How To Set Up A “Monster” Lighting

by William Lulow

Have you ever held a flashlight under your chin to try to scare someone? Well, then you have executed what we call a “monster” lighting. It is really just placing the main light under someone’s chin. It creates shadows on the face that make someone look scary. An example:

ManNecklaceYou can see the shadows above the lip, on top of the nose as well as on top of the shoulders. This lighting creates unusual and very distinct shadows. It is usually used to make a dramatic statement. This is not recommended to be used by itself, but when combined with a HOLLYWOOD LIGHT, for example, it acts as a fill-in light to make beauty shots and head shots. When you combine it with a soft, Hollywood lighting, it provides a very effective fill-in. Here are a couple examples:


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If you look carefully at the “catchlights” in the subject’s eyes, you will notice the reflection of the umbrella main light, which is up high. Then you can notice the “MONSTER” fill-in light which is placed down low. This provides a smooth lighting where all the features of the face are lit fairly evenly with virtually no shadow. The trick to using this lighting is that the Monster Light has to come from a softbox in order to keep the whole lighting effect soft.

The reason this lighting setup works to create “beauty” shots is because the face is really totally surrounded by light. This keeps the effect soft, with no shadows. It’s the same kind of lighting you would get with a makeup mirror which is surrounded by light bulbs. Some photographers actually use what is called a Ring Light to get soft results overall. A Ring Light is a flash that actually is mounted on the camera lens and surrounds the lens with light from a single flash tube. Although the lighting effect is soft enough for beauty shots, it produces a circular catchlight in the subject’s eyes which I find disturbing. So, use it judiciously if you must. I much prefer my umbrella/softbox combination.