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Mastering the Art of Broad and Short Lighting for Stunning Portraits

Capturing the perfect lighting in a photograph can be a challenge for any photographer. The way light falls on a subject can completely transform the mood and atmosphere of an image.

In this article, we will explore two main lighting styles: broad and short lighting. Each style has its own unique characteristics and can dramatically impact the overall look and feel of a photograph.

Subtopic 1.1 – Broad and Short Lighting Styles

Broad lighting, as the name suggests, involves lighting the side of the face that is facing towards the camera. This creates a wider angle of light, illuminating a larger portion of the subject’s face.

The result is a softer, less dramatic effect. Broad lighting works well for subjects who have prominent cheekbones or those who want to minimize certain facial features.

Short lighting, on the other hand, involves lighting the side of the face that is turned away from the camera. This creates a narrower angle of light, resulting in a more dramatic effect.

Short lighting is often used to create depth and add dimension to a photograph. It can also be used to accentuate certain facial features and create a more mysterious or intense mood.

To achieve the broad lighting style, position the light source slightly to the side of the subject, facing towards them. This will ensure that the light falls evenly on the front of their face, creating a bright and even tone.

The use of reflectors can also help to soften the harshness of the light and create a more flattering effect. For the short lighting style, position the light source to the side of the subject, facing away from them.

This will create a more defined shadow on the side of their face that is turned away from the camera. This technique can be especially effective for creating a three-dimensional look and highlighting specific facial features.

Subtopic 1.2 – Butterfly Light and Patterns of Shadows

Another lighting style that photographers commonly use is butterfly lighting. This style involves positioning the light source directly in front of the subject, slightly above eye level.

The resulting shadow under the subject’s nose resembles a butterfly shape, hence the name. Butterfly lighting is often used in portrait photography and can create a glamorous and flattering effect.

The patterns of shadows created by different lighting styles can have a significant impact on the overall mood of a photograph. Broad lighting tends to produce fewer and softer shadows, resulting in a more evenly lit image.

On the other hand, short lighting creates more pronounced and dramatic shadows, adding depth and dimension to the photograph. Experimenting with different lighting styles and patterns of shadows can help you achieve the desired effect in your photographs.

It’s important to consider the subject’s features, the mood you want to convey, and the overall composition of the image when choosing the appropriate lighting style.

Main Topic 2 – Short Light and Broad Light

Subtopic 2.1 – Short Light for a 3D Feeling and Dark Mood

Short light is often used in portrait photography to create a sense of depth and a three-dimensional feeling. By focusing the light on the side of the face that is turned away from the camera, you can create a more dramatic effect.

This can be particularly effective for black and white portraits or when aiming for a dark and moody atmosphere. The shadows created by short light can add a sense of mystery and intrigue to an image.

They can emphasize certain facial features and give the subject a more sculpted appearance. If you’re looking to create a slimming effect, short light can help by casting shadows on the wider parts of the subject’s face or body.

Subtopic 2.2 – Broad Light for a Brighter Mood and Smoothing Wrinkles

In contrast to short light, broad light involves lighting the side of the face that is facing towards the camera. This style creates a brighter and more even mood.

Broad light is often used in fashion photography or when photographing female models, as it can help smooth out wrinkles and create a more youthful appearance. By illuminating a larger portion of the subject’s face, broad light can help minimize imperfections and highlight the natural beauty of the individual.

It can create a soft and flattering effect, particularly when used with reflectors or diffusers to further enhance the quality of the light.


Mastering different lighting styles is a key skill for any photographer. Broad and short lighting offer distinctively different effects, allowing you to control the mood and atmosphere of your photographs.

By understanding how each style works and the patterns of shadows they create, you can create compelling and visually captivating images. So go ahead, experiment with these lighting styles, and let your creativity shine through your photographs.

Main Topic 3 – Factors and Techniques in Broad and Short Lighting

Subtopic 3.1 – Factors that Affect Broad and Short Light

When it comes to achieving the desired dramatic effects in your photography using broad and short lighting, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, the positioning of the light source is crucial.

The angle at which the light falls on the subject can significantly impact the final result. Experiment with different angles to find the most flattering and visually appealing effect for your specific subject.

Another important consideration is the use of fill light. Fill light is an additional light source that is used to fill in and reduce the shadows created by the primary light source.

The amount of fill light you use will depend on the level of contrast you’re aiming for. If you want a more dramatic effect, using less fill light will create stronger shadows.

On the other hand, adding more fill light will soften the shadows and create a more balanced lighting setup. The distance between the subject and the light source is also a factor to consider.

Moving the light source closer to the subject will result in a softer light and more diffused shadows. Whereas, moving it further away will create a harder light and more defined shadows.

Experiment with different distances to find the desired effect for your subject and the mood you want to convey. Subtopic 3.2 – Using Broad and Short Lighting with Natural Light

While artificial light sources can give you more control, natural light can also be used effectively to create broad and short lighting.

Understanding how to control and work with natural light is essential for outdoor photography or when shooting in environments where artificial lighting may not be available. When using natural light for broad lighting, position your subject so that the light source (e.g., the sun) is shining on their face from the front or from the side facing the camera.

This will result in a brighter, more evenly lit photograph. Be aware of the time of day and the direction of the sunlight to ensure that you have suitable lighting conditions for broad lighting.

To achieve short light with natural light, position your subject so that the light source is coming from the side opposite the camera. This will create more defined shadows on the side of the face turned away from the camera, allowing you to achieve a more dramatic effect.

Again, be mindful of the time of day and the angle of the natural light to make the most of the short lighting technique. It’s important to note that when using natural light, the quality and intensity of the light can vary depending on the weather conditions and the time of day.

Cloudy or overcast days can provide more diffused light, creating softer shadows and a more even lighting effect. On the other hand, bright sunlight can create harsher shadows and more contrast in your images.

Understanding and utilizing these variations in natural light can add depth and interest to your photographs.

Main Topic 4 – Choosing Between Broad and Short Lighting

Subtopic 4.1 – Importance of Choosing Between Broad and Short Light

Choosing between broad and short lighting is a critical decision that photographers make to set the mood and alter the visual impact of their portraits. Each lighting style has its own unique characteristics and can convey different emotions and messages.

Broad lighting is ideal for creating a brighter and more open mood. It can evoke a sense of warmth and friendliness, making it suitable for capturing joyful or lighthearted moments.

On the other hand, short lighting can bring a mood of mystery, drama, or intensity to your images. It’s particularly effective when you want to highlight specific facial features or convey a sense of depth.

Understanding the narrative and desired outcome of your photograph will help guide your decision-making process. Consider the subject’s personality, the story you want to tell, and the emotional response you want to evoke in the viewer.

These considerations will help you choose the most appropriate lighting style for your specific circumstances. Subtopic 4.2 – Considerations for Shooting Portraits

When shooting portraits, there are additional factors to consider beyond the choice between broad and short lighting.

One major consideration is the use of artificial versus natural light. Both have their advantages and can create stunning results depending on the desired effect.

Artificial light sources, such as studio lights or strobes, provide more control over the lighting environment. They allow you to adjust the intensity, direction, and quality of light to achieve the desired effect.

Using artificial lights also gives you the flexibility to shoot in any location, regardless of the natural lighting conditions. However, using artificial light requires additional equipment and setup time.

Natural light, on the other hand, offers a more organic and authentic feel. It can create soft and flattering results, particularly during golden hour or on cloudy days.

Shooting with natural light can also be more convenient and spontaneous, as you don’t have to carry around heavy equipment or set up complicated lighting arrangements. However, you must be mindful of the changing natural lighting conditions and be adaptable to capture the best possible results.

In addition to the choice of lighting source, the composition of your photograph plays a crucial role. Consider the placement of your subject within the frame, the use of leading lines, and the overall balance of the elements.

Composition techniques such as the rule of thirds, framing, or using negative space can enhance the visual appeal and impact of your portraits.


In conclusion, broad and short lighting are powerful techniques that can significantly impact the mood and atmosphere of your photographs. Understanding the factors that affect these lighting styles and how to achieve them using different light sources, both artificial and natural, is essential for every photographer.

By considering the specific needs of your subject, the intended narrative of your image, and the overall composition, you can create visually captivating portraits that leave a lasting impression on the viewer. In conclusion, understanding the techniques of broad and short lighting is essential for photographers looking to capture impactful and visually captivating portraits.

The choice between these lighting styles, along with factors such as positioning, fill light, and the use of natural or artificial light sources, can greatly alter the mood and atmosphere of an image. By carefully considering these factors, photographers can effectively convey emotions, highlight specific features, and create depth in their photographs.

Whether using broad or short lighting, experimenting with different angles, distances, and compositions allows photographers to unleash their creativity and capture images that leave a lasting impression on viewers. Harnessing the power of lighting techniques is a fundamental skill that can elevate one’s photography and truly bring subjects to life.

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