May 30

Dramatic Lighting: Six Lighting Setups For Shooting Exceptional Video


image of video lightingIf you wish to create a flattering portrait of someone, lighting is critical.  Often, that means soft, diffused, bright light with flattering, gentle shadows. Remember, we’re lighting faces here, that soft style of lighting is kind to a face. 🙂  Especially old faces.

Arguably, gentle shadows from diffused lighting should be thought of as the default setting when faces are involved.  Generally speaking, people wish to look friendly, happy, and non-threatening.  Soft, diffused lighting produces that mood.   Obviously, not every portrait should have that form of standard lighting, that would be boring.  A dramatic scene would look more appropriate with dramatic, lighting, which is going to be direct and harsh.

Dramatic lighting can spice a talking head shot up.  Your subject doesn’t have to be restricted to horror movies, dramatic lighting has many uses.  As with most everything, lighting and the mood created is on a spectrum.  You can have mildly dramatic or extremely dramatic.  As you gain experience with lighting for film and video production, you will better understand the pros and cons of each.  Remember to observe any movie or TV show you watch to see what kind of lighting they use.  Game shows often use highly dramatic lighting in order to add to the excitement.

This post will give you some advanced lighting tips.  Most of them create a very dramatic effect for faces.

For professional-quality lighting for video, you need to think about and control things such as:

  • Lighting ratio:  Some parts of the shot are bright.  Some might be 100% black.
  • Lighting pattern: Where on the face do the light areas fall?  Consider the background, too.  Lighting patterns can make great backgrounds.
  • Angle of view:  Will it look considerably different when the camera gets shots from a different angle?
  • Mood created:  Is the mood a good match for the context?

In this article, we’ll walk you through six simple lighting setups and talk about what are they, why they are so important and how to use them properly.
portrait lighting example

Perfecting the art of lighting faces requires you to know how light and shadow play across the face in order to create different shapes, moods, and effect. You can gain that knowledge through practice and experimentation.  This article provides a basic guide for several professional photographic lighting techniques.

The six simple lighting setups for shooting portraits at home are:
• Split Lighting
• Loop Lighting
• Butterfly Lighting
• Rembrandt Lighting
• Broad Lighting
• Short Lighting

Let’s look at these lighting setups individually.

1. Split Lighting
Split lighting setup splits the face into equal divisions, with one side filled with light and another side in deep shadow. Use this setup to create dramatic, eye-catching images.

If you want to do the split lighting setup, put the key light source 90 degrees to the right or left of the subject and even slightly behind their head if possible.  To be exceptionally dramatic, don’t use a fill light.  Or, to lessen the shadows a touch but still leave them dramatic-looking, use a low-wattage fill light.

Place the light in relation to the subject, depending on the model’s face. Look carefully how the light falls on the person and adjust accordingly.  Your light source should always follow the face.

You can use something like a Flexible LED Light Mat in this type of setup.  They are extremely handy gadgets to have in your lighting toolkit for lots of reasons.


2. Loop Lighting
If you want to create a small shadow of the subjects’ noses on their cheeks, go with the loop lighting setup. In order to create loop lighting, your light source has to be a bit higher than the subject’s eye level and about 30-45 degrees from your camera. The shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek do not touch in this type of lighting.

For the loop lighting effect, you have to keep the shadows small and pointing downward slightly.  Don’t have the light source too high because that can create what most people consider to be odd-looking shadows.

blond woman and photographic light fixtureYou can use a white reflector to bounce light back into your subject’s face, which will soften the shadows but not eliminate them. A reflector can pick light no matter where it is.  Play with the angles by shifting the placement of the reflector but generally speaking, don’t place them down too low or too high.  Too low does not create a flattering light as it lights up the bottom of the subject’s nose, and nostrils are rarely what you want to call attention to in a picture.

3. Butterfly Lighting
You can create a butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose of your subject by placing your main light above and directly behind the camera. You have to shoot underneath the light source for this setup.

You can use this setup often for glamour style shots, it helps to create shadows under the cheeks and chin, which can be flattering to the face.

It emphasizes wrinkles less than side lighting, so it is also flattering for older subjects. To achieve this lighting, you need to have the light source behind the camera and slightly above the eye or head level of your subject.

You can also supplement it by placing reflector under their chin. But it can be very challenging for you if you want to create this setup using window light or a reflector alone. You need a harder light source like a flash or the sun to produce a more defined shadow under the nose.

4. Rembrandt Lighting
Rembrandt lighting is actually a triangle lighting setup on the subject’s cheek. This light setup creates a trapped little triangle of light in the middle. The subject’s eye on the shadow side should have light in it, otherwise the eye will look “dead” and not have a nice sparkle.

This is a dramatic look. Your subject should turn slightly away from the light. You should place the light above their head, it helps the shadow fall from their nose down towards the cheek.

Rembrandt lighting setup does not suit on every person’s face. It works well with the subjects having high or prominent cheekbones. It can be difficult to achieve if your subjects have small noses or flat bridge of the nose.

man has a professional photo taken5. Broad Lighting
Broad Lighting is a different lighting setup but a style of lighting. This lighting setup can be created when your subject’s face is a bit turned away from the center and the side of the face is in the camera which is toward the camera.

It makes a larger area of light on the face and the shadow side is basically smaller. You can use this setup for “high key” portraits. It will make your model’s face look wider or broader, and it’s very easy to use on a person whose face is very slim. It’s better not to use this lighting on people who are heavier or round faced.

The subject’s face should be turned away from the light source. The side of the face should have most light on it and the shadows should fall on the far side of the face. Broad lighting illuminates the largest part of the face showing.

6. Short Lighting
This lighting setup is opposite of the previous, broad lighting setup. In the short lighting setup, you put the side turned towards the camera in more shadow.

With the face in more shadow, the photo conveys more sculpting. It adds 3D qualities, and it’s flattering for most people. The subject’s face turns towards the light source. The part of the face turns away from the camera. There is the most light on the face and the shadows fall on the near side of the face. This setup has shadows on the largest part of the face, which makes for a fairly dark, dramatic picture.

Study your subject’s face so that you will learn which of these six setups would be the best for them and the portrait you are trying to create.

You will be well-recognized to handle the challenge once you know all the patterns, how to master the quality of light, the direction of light and the shadow to brightly-lit ratio.

I hope this guideline will help on your next portraiture shooting at home. Thanks for reading.


  • Why is soft diffused lighting normally used for faces?
  • Why is dramatic lighting sometimes a much better choice?
  • Name at least 3 things



advanced video lighting, dramatic lighting, professional video lighting, professional-quality lighting for video, video portrait lighting

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