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How to create rim lighting

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by David Em
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Rim lighting is a photography technique where light highlights a subject’s silhouette. It’s a great technique to use indoors or outdoors.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Greyscale portrait of a person with rim light.

What’s rim lighting?

Rim lighting is a photography technique that places light around the edges of your subject. When you take a portrait with rim lighting, it’ll look similar to a silhouette portrait. The only difference is that the edges will be lit up.

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It’s used to create a powerful and dramatic image. You can achieve it by using artificial or natural light. However, it’s more commonly seen in studio portraits using a flash.

The benefit of using rim lighting is that it creates a three-dimensional effect. It brings your image to life, and since it separates your subject from the background, it adds depth. It’s a creative technique that makes your images more interesting.

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How to create it

While it’s not as simple as placing the light source behind your subject and snapping a photo, learning the essential tips will allow you to know exactly what to do.

Take the following steps to use rim lighting in your portraits with a single light:

  1. Place your subject in front of a black background and the light source.
  2. Turn on the light.
  3. Make sure your subject is completely blocking the light.
  4. Expose for the light, which will darken your subject.
  5. Press the shutter to take the photo.

It’s important to ensure that your subject is blocking the light source because if light leaks through, you’ll catch the rays or get lens flare in the image.

When you use a single light, it’ll create an even and beautiful rim light around your subject. However, there are other variations that you can use.

Try moving the single light to one side to highlight one side of your subject. You can also change the height of the light by moving it up or down. Experiment with different angles to see how the light changes the look and feel of your portrait.

Another variation to try is to add more lights. Instead of using a single light set-up, try using two or three. If you’re using two, place them diagonally from your subject and on opposite sides of each other. For a three-light set-up, place them like the two light set-up, and place the last one directly behind the subject.

Artificial light isn’t the only way to use rim lighting. Try it with natural light by using the same techniques and steps. The key is to make sure the sun is low enough to be blocked by your subject.

Enhance it with editing

Once you’ve snapped a few photos that you’re happy with, take the images to your post-processing software of choice. This is where you’ll make the rim light stand out even more.

When you edit the photo, look for ways to enhance the rim light. An easy method is to decrease the shadows to make your subject darker and increase the highlights to brighten the light.

You can also edit the image so that it’s monochrome, or use different tones to change how a viewer will feel when they look at the photo.

Conclusion

Rim lighting is an excellent photography technique because it requires minimal equipment and makes a portrait look dramatic.

Learning how to do it will help you grow as a photographer and capture more compelling images. It’ll also help you understand how light impacts a subject based on the position and number of lights.

Additional resources:

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

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