or a couple of sand bags set at the bottom, especially if windy).

Although it is possible to take a shot like this in the daytime, it would also require us to have a stronger light source and/or more sophisticated equipment  to kill the ambient light. I would therefore suggest doing the shot at dusk or at night. Somewhere with either a brick wall, as I did, or weathered stone or an undulated metal wall would be good as it will help create ambiance and texture in your shot. (note: I took this shot in the parking lot of the local shopping mall at dusk.)

First things first, set your model against the wall, looking out straight ahead.

Now, we want to set our light far enough away to get harsh light, about 15 feet away should be good. Why? It’s simple. We are looking for a harsh light and when we pull the light back, the light source becomes smaller. Smaller light sources create harsher light.

We also want our light to be at a very narrow angle to our model. This will create a very short  shadow and also bring out the texture of the wall.

Once in position, lift your light very high. My stand goes up 10 feet and I put it to the very top. Now, angle your light down towards your model’s face. This will light one side of her face, highlight her hair,  her eyes and lashes. It will also create a dramatic downward shadow behind her. Notice also, how nicely it emphasizes her hands

Once the light in place, move to the opposite side of your model to find the correct position. Do not move the light or the model. Move your body and camera until you find a position that shows the silhouette of your model’s face in a way that you like.

See how simple and easy that is? Obviously, moving around your model, you will find other interesting shots. Go for it and have fun! :-)


Enjoy this tutorial, please share using the icons below! :-)

Simon Terlecki is a portrait photograer that does both natural, studio and combined lighting photography. Please visit his website: Simon Terlecki Photography
Creative Commons License
Rim-Lighting Portraits with Simon Terlecki by Simon Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply to MsgtBob Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>