Flattering Faces: Broad and Narrow Lighting

Different face shapes benefit from different lighting patterns. Read on to find out how to slim down a wide face or fill out a narrow one by changing just small thing – the angle of your subject’s nose relative to your main light.

According to the people who measure these things, there are seven basic face shapes: oval, round, square, diamond, heart, pear and oblong.

For our purposes, however, we’ll use a shape sorter with just two categories. The first is broad faces, which often suit lighting that makes them look a little narrower. The second is narrow faces, which often suit lighting that makes them look a little broader.

Of course, if you’re photographing models all day long, then these distinctions matter a lot less. I spend my working hours photographing normal-looking people, with all the perceived flaws and insecurities that they bring in through the studio doors with them. As their photographer, my job is to create images that they will love, buy and display, and that means minimising potential areas of insecurity to flatter their faces and features as much as possible.

So if a client has a broad face, I will start off with narrow lighting. If they have a narrow face, I’ll start with broad lighting. What does that all mean?

What is broad lighting?

Imagine a client standing directly in front of you, looking towards your camera, with a studio light 45 degrees to your left. Your client’s nose will be along the midpoint of their face as you look at them. Next you ask them to turn their nose slightly to your right (away from the light source). Now you will see more of one side of their face. In this scenario, the light is washing over the side of the face that’s nearest the camera and which you can see more of. This is broad lighting, and it makes a face appear wider.

That’s because our eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image. Your brain sees the whole side of the face lit up from ear to nose and estimates the total width of the face to be double what it can currently see.

What is narrow lighting?

Next you ask your subject to turn their nose a little to your left, so they are facing slightly towards the light source. Now the lit side of their face is furthest from the camera, while the near side of their face is mostly in shadow. This shadow makes it look slimmer (narrow lighting), so our brains calculate a total face width that is less than the actual size.

This subtle difference in angle relative to the light can make all the difference between flattering your subject or exaggerating a potential area of insecurity. I sure know which I’d rather do!


Broad Lighting

Narrow Lighting

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 86.0mm (Broad) 82.0mm (Narrow)
  • Aperture: f/19
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 50