4 Types of Lighting Photography: A Comprehensive Guide

Differentiating between four types of lighting photography can be difficult for untrained eye but understanding them can help create stunning images no matter what kind project working on! Learn more about flat lighting, wide & short side lighting, split & backligh

4 Types of Lighting Photography: A Comprehensive Guide

Differentiating between the four types of lighting photography can be difficult for the untrained eye. I remember when I first started out in photography, it took me a while to understand the different types of light and how to use them. But with practice and experience, I was able to master the art of lighting and create stunning images. When the light source is directly facing the front of the subject, this is known as flat lighting.

Flat lighting on a face will mean that the subject is well lit and that you won't be able to see any shadows on their face. This isn't a much desired aspect in portraits, since you need shadows to bring your subject to life. However, there are circumstances in which it is beneficial. Because shadows can draw imperfections and textures, flat lighting is beneficial for photographing babies with acne-skinned skin for weeks, teenagers with large imperfections, and older people who feel insecure with their wrinkles.

If you have a photo that exudes character and personality, you can also get away with a flat light on the subject. In wide light (a type of side lighting), the subject's face forms an angle and the best-illuminated side of the face is closer to the camera and the shadow falls on the back of the face. This type of light can make the face look fuller, making it ideal for people with very narrow faces. Another type of side lighting, short light is the opposite of wide light, since the face forms an angle and the shadow falls on the side of the face closest to the camera.

This type of light works well to dilute the face and is flattering to most people. One thing to keep in mind is that shadows draw textures and imperfections. While bright light is a wonderful way to emphasize freckles, it will also eliminate imperfections such as acne and scars. It is important to know what the subject thinks about these imperfections to know if you should hide them with another type of lighting or if they are okay with showing them in low light. Split lighting is another type of side lighting, but it is defined as light that hits the subject from one side at a 90-degree angle.

You can easily recognize split lighting in an image, since half of the subject is illuminated and the other half is in the shadows. For a specific face, you'll see the shadow line directly in the middle of the forehead, nose, and chin. Split lighting tends to make your subject look tough and masculine, so you should keep your subject in mind when choosing this type of lighting. The backlight is just that, light that comes from behind the subject. This is commonly seen in photos of the beloved golden hour, when the sun is low on the horizon and starting to set, but it can be done at all hours of the day.

Backlight sources can include a window behind the subject in the middle of the day or a flash placed behind with a colorful gel for something fun. One of my favorite ways to use the backlight is to let the light barely enter the frame. When doing this, there is a nice glow that creates a nice contrast with a dark background. In this situation, I tend to expose the subject darker than usual to increase contrast and create a warm and relaxing feeling in the image. Like a reflector, an off-camera flash combats any lack of clarity that comes with a lot of backlight. The off-camera flash is used just like a reflector to illuminate the face.

The rim light falls into the backlight category, but it deserves its own place. With backlight, you can often see some fog or lightness from it resulting in illuminations, but that isn't necessarily true with edge light. With edge light, you'll see that only highlights are created around edges of your subject (there's a little haze that falls on upper right corner or lower frame). This type of lighting works great when you need to separate your subject from background. The butterfly-type light has its name because when placed above and in front of your subject it creates small shadow under nose resembling butterfly shape.

This type of light beautifully highlights prominent cheekbones which makes it ideal for women portraits but it also emphasizes shadows from deeply placed eyes so you should know your subjects face well before using this kind of lighting. Butterfly light is also commonly referred as supreme light. Loop lighting is practically my go-to option when creating light. With circular lighting, your main source should be placed about 45 degrees to side and slightly above eye level. Whether you're shooting portraits, still lifes or landscapes most of your lighting options will depend on characteristics of your subject and how you want them portrayed in photos. For example bright light will be more intense and will highlight angles or any surface which isn't perfectly flat like waves on beach or model with wrinkles or acne while soft light will soften these features. If you want use natural light in your photographs it's important to understand angle of sun and how it will affect composition.

For most part during day sun will be directly above surface so your subject will be illuminated from above while sunny day without clouds will generate more intense shadows while sky full clouds will diffuse sunlight so contrast between light on subject won't be so intense. For softer natural lighting you can use hours closest sunrise and sunset when sun will deflect slightly instead being directly above your subject which will result in softer shadows. Knowing different types of lighting photography can help you create stunning images no matter what kind of photography project you're working on! So don't hesitate to experiment with different types of lights until you find one that works best for your project.

Kristopher Donofrio
Kristopher Donofrio

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