In this video, John P. Hess from Filmmaker IQ looks at a way to light and shoot video (and to some degree stills as well) called Short Lighting, how it works and why to use it.
There are all sorts of ways to light a scene and we have covered in different videos how you can light interview/talking head style videos (see for example: shooting interview 101, best light gear for filming interviews, how to set up lighting and audio for interviews, tips for lighting an interview, and how to shoot a documentary-style interview).
Before we go into what is “Short Lighting” we need to revisit the basics. One of the first things that you will learn in most photography (or video) courses is the three-point lighting technique. Hess points out that for beginners this name might be a little confusing as you don’t necessarily need three lights to achieve this.
So what do you need for three-point lighting? simple, you need a key light (this can be an artificial light source but can also be the Sun for example). Next, you need a fill, to fill those shadows so that your subject will not have half his or her face completely dark (unless this is the look you are going for of course). This can be an actual light but a reflector is very often used and you can use the reflections from a white wall in a pinch if it works for you.
Finally, you need a hair/rim/backlight, these are not necessarily identical but for the purpose of this simple explanation, they will be. This light will give your subject a little bit of extra separation from the background.
What is short lighting
Now that we have the idea of a 3-point-lighting figured out it is time to get into the idea of short lighting. It actually quite simple and it has to do with the location of the key, fill and the camera in relation to the person that you are shooting and where he or she is looking.
If the person that you are shooting is lit from one side (typically you will not light directly from the front as this will create a very flat image), creating short lighting means that you will place the camera from the opposite side to the key (i.e. from the fill side, hence the term Hess use – “shoot the fill side”).
Short lighting diagram
Contrary to this you can shoot with a lighting setup called “broad lighting” which means basically the opposite, i.e. in this case you will place the camera at the same side/direction as your key lighting.
Hess claims that board lighting was more common a decade or so ago when cameras were not as sensitive and required more light to produce pleasing results, however current day cameras have better sensitivity and dynamic range and can apparently handle short lighting much better.
The reason to choose short lighting is that many consider it more visually pleasing and natural. Interestingly, Hess brings a LOT of examples of short lighting in interviews (see some examples from his video below), as well as films.
HBO interview examples for short lighting
This of course doesn’t mean that you MUST use short lighting every time and in every situation, but starting from this point and deciding based on the location, your gear, and what you are trying to convey to the viewer in your shot might be a good idea.
You can check out several of Hess’ other (usually very informative on different photo/video related topics) here. You can also watch more HDSLR and video techniques on our dedicated HDSLR channel here on LensVid and ore light related videos on our special lighting subsection.