Using only 1 of my lighting umbrella’s in shoot through position and a portable 5 in 1 reflector I set up to do a project to compare and practice 4 basic go to one light portrait set ups. Broad, Short, Rembrandt and Butterfly Lighting.  Not having a beautiful model lounging around my apartment I opted for a highly skilled balloon head with a cotton skin tone bag held around it with an elastic. I formed a basic nose bridge and put a hat on it to provide artistic appeal.  Close enough, miss “balloon head” sits still and doesn’t need to be fed expensive chai latte’s every hour. 😉 Photographers often use a manikin to preset lighting set ups so I thought being creative is what it’s all about. I highly recommend this type of practice session to learn how to set up different simple lighting set ups. This way when you get that high paying client you aren’t wasting time trying to remember what goes where for each type of shot you want. As you can see I deliberately did this in a tiny space in the corner of my bedroom to prove you don’t need a lot of space for a simple shoot.    These images are essentially unedited other than converting RAW to jpg and some basic cropping to get myself holding the reflector out of the frame. I shot a couple of each set up and just chose the best one because I used the 10 second shutter timer I was perhaps not the most agile reflector assistant.  All shots were in aperture priority mode with out flash with a 50mm prime/portrait lens.  Note: title shot taken with 18-55mm macro zoom.

Broad Lighting

The first set up is Broad lighting where the main key light is close to camera axis and falls on the side of the face that is closest to the camera.  Best used for narrow faces.


I was holding a sliver reflector on the right side of frame to provide some light on the side of the face farthest away from camera. You can clearly see however there is still a defined shadow line along the bridge of the nose feature.  You can add a back light to separate the subject from the background but I didn’t feel like lighting up my bedroom door. The histogram looked good for this image.  exposure time: 1/50sec aperture: f/2.0 ISO: 400  and focal length: 50mm  using my prime portrait lens.  Its hard to tell but the door is a little blurred and if I had left it open the outside hallway would have shown the bokeh effect of a short depth of field typical of a portrait shot. What’s important here is that the shadow falls on the correct side of the face. If miss “balloon head” was a real person with cheekbones this would provide the dramatic intended effect.

Short Lighting

The next Lighting set up is Short Lighting  pretty much the opposite of broad lighting.  The key light is lighting the side of the face that is farthest away from the camera. Best used for people with larger rounder faces.


Above is with a reflector on the right of the frame. Below is without a reflector.


I shot a second shot without a reflector and the shadows are only slightly darker as I was getting some pretty good bounce light off the light tan coloured wall in my room.  I still think I am an awesome reflector assistant.  In the upper image the side closest to camera is a little bit brighter. On a real model you would get a reflection off the cheekbone with the ear in shadow such as in the lower image. Settings are same as for Broad lighting shots.

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt Lighting is constructed with a single key light placed 45 degrees offset from the subject and a bit higher than eye level, lighting the side of the face that is farthest away from the camera.  Like short lighting it is used for subjects with rounder faces.  It is characterized by a triangle of light on the shadow side of the face nearest the camera creating a dramatic effect and contrasting the subject with the background “chiaroscuro” shape defining light.


Here we see a bright patch on the side of the face closest to the camera where miss “balloon head’s” cheek would be if she had one. This is bounded by the chin, jaw and ear area all in shadow. This lighting method is often used for men. This image was taken without a reflector and with same camera settings as those above.

Butterfly Lighting

Made from two elements. Soft light from above and soft fill light from below directly in line with subject. The camera can be off axis but subject faces key light and reflector. In this case I used the reflector placed below my umbrella light propped up on a chair. most people try to aim the key light at the subjects knees to get the desired effect.


Here we can see a pronounced shadow under miss “balloon head’s” nose feature where the red elastic is passing through.  The reflector provides fill light and softens shadows that would otherwise appear under the eyes of the subject. This lighting set up is similar to flat lighting in that it lights both sides of the face. Also because I was closer to the umbrella light my aperture priority mode adjusted the shutter speed slightly to 1/60sec to cut out the extra light. Other settings were the same as those above.

I did not post diagrams of where to put everything for these set ups as they are readily available at many sites.  The point of this was to show how you can practice them on your own without a model so that when you get to a shoot you are smooth and you look like you have done this all before.  You could even use  product shots for this as the lighting concepts are the same. The key method that photographers use to get better is to practice. Just get out your gear and take a portrait of something. 

A cheat sheet for lighting a portrait. You can see Broad, short, Rembrandt and Butterfly in these.