A Behind the Scenes Guide to Short and Broad Lighting

Portraiture is one of the most versatile genres of photography, housing many sub-genres within it. One of the most impactful skillsets you can acquire for the craft is lighting and so it is important to know the basic setups and what different lighting styles achieve.

Broad lighting and short lighting typically refers to the side of the face that is lit by whatever source you're using. If you are lighting the side of the face closest to the lens, that is broad lighting. However, if you're lighting the side of the face that is farther from the camera, that is short lighting. The majority of portraiture leans towards the former, that is, the light hits the part of the face closest to the camera. Short lighting tends to be a little more niche and, depending on style, can have the majority of your subject's face obscured by shadow.

The bulk of my portraiture, from editorial to commercial, uses broad lighting. Its purpose is more versatile and you can achieve many looks with it. However, short lighting has my heart. By having the side of the face closest to the camera shrouded in shadows, you can easily create drama and intrigue. If you're looking for a serious and more impactful portrait, this way of lighting can be tremendously powerful.

When do you use short and broad lighting? Do you have a favorite?

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2 Comments
barry cash's picture

Wow no fluidity with this guy, might be a great technician but he is extremely hard to listen too.

Al Sali's picture

When a good photographer confuses himself with all the technical words. Photography is not rocket science in my opinion, some even believe it's an art and it's subjective. Some random people like Picasso also showed how subjective it can be. Lighting is very simple and straightforward dude.