Day 2: ‘Knowing Your Light’ in the Modeltypeface Jay McLaughlin Takeover!

Welcome to Day 2 of Jay’s Modeltypeface Takeover – we’re getting to the nitty gritty and talking about how a photographer uses light today.

So, one of the best things a model can do to succeed in their career is to know his or her light. Where the light’s coming from, how it acts on the face and how to enhance or counteract those effects are all elements that we should be cognizant of on a shoot.

To keep things simple, photographer Jay McLaughlin and I are focusing on studio lighting and we’ve got 3 categories here: direct, overhead and side.

Jay took these brill, stripped-back pics that show me with my chin angled both up and down in order to demonstrate the ways in which light and shadow work on our faces and how we should adapt.

I’m barely wearing make up and my hair’s scraped back (hopefully showing a brave, rather than misguided, lack of vanity…) to really show you how the light plays on skin.

Jay also says that, in general, the bigger the light the more flattering, and to never forget where the source of that light.

Finally, I’m using layperson speak, not photographer speak, to help us models better understand Jay’s pointers. If you’re after all the complex technical lingo, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place!

1) Direct

Direct light uses a very a bright light. It’s pretty flattering, as it washes out so many imperfections – that’s why it’s often used for e-commerce, as there is far less retouch needed. That’s important when we’re doing 70 odd shots a day!



This brightness can also be the drawback with direct light – it can look very draining, washing out the skin’s tone and natural colouring, so a lot of sculpting and make-up will be applied to counteract that effect.

Bright red lips will really pop and very smokey eyes will look dramatic – and when modelling, you can go to town with expressing yourself.

2) Overhead

Overhead light gives far more texture and ‘soul’ to a photo than flash – you can see here that my cheekbones are more visible and there’s a bit more drama to the light and shadows than the above flash. It lends itself to a more natural look with make up, and is great for portraits.


However, as you can see in the below image, you also need to be far more aware of the light source. Having your head down can cast a shadow on the eyes, and highlight any lines in the face, especially in the nose and mouth area.


If your face works better chin down (mine definitely does) then try diagonally slanting your face, which allows the light to fall on more of your skin, and slightly open your mouth to make your face seem less ‘tense’.

3) Side light

Ah – not always the most flattering of lights. Side light isn’t just honest…It actually highlights blemishes and wrinkles, making them appear worse than they actually are. I was recently shooting with natural light, and feeling great. We switched to sidelight, and it actually affected my confidence on the shoot – I’d gone from smooth, natural skin to skin with blemishes I didn’t even know I had! And it made my body look bigger than it actually is, like a nightmarish changing room mirror.


So why use it? Well – look at the above and below image. They are more raw and dramatic than the other two lights, so they are often used in editorial shoots.


With a bit of retouch, side light has the edge on the other two in terms of drama and power. The best thing to do is move around and feel free, safe in the knowledge that all the spots and wrinkles you didn’t even know you had will be retouched out to leave you with an eye-catching image (see – retouch isn’t always the devil incarnate!)

I hope this is useful – I certainly found it really handy! As an experienced model I think I had learned all of these pointers without being consciously aware of knowing them, but I’m really glad I can discuss light on a shoot, now.

Had I read this post when I was a New Face, however, I could have avoided a lot of regrettable pictures and frustrated photographers!

All the pictures and advice were from the wonderful Jay McLaughlin, who’s doing a little Modeltypeface Takeover this week. He uses an Olympus OM-D.

Remember to tune in tomorrow for Day 3 – it’s pretty exciting stuff to come!!

Rebecca x

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One Comment

  1. Have to say I’m always a big fan of side light! Love a dramatic editorial shoot!

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