What Side Lighting Can Do for Your Photos

Side lighting, or edge light, serves the same function as backlight. It's purpose is to light a subject from the back or side so they have a slight glow around them. We use this trick because it helps our subjects pop out from the rest of the frame which gives depth to a two dimensional medium.

Side Light or Backlight?

Since sidelight is similar to backlight, why do we use one and not the other? There are three factors that influence our choice.

The first is that one may look more appealing than the other. Back and side light are effects meant to be subtitle. If the sidelight or backlight is too strong, it may become distracting and call attention to itself. You want your photos to look great with the illusion of being real.

The second reason a sidelight might be preferred over a backlight and vice versa is that the position of the light might affect more in the shot than just the subjects back. It could cause unwanted double shadows, which means your shots do not look natural. When lighting a shot, you want the light to seem motivated and the shadows all in one direction.

The last reason a sidelight might be picked over a backlight is that you can't place a backlight in the scene or it will be seen in the frame. 

Overcoming Lighting Obstacles

If the beam of the light is too wide or if the light is too intense, then you need to shape it to suit your needs. Barn doors and black wrap can be used to control the path of the light at the lamp. This blocking close to the light source creates soft shadows. If you want a hard cut, then you need to place flags away from the lamp to achieve that effect. To understand this concept, turn on a desk lamp, aim in at the wall, and watch how the positioning of your hand affects the shadows.

If the light is too intense, it will cause the back and sidelight to be too noticeable. There are three ways to bring down the intensity of the light. The first is to connect a dimmer between the light and power source. Just make sure your dimmer can handle the wattage of the lamp or it will be ineffective. If you don't have a dimmer, then you can add a scrim to the light. Scrims are circular steel nets, custom fitted for lights that break down the intensity. If a scrim is not available, you can set a single or double net in front of the light to bring it down. Just don't place it to close to the light because it will burn.


Popular Tripods: