Short Lighting Photography is a technique used to draw attention to your subject. This type of lighting will highlight the subject’s face and bring out their features more.

Short light is a great way to make portraits look more interesting and dramatic, but it can also be used in other types of photography such as landscape photography where you want a certain part of the image to stand out from the rest.

You may have heard of short lighting photography, but what is it all about and how can you learn to expertly use this technique?

Short lighting is one of three classic portraiture lighting techniques. The others are broad lighting and split lighting.

In terms of the positions of the light source relative to your subject’s face, short lighting refers to a setup where the main light will come from a position that is at a 45-degree angle to the camera.

If you imagine a line running from the light source through your subject’s nose, it should be pointing toward your camera.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about using short lighting in portrait photography!

short lighting photography

What Is short lighting photography?

Short lighting is a photographic lighting technique used to emphasize facial features by creating high contrast on the face.

Short lighting is used to create shadows on the side of the face that’s turned away from the camera.

When you’re photographing someone who’s facing away from the light source, use short lighting to turn your subject into an instant diva.

You can use short lighting for portraits and product photography. It’s ideal for shooting fashion or glamour photography, but it can be also used for portrait photography as well.

With short photography, you just need to make sure that your lens is wide enough so so as not to create distortion on the side of the face.

Short lighting is ideal for taking photos of people with narrow faces and long noses because it helps emphasizethe eyes and lips.

Using short lighting works best when you have a bright background behind your subject. This will make them stand out even more and help separate their body from the background.

If you have a DSLR camera, you can use its flash to create short lighting effects on your photos. To do this, set up a grid spot or reflector right behind your subject so that they’re backlit by its light.

We’ll cover this in more detail in futire tutorials..

How To Capture Beautiful Broad Lighting Photography

For short lighting to be effective, it is important to ensure that your key light source is placed at an angle from the camera’s viewpoint. 

Having the light at a 45 degree angle from the camera will help ensure that the shadows and highlights fall in a natural way on your subject. This will give you a beautifully lit image with smooth transitions between highlights and shadows.

Tilt Shift Lenses are also great for creating Broad Lighting effects as they are able to add a great deal of definition to your photos by using selective focus on specific areas in your photo, while blurring out the background.

This results in very crisp, clean looking images that can take on a very professional look and feel.

Tips for achieving beautiful broad lighting effects:

  • Always set up your lighting so that it provides soft lighting and avoid using harsh direct sunlight or flash photography.
  • Use a white reflector board or diffuser to reflect light back onto your subject if they seem too dark.
  • Place a fill card at an angle behind your subject to fill in any shadows on their face or body.

What is Broad lighting, you ask? 

Broad lighting is when the main light source is coming from directly above the subject. This technique produces a flat, even light that shows every detail on your subject’s face.

TIP: If you are attempting to use natural light as your source, make sure there are no shadows falling on your subject’s face. 

Look at where the shadows fall and create an imaginary line that crosses over the subject’s face. The key is to have all of their features fall on one side of the line or the other.

If using artificial lighting, make sure that you are using a large diffuser (42″ softbox) and diffuse it from behind your subject so you don’t get any harsh shadows. 

Also, make sure to place your subject about 3-4 feet away from the back wall. This will ensure that there are no shadows falling on your background and will produce a more even and soft fill light for your subject.

Another important thing to remember when photographing broad lighting portraits is to have a shallow depth of field (DOF). When shooting in broad lighting you will want to shoot between f/2.8-f/5.6 to capture the details in your subject’s face.

Short Lighting Photography Characteristics

The main characteristic of short lighting is that the light source is placed at the side of the subject rather than above or below them. 

This produces shadows on the side of the face closest to the light source. Because of this shadowing, short lighting is sometimes referred to as “accent lighting”. 

The purpose behind short lighting is to draw focus to a particular part of a subject’s face, often the eyes.


This is usually achieved by placing a light in such a way that it causes a strong shadow on one side of someone’s face and much weaker (or no) shadow on the other. 

An example would be one light with a 30 degree grid placed high and to one side.

Because the light source is placed to one side only, this type of lighting will produce shadows and highlights on one half of the model’s face. If you let your model face the camera then their left cheek will be in shadow while their right cheek will be lit. 

This will draw attention to the eyes by contrasting them against both dark shadows and bright highlights.

This form of lighting is extremely versatile and can be used for many different effects.

Setting Up A Short Lighting Portrait

Now I’m going to show you a  simple portrait lighting setup. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just a few common household items.

Step 1 – Directional light. 

The main light source should be a softbox or umbrella placed 2-3 feet above the subject and pointed down at them. 

For this setup, we’re going to use a large octabox from Photek with barn doors and diffusion material to control the spill of light.

Step 2 – Fill light. 

The fill light should be a small reflector placed on the opposite side of the subject.  This is the main light and should be off to one side, slightly behind them. 


This will give you nice catch lights in their eyes and help lift shadows on their face and shoulders. We’re using an 18″ white beauty dish with an egg crate grid from Impact for this shoot.

Step 3 – Background Light. 

If your background is solid, you can skip this step. 

If you want some depth and texture in your background, then having some type of backlight will make it pop out more. For this shot, a B800 w/a grid spot from Alien Bees is ideal. 

When Should You Use Short Lighting?

You’ve probably seen hundreds of portraits in your life, but you’re probably not aware that most of them are lit with short lighting. 

When Should You Use Short Lighting?

The difference between short lighting and standard lighting is subtle, but there are a few characteristics that help distinguish one from the other.

Shadows on the Face

One of the biggest differences is cast shadows. 

In standard portrait photography, light usually comes from over the shoulder of your subject, which will create a shadow on the opposite side of their face. 

Shadows created from short lighting come from below or behind your subject’s face, so they don’t have an opposite shadow. This gives short lighting a more even appearance than standard portrait photography.


Another characteristic of short lighting is that it tends to be sharper than standard photography because it doesn’t have any shadows to soften

Moving Ahead With Short Lighting

Short lighting is great for people who are shy or who don’t want to be photographed too close. 

This technique produces a soft lighting effect that will reduce the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes, and age lines. The result is flattering and will make your subject feel at ease in front of the camera.

It can be used with a single light source or with several lights. 

When using multiple lights, you should start with the main light, which is usually placed slightly above eye level. 

Depending on your location, the distance from the subject and other variables, you may need to tweak this distance to achieve proper illumination on your subject’s face.

The second light should be placed below and behind your subject at a 45-degree angle. This light is called a fill light because it helps fill in shadows on your subject’s face. 

The third light is called a hair light. This light should be placed behind your subject at a 90-degree angle and approximately three feet above their head. 

The hair light will help create highlights in your subject’s hair and remove any shadows from their background.

When Should You Use Broad Lighting?

Broad lighting involves the placement of light sources directly behind the subject.

It’s a commonly used photography lighting technique for portraits. 

When you’re taking pictures of strangers or friends who are not in the photo industry, it’s the most convenient and cost-effective lighting style to use.

Broad lighting is often used for portraits because it produces a softer look when compared to other forms of lighting. Therefore, if you want your subjects to look their best, broad lighting is the best way to achieve that goal.

When Should You Use Broad Lighting?

You should use broad lighting when you are shooting people with fair complexions and when you have a limited amount of time to complete your shoot. 

Shooting portraits with this type of lighting will make your subjects more attractive, however, they will appear washed out if they have dark skin tones. 

Shooting under broad light also makes it easier to color-correct the photographs later using  photo editing software program.

Moving Ahead With Broad Lighting

Broad lighting is a term used to describe a single, large light source that illuminates the entire scene. 

This type of lighting is great for product photography because it illuminates all areas equally without adding shadows or creating dark spots.

By utilizing broad lighting techniques, you can achieve a uniform look in your images that will give your products the best possible appearance. 

Some tips for achieving broad lighting include:

Lighting from above. 

The most common broad lighting setup involves two lights, one positioned above and behind your subject and another in front of it. 

The main light should be placed at least 45 degrees from the side of your subject, but should not be placed directly above it. This will ensure that no harsh shadows are created and that the entire product is evenly lit.

Lighting from the side. 

A variation on this technique involves positioning lights to either side of your subject instead of above and in front of it. 

This can be a good option if you’re photographing reflective objects such as jewellery or glassware, because it allows you to light them from both sides while still keeping the light source out of frame.