What Is Side Lighting in Photography

Understanding how light affects your pictures is one of the first things that new photographers learn. But not everyone is aware of the different types of lighting.

In this article, we will cover the topic of side lighting. We will look at what side lighting is and how you should use it in your photography.

What Is Side Lighting?

Side lighting is light that hits the subject from one side. The angle of this light depends on where you place the subject or, in the case of artificial lighting, the light source.

Side light results in one side of the subject being lit, while the other is a lot darker. It can be a form of hard light, where the shadows become clearly defined.

Certain painting styles inspired this lightning technique in photography. Painters such as and Jan Vermeer or Rembrandt used this method to give a unique atmosphere to their pictures.

When there is a strong side light on a photo, it makes us see it as a more artistic style.

When Should You Use Side Lighting?

You should use side lighting for photography when you are trying to convey emotions.

It is perfect for adding drama to an image. Due to its contrast, it also suits photos that you are planning to turn black and white.

Side light is mainly used for low-key portraits, especially for ones that are taken in a studio.

You will sometimes see it in landscape and nature photos as well.

During sunrise and sunset, the direct sunlight hits the subject from its side. This creates a perfect example of side lighting. If this light is used well, it can enhance your landscape images. It does so by adding depth and emphasising textures.

Take a look at the two photos below. They were shot from the same location and have the exact same processing applied. Sometimes even product photography uses this technique. A lot of pack shots use side lighting to emphasise the shape of a product.

When Not to Use Side Lighting

There are some instances when you shouldn’t use side lighting.

Your goal might be to create a soft look or light your subject evenly. A hard side light will not create this look for you. When working in hard light, the best way to create even lighting is to backlight your subject.

You might be working with natural light where you can’t control how the light falls on your subject. In this case, you can use a reflector or additional lighting to illuminate the other side.

Illuminate the Face for a Softer Side Light

There might be an instance where you don’t want to have too much contrast between the two sides of the face.

If you would still prefer to use side lighting, try to illuminate the other side of the face with an extra light source.

A soft look can also be achieved by using different diffusing techniques.

If you are working with natural light, you can also try to move the person. This way he doesn’t get the light hitting him from completely sideways. The closer the light is to the axis of the camera, the flatter the light will be.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the depth that different amount of side lighting can create!

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