How To Set Up A Side Light

by William Lulow

The second lighting to learn with one light is called a SIDE LIGHT. It gets its name because the light is set up to the side of the subject, usually on a 45-degree angle to the camera. It can be set up on either side of the subject and its function is to light just the subject’s side. No light should spill over to the opposite side. It is a dramatic light. Notice where the shadows fall both on the subject and the background.  Again, don’t take any pictures yet. Just observe the effects of the lighting.

SideLightWEBBegin by taking a few shots with the light placed on either side of the subject. Notice the effects of the light on the subject’s face. Every subject has a good side and a bad side (photographically speaking). See if you can determine which one works for your subject. Notice that the harsh shadows create definite lines on the face. Notice how the shadows create “negative space.” This is a dramatic lighting that cannot be used when you want to show what a person looks like. But, it creates all kinds of effects when used with other lights, for example. Try asking your subject to move around a bit and notice what happens to the facial features with the light in the same position. See what the effect of the side light is when the subject moves. Don’t place the light so close to the subject that skin tones are washed out.

If you can follow along with these exercises, at the end you will have a basic working knowledge of all the classic lightings and what kinds of effects they present. Try to determine when you might want to use this lighting. As we progress through the lightings, try to think of what you would do to lighten the shadow areas. This will be presented later.