Broad light vs short light

 In a previous post I discussed the use of language as a means of communicating visual ideas through standardized definitions (Your photographic language, part 1). Having a common set of descriptive words that all photographers understand is important if you want to properly explain a process, a lighting scenario or a technique.

With lighting alone there are hundreds of definitions. Some are general while some are very specific. Two terms we discussed in our most recent workshop are broad lighting and short lighting.

The two terms refer to which side of the subject the main light, or key light, hits in relation to the camera. With a typical portrait, the subject's face is usually turned to one side or the other. This is referred to as a three-quarter view.

In a typical three-quarter view, the subject's face is pointing off to one side of the camera. You, the photographer, can see both eyes and one ear. The side of the face closest to you is the side you can see the ear on. This is usually the bigger part of the face, or the broad side of the face. When the light hits this side of the face it is considered broad lighting.

The image at left is an example of broad lighting and the diagram at right is a typical set up for that look. Notice that the model's face is turned away from the light source.

A standard practice is to place the broad light on the side of the face that the subject parts their hair. This avoids creating deep shadows from hair overhanging the face, specially with subjects who have longer hair or have deep bangs.

The opposite of broad lighting is called short lighting. This is the part of the face furthest away from the camera, half hidden because of the angle of the face. Since it is hidden from view it is considered the short side of the face. When the light hits this side of the subject it is referred to as short lighting.

The image at left shows the subject's face is turned into the light source. The light is illuminating the far side of the head leaving the broad side in shadow. This is typical short light.

You can see in the diagram at right that the model is turned to face the light source. One benefit of this type of lighting is that it has a slimming effect on the subject and is useful for people with rounder faces. As with broad lighting you have to be aware of the shadows created by hair.

These looks are easy to recreate. Simply find yourself a window with some nice even light coming through, sit your subject next to it and click away. Enjoy!


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