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Portrait lighting can turn a basic photo into a work of art. Understanding how lighting configurations and lighting ratios affect your final images will allow you to control the creative processes used to make outstanding portraits.
Among the lighting setups for portraits are short lighting and broad lighting. What are short and broad lighting? What portrait lighting tips apply to short vs broad lighting? Which one is better for portraits?
Using Artificial Lights for Portraits
In order to control photographic lighting for studio use, many portrait photographers turn to artificial lights, both strobes and continuous lighting. Current lights such as the Hakutatz RGB+ AW LED Light give you options for using continuous light on location, even usable in iPhonography.
Battery powered or A/C powered, flash or continuous lights, the important thing for portraits is to take control of the light. You can modify and attenuate sunlight with reflectors and diffusers, but it’s a simple task to adjust artificial lighting to suit your needs.
Personally, I love sunlight for portraits, but much of my portrait work has been made under artificial light sources. In fact, understanding how to use artificial lighting for portraits is a must-have skill that allows you to create more impactful and dramatic portraits.
Editor's Note: The Hakutatz Kickstarter campaign was a huge success! Their Amazon store will be open and ready for orders soon.
Types of Portrait Lighting
There are several different configurations and techniques used by photographers for portrait lighting. You can use them in their basic forms or modify them to suit your needs.
Photo by Albert Dera on Unsplash
Rembrandt lighting is a high contrast style exemplified by the subject’s face being half in light and half in shadow with some light spilling over to the shadow side in a specific way.
Short Lighting for Portraits
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A short lighting configuration has the light illuminating the side of the face furthest from the camera position. This makes the lit side appear shorter than the shadow side. This is often used to visually narrow facial proportions which can be flattering for some subjects.
Broad Lighting for Portraits
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In broad lighting, the side of the subject closest to the camera is the side in light, with the shorter side of their face or torso in shadow. This lighting pattern visually widens faces, which may end up being useful for certain subjects, but can accentuate what other subjects perceive as unflattering.
Loop or Butterfly Lighting for Portraits
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This is a flatter light set up but it offers some facial modeling that can be pleasant for portraits. It is called loop or butterfly because of the shadow pattern it causes under the nose of the portrait subject.
Short Vs Broad Lighting, Which Is Better for Portraits?
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Speaking in generalities, most portrait subjects will benefit more from short lighting than broad lighting. As mentioned above, short lighting narrows features which is flattering for many people.
However, broad lighting is quite useful for portraits that need to show a lot of detail. Environmental portraiture often takes advantage of broad lighting. Broad lighting does employ modeling to bring out dimensionality in the image.
You can see the difference for yourself by seating your subject and moving a portable light such as the Hakutatz RGB+ AW LED Light from one side of your subject to the other. Observe how the change in light and dark side of the face changes how the subject looks in the final image.
How To Set Up Broad and Short Lighting
Each of these lighting configurations can be set up with a single light, one light and reflectors, or multiple lights.
While both of these techniques are examples of split lighting, neither one is purely side light. For broad lighting, the light source will be placed closer to the camera position than 90 degree sidelight. Short lighting will place the light source further than the 90 degree side light.
Once you start playing around with light position, you will see the effects clearly on your viewscreen or other monitor.
Few of our portrait clients are likely to be as wooden as the subject in the video tutorial above, but Learning With Mark Warren highlights the differences rather well.
Other Portrait Lighting Tips
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There are so many ways to adjust lighting for portraiture. You can change the light quality from hard to soft by using photo umbrellas or soft boxes. Umbrellas and soft boxes soften the light diffusing it.
You may want to increase contrast contrast in your lighting by employing large lighting ratios of key to fill light. You don’t need a fill light at all in order to create a huge lighting ratio.
Reflectors are a valuable tool that can be used in many of the basic portrait lighting configurations. Judicious use of a reflector can emphasize the eyes in a strongly side lit portrait, for instance.
Control Is the Key
The most important aspect of portrait lighting is that you, the photographer, can be in complete control. It’s more than exposure or lens choice. You can control how modeled any light makes your subject appear in order to create the portrait you and your subject will enjoy.