Side Lighting

Side lighting can have a lot of variation.  For the purpose of this class, I’m going to call this type of lighting anything that isn’t 80% or more front lit and anything that isn’t back lit.  We could have light reaching only one side of the face and blocked completely by the features.  Or we could have a minimum of side lighting where the image is still a little flat but is gaining some shadows.

Because of the huge range that side lighting covers, the effect can be very dramatic and mysterious to just hints of dimension by the shadows..  Of all lighting types, this one can be most harnessed for the effect you most desire.  I’ve found that as I am able to control my light more after switching to continuous lighting, that I prefer the dimension created by side lighting.  I like the contrast and depth in newborn portraits and I find myself hungering for this lighting in portraits of my own children.  This may be my current obsession.  I try to keep my light generally at a 45 degree angle.  However, I want you to play with and enjoy this lighting type so feel free to experiment as I am now.

I think the most difficult part of side lighting is matching your images emotion and energy to your lighting. The first image in the case studies below is a great example.  Her serious mud tasting expression coupled with the dramatic light across her face makes for lighting that really compliments the mood of the image.  Had she be smiling, I don’t think this image would have been such a favorite for me.  So the short lesson her is to look for side lighting that compliments your subject.  I can see side lighting being really beautiful bringing out the texture in gorgeous architecture, so don’t think this is just a portrait type lighting.  Experiment!

Side Lighting Case Studies


The light here is at almost a 90 degree angle to her face. Her brow and nose are shadowing the entire image right side of her face. This type of dramatic side lighting can be really fun to use.

Greenville, SC Newborn Photographer

This is the 45 degree side lighting angle that I’ve become so fond of in my newborn portraiture. I love love love the drama this adds to the final image.

On Motherhood and Grace

Available light from the window behind him is lighting up the far side of his face while the closer side is deep in shadows. I liked the side lighting here so much, that I actually took out my big camera just to snap this image. It’s beautiful and soft, but the shadows give such a rich depth.

Greenville, SC Newborn Photography

The side lighting here isn’t quite 45 degrees. I just can’t get over how much depth this lighting versus flat lighting creates for these little people. For me this means, I’m finally developing a style that I love 🙂


Remember at the end of August I’ll be giving you an assignment to take imagery in a bunch of lighting types.  You can start on this now or wait until I announce the assignment.  September will be a no assignment month, giving everyone a bit of time to catch up.