How To Set Up A Narrow (Short) Lighting

by William Lulow

When you are making portraits, and you intend them to be bought by the people you are photographing, you should want to make them look their best. There are a few tricks and techniques to achieving this goal. If a person’s face is  wide or round, you can make it look thinner by using a “Short Lighting” or NARROW LIGHTING. This means that you would place the main light so that it lights a smaller or narrower part of the face. You want to light the part of the face that is away from the camera so that the larger part is mostly in shadow. Since light objects stand out in an image and dark objects tend to recede, the part of the face that is visible would appear to be narrow.

Here is an example: NarrowLight

Note that the larger part of the face which is facing the camera position is in shadow. The lit part of the face makes the face look longer and thinner than it really is.

There are various tones you can apply to the shadow area depending on how strong the fill-in light is for that side. You might even want to use just a fill card instead of a light on the shadow side. This will be just enough to lighten the shadow a bit, without destroying the effect of the narrow light.

Try this technique out on various faces and see what the difference is. There are various other “tricks” you can use with faces that present lighting problems. Remember, your job is to emphasize the good parts of a person’s face if you want to sell the photographs.