Try Lighting Your Subject From Your 'Weak Side'

Most photographers have a tendency to light their subjects from the same side. I personally like to set up my key light on camera right and I also always have my subject look toward that light. Not today. 

I had planned for this lesson to be an ultra complicated lesson about using gobos (or "go betweens") to create interesting shadows on your model's face but when my test shots failed, Patrick suggested that I go the opposite route and try to create a photograph using a single light. To spice things up a bit I decided to force myself to light from the opposite side that I would normally work from (camera left) but I would also have my model Lauren keep her nose pointed away from that light (camera right). This style of lighting has been successfully pulled off by many of the world's best photographers but it's a style that I have never been very comfortable with. 

Having a subject look away from your keylight is not the definition of "beauty light" but if it's done well, it can create a really compelling image. Check out this classic shot of Audrey Hepburn by Richard Avedon

I've been using Alien Skin's Exposure software for at least 10 years now. It's the absolute best set of presets I have ever found to give your images a finished "look." Earlier this week Alien Skin sent me over the newest version of Exposure X3 and pointed out that you no longer need Photoshop or Lightroom to use it. In fact, in many ways, it is better than Lightroom. If you're the type of photographer who exclusively works in Lightroom and you're tired of paying the monthly creative cloud fees, you might find that Exposure can do everything you need plus more. You can download a 30-day free trial now and if you decide to buy it, use the code "fstoppers" at checkout to save some money. 

For my shot I used a single Profoto B1 and a white Beauty Dish with a grid. Because this particular photo called for some pretty specific retouching, I did a basic edit in Photoshop and then added a film "look" using the Exposure plugin. 

I feel like the finished image is a decent first attempt but there is a lot of room for improvement. Before this shoot, I would have never attempted this style of lighting, but now, after forcing myself to try it, I'm excited to use it again in the future. If you find yourself taking similar looking photos again and again, it may also be time for you to force yourself outside of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try something new, It will only make you a better photographer. 

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Great video Lee and nice work! I really like the end result. Isn’t the way you lit Lauren in the video considered ‘broad’ lighting as opposed to ‘short’ lighting? That is lighting the broad part of the face. I usually let the subject’s face dictate how I light the subject but generally gravitate like you to lighting on camera right. Since the human eye scans left to right, I find it more natural and pleasing generally to go from dark to light, I.e., left to right when viewing the image. These videos are great keep up the great work!

I’ve never heard the term “broad side” until releasing this video but a lot of people have brought it up. I’ll certainly use it from now on.

Mark Van Noy's picture

The value to the broad vs. short terminology, as I understand it, is that it does not matter if the light is coming from the right or left. Short is lighting the part of the face that is less visible/farther from the camera. So in your video, when you first started with the beauty dish coming from the right side, if you model had looked to her right instead of her left then the light would have changed from short to broad. Too many terms. I think we glom on to the ones we find useful. Rembrandt lighting would be short which seems redundant even mentioning.

Martin Strauss's picture

Light coming from left or right should be more about the suspect and their face. Most people look "better" from right, some from left. I think, it's more about facial structures, like a slow eye or the shape of her/his mouth than anything else. Take your time, before the shooting, and study their face (and body). Light can make you look fat or thin, since we all have two different sides of our face :)

I can't tell if this is a tutorial or an advertisement for Alien skin.

I do like the idea of using broad side to light a subject for a dramatic shot.

John MacLean's picture

If you are using the direct spill of the light from feathering the beauty dish, it’s no longer the “beauty” light the dish intended it to be. The whole point of the deflector is so that you get beautiful wraparound light with rapid falloff when you have the reflector in close to your subject. Otherwise you might as well use a regular reflector. I get breaking the rules, but then why use it in the first place?

Oliver Szabo's picture

Lee, you mentiond that Lightroom stores all your edits in the database, but you can change that so it saves an .xmp side file instead just as Alien Skin does. Tat way you can open that RAW file in other applications like Photoshop an you’ll have all the edits you made available :) That .xmp file will sit beside your RAW file and have the same filename.

Gil Gamesh's picture

"the human eye scans from L to R"? Really? Ideographic languages (e.g. Japanese, Korean, Chinese) are more flexible in their writing direction. They are generally written left-to-right, or vertically top-to-bottom (with the vertical lines proceeding from right to left).

However, they are occasionally written right to left. Chinese newspapers sometimes combine all of these writing directions on the same page.

Arabic and Hebrew are R to L.

I suspect it's the culture in which you are brought up more than "the eye scans left to right".

Joshua Ball's picture

I'm guilty of using my same favorite setups and this read is a good reminder to get out of that comfort zone once in a while to stretch the old creative muscles. I think a lot of photographers work so hard at developing their own "style" that they forget to experiment with others. Great read!