Classic Portrait Lighting Styles Part I

Chris_Franklin-0077As we continue our series on portrait lighting we now need to look at the different types of classic portrait lighting and see the effect it has on someone so we can decided when to use each type. By choosing the proper lighting for a particular person, we can help them to look their best by making them appear to be thinner or wider or to accent or minimize certain facial features.

How to get the lighting we want

By now we would hope you wouldn’t be asking how to get your lighting setup dialed in, but if you need a little refresher you should start off with the following articles:

For the rest of the article, different images will also be presented with lighting diagrams to help illustrate exactly how each look was obtained.

Broad Lighting

Broad lighting is certainly the easiest lighting style to use since the camera side of the face is lit brighter than the far side of the face. This look is easily obtained by simply bouncing your flash off a wall or reflector to the side of the camera back onto the subject. Broad lighting used to be taught as the “feminine lighting” but that is certainly not always the case.  Broad lighting will tend to make a face look wider which is not always a look that is the most flattering. With the right subject, broad lighting can certainly achieve very nice results.



Short Lighting by Kerry Garrison

With the subject facing to the camera right and a large light source to the camera left a broad light effect is created putting the side of the face furthest from the camera into shadow. With the tilt of her head it gave her face a more rounded appearance.

Short Lighting

Short lighting is considered by many to be the most flattering style and is certainly my personal favorite. Short lighting will tend to make a face look thinner. Short lighting is also harder to achieve because it virtually requires off-camera lighting since the light is coming from behind the subject.



Short Lighting by Kerry Garrison (1)

With the shadow on the camera side of the face, the face looks thinner. Keep in mind, the examples so far have been achieved on the same location spot using only natural light and simply moving the subject and camera position to get the desired look.

Split Lighting

Split lighting is not very popular and is probably the least used of the different lighting styles. In split lighting the light is split down the middle of the subjects face dividing it in half. The lighting setup is fairly simple with two lights on either side of the subject and one using less power than the other. I personally really like the split lighting effect to give someone some images that will have a different look than they are likely to get from other photographers.



As you can see, split lighting can be very effective and with just a slight turn of the head can look like a mix of split lighting and short lighting,


I hope this has given you a new set of tools to use to improve your portrait lighting techniques, done properly you can achieve a very classic, timeless look that your clients will love. The key to mastering any of these is to practice, practice, practice. Get some lights setup for one style, maybe get a model from a place like Model Mayhem, and work on each style until you really have it nailed down. Next time we will look at Rembrandt and Butterfly lighting.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

You may also like...

5 Responses

Leave a Reply