Photography and Video: Short and Long Lighting

Short and long lighting are techniques used to bring out the best qualities of your subject. These techniques can also be used on objects but let’s talk about faces here. The face can be classified in one of three shapes; narrow or oblong, triangular or heart-shaped and round. No face is exactly any of these but they are more one than the other. Working with the face is a good way to improve your ability to see the natural shapes within a subject but that’s another lesson. In most lighting schemes the aim is to make the face look triangular. If you find this idea to be superficial, or worse, untrue, think of this. Most hairstyles are cut to frame the face in a triangular shape. When people look in the mirror they tend to turn their face so it presents them with a triangular appearance. Maybe not when you’re concentrating on a task in the bathroom mirror but catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and notice your reaction. Of course the first thing is you’ll do is stop slouching and suck in your gut, then you’ll turn your head slightly to one side or the other.

No one wants to look at a mug shot of themselves or anyone else; unless it’s the only picture you have of a loved one. So when you’re posing a subject you will turn one side of the face slightly closer to the camera. This is very slight in an interview situation or it can be very extreme in a portrait or artistic sitting. The side of the face closest to the camera’s lens, no matter how slight that may be, is the long-side. The side of the face furthest from the camera’s lens is the short-side.

Now, even though you may be using more lights, let’s just talk about two of them: The Key Light, your brightest light, and The Fill Light. Look at your subject and decide on the shape; does it tend to toward being round or oblong? This is easier to see with women since they will have already done most of the work with their hairstyling. But it’s still important for you to identify it. Then at least the two of you are working together.

Now for the simple part. If the face is oblong shine your brightest light, which is your Key Light, on the Long-Side of the face, the side closest to the camera’s lens and your Fill Light on the Short-Side. This will give the face what it lacks: fullness. If the face is round place the Key Light on the Short-Side and your Fill  Light on the Long-Side. This will slim the face.

This works on people, dogs, cats, oranges, bananas, jewelry, cars, whatever. Identify the shape. Identify what you want to do with it. Then do it.

This article and several others are available for purchase from SMASHWORDS in the booklet Photography And Video: Thinking About Light. It is also available for free by subscribing to this site. Look to the upper left and you will see the form.


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