Three Professional Ways to Light Faces [ReelRebel #39]

Three Professional Ways to Light Faces [ReelRebel #39]

So you've probably been told about a three-point lighting technique, and you've probably been told how to basically set those up for a video that looks more professional.  But there is a way to set up these lights in a slightly different way to make your videos look even more professional.  Short lighting, split lighting, and butterfly lighting takes your three-point setup and adjusts the key light to do different things with your subjects' faces to create a desired mood or look.

Lighting Faces with Short Lighting, Split Lighting, and Butterfly Lighting

Adjusting the three-point lighting setup to fit the person and the mood will enhance the feel of the video.  Something as simple as moving around the key or fill light can bring out the character or glamor in your scene.  Just look at any major TV or movie production.  They adjust the lights to create shadows on the actor's faces to add depth and a certain drama or intensity to the scene.  It's good to use different lighting techniques for different people.

Three Professional Ways to Light Faces [ReelRebel #39]

Short Lighting

If someone has a round, "beach ball" type face, you may need "short lighting," or "narrow lighting."  To do this, put your key light (main source of light) closer to the "short side" of the subject's face, creating a 45-degree angle between the talent, camera, and light.  The "short side" is the part of the face that is furthest away from the camera's lens.  Putting more light on this part of the face will make it appear narrow.

Split Lighting

Want to add drama to the scene?  Use split lighting.  This has been called the "comic book villain" lighting style because some comic book artists would draw their villains this way.  Change the position of the key light to be 90 degrees between camera, talent, and key light source.  It lights one side of the face and leaves the other in shadow, giving it a super-dramatic feel.

Butterfly Lighting

This is also known as "clam shell lighting"  and it's used to add a "fashion" or "glamor" look to your subject.  This can be flattering for people with narrow faces or high cheekbones because there is very little shadow cast on their face, which is why it is often used to light female subjects.  However, it may not be too flattering with those with a round or wider face. Put the light behind the camera and raise it over the subject's head.  Shine the light down on the subject's head and you should see their cheekbones accentuated with a butterfly-like shadow below their nose.

For more about three-point lighting, go here.  You'll also want to know stuff about color temperature, which can be found here.


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View The Full Video Transcript:

Hey I’m Stephen Schweickart with this episode of the Reel Rebel and I’m here today to give you some more lighting basics – specifically, three new ways you can light people’s faces. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job teaching you the basics of 3 point lighting, but if you’re not comfortable pulling this kind of stuff off yet (Point to 3pt diagram or similar), you should take time out and watch this video right here. If you’re ready to step it up and try something a little more creative and edgy, I’ll show you 3 techniques that you can use when lighting people’s faces; Short lighting, split lighting, and butterfly lighting.

Lighting people’s faces in a way that’s flattering can be a frustrating process if you don’t know what you’re doing. True pros know that adjusting your 3-point lighting setup to the person you’re lighting and the mood you are trying to create will enhance the feel of your video. Something as simple as moving around your key or fill light can bring out the character or glamour in your scene.

Just take a look at any well-produced TV drama or major motion picture. They specifically position the lighting to create shadows on the actor’s faces. This adds depth as well as an extra sense of drama and intensity to the scene.

As I said before, true pros know that different lighting techniques will be better for different people. So if you’re lighting someone with a round beach ball shaped face, it may be best to use the technique called short lighting - aka narrow lighting. Simply place your key light (remember, that’s you’re main or brightest light source) facing the short side of your talent’s face - creating a 45-degree angle between the camera, talent, and your light. When I say “short side”, this usually translates to the side of the face furthest from the camera’s lens. Having the light illuminate a smaller portion of your subject’s face will make it appear narrower.

Now, if you want to add a little drama to your scene, try using the split lighting technique. People have actually been known to call this the “comic book villain” lighting style, because some comic book artists would depict their villains with this type of technique. Just like short lighting, this is achieved by changing the position of your key light in order to create a ninety-degree angle between the camera, talent, and key light source. Having your main light coming from one side of the face will create a shadow over the other side - giving it a super dramatic feel.

Finally, we saved the best for last: butterfly lighting. This lighting technique is also known as clamshell lighting and is often used to add a fashion or glamour look to your subject. This style of lighting can be very flattering on people w/ narrow faces and high cheekbones because there is very little shadow cast on the face. This is why it’s often used to light female subjects. Keep in mind though, that it may not be too flattering for someone with a rounder, wider face. To achieve this style, place the light behind the camera and raise it above the subject’s head. Point the light downward at your subject’s face and you should see their cheekbones accentuated and a butterfly like shape under the nose.

Switching it up and adapting your lighting set-up to fit your subject and/or the overall mood of your production, can really set your video apart and make you look pro – even though we all know you’re just a bunch of copycats who want to do videos like me. So if you feel like your video jedi enough to step into these loafers then be one with the force and comment in the section below. Then click this subscribe button and you’ll be on your way to making you, like me.

About the Author -
Chris Atkinson joined ReelSEO in 2011. He is a longtime film and television reviewer, and has almost two decades of experience in the theater industry. He also writes on his personal blog - http://nymoviereviews.com. View All Posts By -

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