July 9, 2012

off-camera flash photography: short lighting and broad lighting

“Short Lighting” is when the side of the face turned away from the camera, is better lit than the side of the face closest to the camera. (top image)

“Broad Lighting” is when the side of the face closest to the camera, is better lit. (second image)

This has as much to do with the position of the light, as with how your subject is posed into the light. This is true for studio photography and off-camera flash on location, and for when you photograph a subject with just the available light. As shown in a previous article here, you can easily achieve short lighting with on-camera bounce flash. Of course, with studio photography you can finesse this to a great degree.

With on-location portraits, I aim towards getting short lighting on my subjects, because it is more dramatic, and more flattering. Look at the gradient of light on Anelisa’s cheek in the top photo. This kind of lighting really helps create a near 3-dimensional look to your image.

Here is the pull-back shot to show the placement of the light.

Short lighting also has to do with how the body is positioned in relation to the light. I prefer having the light coming over the shoulder (i.e., short lighting), rather than hitting my subject squarely in the chest, creating a large highlight there. I directed Anelisa in how she should turn her body and her face in relation to the light.

Keep in mind – I can either position my subject into the light to create short lighting … or, I can move my light to the other side.

The direction of light can be controlled by your subject’s position in terms of the light, or how you position the light. Both will end up with the same results. Sometimes one option is easier than the other.

camera settings:
1/200 @ f7.1 @ 100 ISO

The off-camera flash in the softbox was set to full manual output to match the bright background.


equipment used

Nikon D4  (B&H);  Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (B&H)
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (B&H);  Nikon SD-9 battery pack (B&H)
Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24″x24″) (B&H)
For remote triggers for the flash, I used
two PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers (B&H)


related articles:

short lighting with on-camera bounce flash
tips on posing people / working with a model
- posing normal, everyday people for portraits
the next step – going beyond just posing people
flash photography essentials


{ 10 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Stephen July 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I think the second image ends up looking like an example of Rembrandt Lighting. Or is Rembrandt Lighting a subset of Broad Lighting?


2 H.Dilrosun July 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm

If there was not already a name for this kind of lighting,I would call it “van Niekerk” lighting.Amigo,you definitely know how to play your light.Thanks for your amazing tutorials!I’m a beginner in this strobist thing,and you are my sensai.If I wasn’t living so damn far away I would do some classes with you.Again,…thank you.


3 Will Smith July 10, 2012 at 1:44 am

Hi Neil
Would it be possible to explain how to setup to get that Rembrandt look

Much appreciated


4 naftoli July 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm

u can use broad or short lighting in conjunction with Rembrandt, loop, and closed loop lighting, this is not a contradiction. its like saying “i used flash for this photo” and u say “yes but it looks like u used a wide aperature,” the answer is that flash was used as well as a wide aperature as well as broad rembrant light. hope this makes sense


5 MvH July 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

On the website of PortraitTutor.com, pictures of Lighting Patterns are illustrated.


On the second portrait of Anelisa, she looks straight at the camera. Therefore, her face doesn’t really have a “side turned towards” or “away” from the camera.

The light comes from the side, splitting her face almost in half. There is also some light under her left eye..

Compared with the pictures at PortraitaTutor, the second picture looks like Rembrandt lighting to me.

It’s much easier to criticize than to do it yourself. I am having problems with the direction in which the subject looks in regards to the direction of the light and the position of the camera. E.g. The subject can look at the soft box or at the camera, whilst the face is turned towards or away from the camera. You get different looks and lighting patters.

On the broad and short lighting setup on PortraitTutor, the subject doesn’t look at the camera. On the pictures of Anelisa, she looks at the camera.


6 Neil vN July 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

MvH .. keep in mind that this is an on-location shoot. Anelisa was standing in the street.

While you can really finesse this in the studio and make it text-book perfect, for me .. especially on location .. becomes more of an approach. An approximation or guide to how I would position my lights or pose the model.

I’d rather keep some of the free-flowing energy, than pose the model to a dead standstill.

So take this article more as an approach – a starting idea – than a classic study of the lighting types.

Neil vN


7 Erwin July 11, 2012 at 5:43 am

Hi Neil.. Any words how you approach this on weddings ?
Especially in the morning when the bride is getting ready..



8 Neil vN July 11, 2012 at 8:15 am

Erwin … for candid photos, I do bounce over my shoulder to get some directional light, but I don’t bother with positioning people in this way. Besides, it goes against the idea of quietly photographing the day’s events.

However, when photographing the bride’s portraits, and we have a few minutes, I most definitely do this with bounce flash photography.
- bounce flash technique – mimicking soft window light
- directional light from your on-camera flash
- bride’s portrait with bounce flash
- bounce flash photography – short lighting

Neil vN


9 Lou July 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Hey Neil
Great article as usual.

Ive notice in the past few articles that you have been using light stand instead of an assistant.( I could be wrong )
I know you normally shoot with 2 bodies and a Crumpler bag with a third, and now a light stand

My question is how are you managing to handle all that equipment by your self.

Reason I ask is, I shot a wedding past weekend where I was alone and I had too cary a light stand . At one point after the ceremony I had to run back to get it , then chase the bride to the signing area. It was a little awkward.

In the article “shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun ” you brought Profoto system with you and set it up.
How did you handle that.

Sorry for such a basic question but it looks like I will be doing more more events on my own and Im trying to figure out how handle all this stuff with out killing my self.


Lou Recine


10 Neil vN July 25, 2012 at 3:06 am

Lou … specifically with the family formals, I usually have a few minutes to set up any lights I might use, since there is the receiving line. The closest relatives and friends will be the first to congratulate the couple. So for me, those are the key photos to get. Then, while the rest of the guests file past, I have a few minutes to quickly set up.

With the speed lights or when I used Quantums, I’d keep everything half-assembled for speed.

The Profoto AcuteB is very easy to set up. Even the softbox and speeding are a breeze to connect up.

Neil vN


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