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Traditional Lighting Portrait Lighting Setup for Digital Photography

By Edited Aug 13, 2016 1 4

Light Placement

The placement of your light source matches specifically with the face position of your subject.

The camera placement won't have any effect to the lighting pattern, even when you shift the camera around, the manner the light illuminates on the subject's face stays constant. Should the subject moves and we want to preserve a similar lighting pattern on the subject's face, the light needs to move in relation to the face too.

Short Lighting

In short lighting, the camera's location sees the darker section of the face primary as it slowly becomes lighter closer to the lit part. This lighting style is favored because of the slimming appearance it produces on most faces.

Except when the subject's face is very long and narrow, short lighting can more often than not enhance the appearance of the subject.

Broad Lighting

Broad lighting is the reverse of short lighting where the camera sees the illuminated part of the face just before slowly fading to the shadows at the back. Broad lighting emphasizes the face straight to the viewer and usually portrays a lighter and cheery individuality than a mysterious short-lit portrait.

This lighting pattern is effective with subjects with narrow or long faces or people who want to conceal facial flaws may be lessened.

Split Light

The split light 'halfs' the subject's face right in the center where the nose bridge and forehead vertical rest. The split light can be a very striking light pattern best suited for male subjects.

It is one of the best lighting pattern for featuring detailed facial features such as beards, wrinkles, etc.

You can accomplish the split light pattern by placing the light 90-degrees to the side of the subject.

Light Height

The level of your light immediately impacts the direction of your shadows that appear on your subjects' face. As you adjust the position of your key light, features such as cheekbones, nose size, eye socket depth, catch lights in the eyes, all transform significantly.

If you place the light close to the same height of your subject's head, the lighting gets flatter and the shadows seem more linear (left-right/up-down). As you shift the light to in-between angles, you can immediately see every angular characteristic of the face becoming more defined and depth is produced by the shadows.

Subject Placement in Available Light Conditions

The light placement described above is applicable whether you're utilizing a portable light source such as a desk light fixture or studio flash, or natural sunlight. The main difference between utilizing the artificial portable light vs. natural daylight would be the latter needs you to alter the subject's position relative to the fixed sunlight as compared to shifting the light source around the subject.

Notice that nearly all light patterns have the light height around the same level as your subject as the sun seldom move beneath your feet level. Normally, your key light will often be higher than your subject.



Jul 5, 2012 3:53am
Hi David, just come across your article after hitting the random button. Slightly confused yo be honest, maybe because I'm a complete novice. What confused me was that you have explained what each lighting arrangement does, but not what it is. For example I don't know what short and broad lighting is for definite. Like I said earlier though maybe the article is aimed at a more experienced photographer. maybe you can add this or write others for more complete novices like myselff.e article. otherwise I'm sure the article will be beneficial to the more experienced photographer. Thumbs up from me, it will be helpful article to others. Any suggestions for taking picture when sunlight is behind your subject ie coming through a window, I always find this a nightmare.
Jul 5, 2012 4:03am
How, I'm surprised that I got a comment, to be honest :D

There's really no rules in where you can apply the lighting techniques. As with anything art-related, rules aren't really set in stone, it's up to you, your subject, your intended mood that you want to achieve in your photo that dictates the lighting pattern.

If you want a broad guideline for portraits to refer to, it would be:

Short Lighting - Fits almost anyone, makes the face look thinner than it really is. Might not work for long faces though.

Broad Lighting - Lights up most of the face area that the camera sees, so makes the face rounder. Good for the cheery/bright mood, may not flatter those with less pronounced facial features.

Split Light - Really for drama more than anything. Works well for men and 'attitude' shots.

As for your question about backlighting, you need to use your camera's EXPOSURE COMPENSATION feature and set it to +1 or higher.

Better yet, position your subject NEXT to the window rather than in front of it, so the light from the window doesn't hit your camera directly.

These posts of mine on my website may help you, I hope you'll subscribe to it :)


Dave of iPhotoCourse.com

Jul 5, 2012 5:35am
Cheers david, thanks for taking the time to respond. I will check out your site this evening. Looks like my camera is coming out this evening. Thanks again. :-)
Jul 5, 2012 6:37am
Splendid!!! :D
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