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There are many lighting options that you can use when taking portraits. Lighting “Rembrandt” and “Butterfly” are two classic schemes that are easy to configure and give excellent results in most cases. Of course, you can try to create a fantastic portfolio using always the same lighting scheme, but it is always useful to pump your skills in working with light and learn to use different lighting models in portrait photography at any time.

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography
Wide and short lighting are often combined due to the similarity of implementation and description, however, they have a completely different effect on the subject

The article will introduce you to the wide and short light and explain when and why to use them, and what to expect as a result. These light patterns are quite simple, but they may seem confusing at first. Once you deal with the material, the ability to adjust the lighting will be a powerful skill that will help shape the light and mood in photographs.

What is a lighting scheme?

Let’s start with the basics. A lighting scheme is any named lighting structure that gives you specific results. There is a sufficient list of these established schemes that you can study, in addition to the options discussed in our article. These include such as Rembrandt, Butterfly, Split, Cross, Shell and many others. These lighting schemes are applicable to both natural and artificial light, so it doesn’t matter from the point of view of the shooting conditions what you prefer.

Wide and short light

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography
The names of the wide and short lighting schemes indicate which side of the subject’s face is lit first

Sometimes the terms “wide” and “short” in the context of lighting can be confusing. For simplicity, imagine that the face of the model is slightly turned away from you. Now it has two sides, separated by a nose. The side of the face closest to you is wide because you see it more than the other. The other side farthest from you is the short side.

In wide light, the light will primarily hit the wide side (or closest to you) of the model’s face.
In short lighting, the light will first hit the short side (or farthest from you) of the face.
That’s all.

Wide coverage

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography
Wide lighting can be used to help expand the model’s face or increase the contrast of the photo, unlike some other light schemes

When you decide to illuminate the wide side of the face, this will significantly affect your image:

wide lighting visually expands the face;
wide lighting usually leaves the short side of the face in the shade (depending on the location of the light source);
wide lighting provides greater contrast than some lighting schemes, such as, for example, Butterfly.
In what cases it should be used

Since wide lighting tends to visually expand the face, the light pattern needs to be used when photographing narrow-skinned models. In the case when the subject is wide in itself, the wide light can make it visually even wider, which, of course, should be avoided.

If you want to remove the emphasis from some part of the face of the model, position the person so that the unnecessary is on the side of the face that will be highlighted briefly.

How to set up a wide light

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography
Setting up for wide coverage is easy. Let the subject turn away from the key light source until the desired effect is obtained

And although there is no single way to set up wide lighting, we suggest you learn the basic method from which you can start.

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography

As in the above diagram, the light must be set at an angle of forty-five degrees from the subject. Make sure the face of the model is away from the light source. Yes, it really is that simple! Remember that you can control the transition from light to shadow by changing the distance of light from the object and using various modifiers.

Next steps

Understanding wide and short lighting in photography
Add fill light to wide lighting. This will help get contrast while keeping shadows for depth.

Lighting schemes are the starting point. This is not a zero sum game. To improve the effect of wide light, feel free to experiment with fill lighting. You can use reflectors or a second light source to enhance shadows and reduce contrast in images for more flattering portraits. Conversely, you can also highlight shadows and contrast for darker and bolder shots. The best advice in this case is to determine exactly what result you want to get before you start.

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