Lighting is central to an image. Without it we'd obviously have no photographs to look at. However, there is much more to it that simply using light to expose your subject correctly. Light is what creates the ambiance in an image and can be pivotal for a picture to "work".
For example, fun, energetic, happy photographs tend to be light and breezy, with little in the way of shadows. Light is generally omnipresent. More dramatic and moody photographs make use of shadows to create depth and mystery.Think of movie thrillers. When someone is about to get attacked in a building, its always dimly lit, with small lights just picking out a few details on the face and body and environment. Sometimes lights are placed behind them so that only their profile is visible. The scene would not be anywhere near as scary if the room was fully illuminated.
Similarly, lighting styles can be used to achieve various looks on a model by creating drama and depth to an image. Here we will look at some of the most common which include split, short, broad, loop, butterfly and Rembrandt.
Split lighting is as the name suggests. It divides the light hitting the face into two equal halves by positioning the source at 90 degrees to it. The light source can be located on the left or right of the head. One side of the face is illuminated, the other in shadow with the nose being the dividing line.
The intensity of the shadow will depend upon the light source itself. A small one will produce dark shadows as the light is concentrated upon the near side of the face. A larger light source will enable the light to spread and wrap around the far side of the face, resulting in a much more gradual transition into shadow.
Short lighting is where the side of the face least visible to the camera is the being hit by the light source. Lets start from the split lighting position. Subject facing the camera directly, light coming from the right at 90 degrees. Now rotate the subject counter clockwise so the face is more towards the source.
The side of the face nearest the camera is in shadow. This type of style is very effective to create depth to a photo, as it encourages the viewer to look further in as they are drawn to the bright part of the image. It should be pointed out that the light has not moved position. The model has simply been rotated.
The opposite of short lighting is broad lighting. Again starting from the split position, we rotate our subject clockwise. Now the widest part of the face relative to the camera is being illuminated. Again this creates depth to the image through the presence of shadows, this time on the far side of the face.
Broad lighting is sometimes used in conjunction with a reflector or a second flash located behind the subject, to help create separation with the background and decrease the intensity of shadows. Again, the light source has not been moved. The model is simply rotated on the spot.
Loop lighting is a classic lighting style that refers to the small shadow cast by the nose, onto the face. The light is positioned above the subject, angled down and about 45 degrees from center. The result is a small loop of shadow on the upper lip.
If used with a small light source the resulting shadow will be quite hard and therefore a bit distracting for some tastes. Larger light sources will reduce the intensity of the shadow greatly, giving a more subtle outcome. A reflector can also be deployed on the far side of the face to return some of the light and raise the exposure of the shadows.
Often a favourite for fashion and beauty photography, butterfly lighting is one of the classic Hollywood styles. It's characterized by a small shadow below the nose which is shaped like a butterfly and is achieved by placing the light directly facing the model and from above. This "carves out" the cheekbones to make them more prominent, as a shadow is created beneath them. A reflector is often employed directly underneath to lift the shadows
Care must be taken when using this lighting style as the eyebrows can cause shadows in the eyes if the position of the light is too low. However shadows obscuring the eyes in this manner can also create a dramatic look all of its own under the right conditions.
If this lighting style sounds familiar it's because it is named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and was a prominent feature in his works. It is achieved by siting the light in a similar manner to loop lighting but at roughly 60 degrees or more from centre. The result is a small triangle of light on the far side of the face, known as the Rembrandt Triangle.
The shadow created by the nose should just touch the corner of the mouth or top lip. This lighting style has the benefit of illuminating both sides of the face, whilst still keeping shadows to add depth. It's a classic technique that is quite sombre in appearance and often lends itself well to moody, intense images of that nature.
As you can see, extremely varied and dramatic looks can be achieved quickly and easily. Sometimes it's as simple as rotating the model on the spot, for a completely different appearance. We can tailor the styles and refine them by using different sized modifiers to make shadows softer or harder and angling the light to suit the individual features of the model. We can deploy reflectors to again lift the shadows or introduce secondary lights to change the dynamic of the image yet again.
Using multiple lights can get confusing, particularly if you have no modeling lamp to see in real time where the light and shadows are falling on the face. The trick is to start with one light and experiment with its position and angle. Then introduce additional light sources until the desired result is achieved. The greater the attention to detail and finessing of the light, the more impact the resulting images will be.
All the above images were shot using a 16" beauty dish with a honeycomb grid to control the spill of light, making the shadows more pronounced and readily identifiable. Below are plan views of how to set up your lights to achieve the specific lighting styles.