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Types of Lighting - 101

Did you know, the word "photography" means painting with light?

The word "photography" was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), "light" and γραφή (graphé) "representation by means of lines" or "drawing", together meaning "drawing with light".

Basically, lighting is the first element everyone should be learning in creative photography.

Lighting is a broad subject, covering artificial and natural lighting.

Today's post I'll be sharing on 3 most basic types of lighting that are both applicable to natural and artificial lighting.


1. Short Light

Short light - Light is illuminating the shortest side of the subject's face.

Short light is one of the most commonly used side light in my works. This is because short light gives a very flattering look on my subject. When you choose to light the short side of the face first, it also has several effects on your portraits:

  • Short lighting narrows the face.

  • Short lighting will throw the broad side of the face in shadow.

  • Short lighting provides heavy contrast and is ideal for low-key images. It is also useful when you are trying to create images with a lot of depth.

  • Short lighting can be used to hide imperfections.

Short light on the groom's face, using natural or ambient light.

Short light on bride's face, using natural / ambient light.


2. Broad Light

Broad light - Light is illuminating the wider side of the subject's face.

Broad light is another type of side light. I don't use it a lot in my works.

  • When you choose to light the broad side of the face, it has several effects on your image. These include:

  • Broad lighting widens the face.

  • Broad lighting usually throws the short side of the face in shadow (dependent on light placement).

  • Broad lighting provides more contrast than some lighting patterns like butterfly lighting.

Because broad lighting tends to broaden (go figure) the face, you’ll want to use broad lighting when you’re photographing subjects with a narrow face. Using it on subjects with a wider face can exaggerate that shape and you’ll want to avoid it there. If there’s a feature on one side of your subjects face that you want to take the emphasis away from, you can pose your subject so that feature is on the short side of their face and use broad lighting to ensure that it’s in shadow, taking the emphasis away.

Broad light on bride's face, using natural / ambient light.

Evening sun illuminating right side of bride and groom, can you guess which light is broad and which is short?

Broad light on bride's right side of her face, and short light on groom's right side of his face.


3. Flat Light

Flat lighting is straight forward and it's usually something that most of us shoot with our phone on a daily basis. It is when you have the light source facing directly onto the front of your subject. If you’re photographing a person, it will mean that their face is well lit, and that you won’t see any shadows on their face. Remember, shadows tend to draw out imperfections. With flat lighting, you can hide any imperfections on your subject's face because there will be minimal shadows.

If you are shooting casually, you can use flat lighting if your subject has acne, other blemishes or wrinkles.

Combination of ambient sun light with direct flash as flat light to fill up shadows.

For myself, flat lighting is not normally preferred as a lighting technique for portraiture photography since shadows are essential in bringing the face to life. Another tip is, shadows create dimension in a photo. A photo without shadows, can look flat and lifeless.

Hope you guys learn something about lighting today, next post I will share on the types of artificial lighting pattern in a controlled setting, typically in a studio.


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