How Adding a Modified Flash for a Hair Light Can Transform Your Portraits

With the light on the model's face to perfection, there's still a lot that can be done in high key, low key, and all the exposures in between.

When starting out using strobes, the important area to master is the overall exposure of the subject. Then you start to add in the scene as well, with a background light or complex cross lighting. But one light I personally love to see is a hair light. Usually these lights are either directly behind the subject, or off camera at an angle to the right or left of the background. There is so much value top be had out of these.

Gary Fong's Instagram post above — shot by Steven Scagnelli — is one of the best examples of just how much impact it can have. Not only does it give superb separation of subject from background, but it adds a cinematic quality that all back-lit images seem have. The color gel added in the above image just takes it that little bit further.

Do you use hair lights? Show us some examples in the comments.

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Michael Aubrey's picture

Is it just me or is it that at 1:55 (1/4000 & f/1.4), he's still using the electronic shutter with high speed sync and getting some nice banding in there.

Chase Wilson's picture

Who the hell shoots 1/4000th in the studio? This guy has some explaining to do.

Dubious “speed light” photographers.

michaeljin's picture

I'm guessing he doesn't have much choice. He's shooting at f/1.4, there's enough ambient light to be shooting video, and you want to black out the background like that, then you're either going to need to use HSS or put an ND filter on.

michaeljin's picture

LOL! Gary Fong...

Michael Comeau's picture

100% Natural Light Here

Robert Altman's picture

While the sun certainly provides the hair light- I would add in a strobe from the front to create a bit more ‘pop’ and catch lights to make the eyes more alive ( in fact I always try to use the sun as my ‘2nd strobe’ when it’s there). Clearly an aesthetic choice ...

Yin Ze's picture

Anyone prefer soft source for hairlight? I prefer the type of subtle, soft, way underpowered(compared to key light), that just brushes the rim of the subject's hair.