Flat light is a type of lighting that is evenly spread across the subject and results in minimal shadows. This makes it a popular choice for portrait photography, as it produces very natural-looking results that minimize wrinkles and shadows on the face. Flat light can be created with natural light or artificial light, and is often found during the early morning or late evening hours.   Flat light is one of the 5 common key light patterns and one of the first to master for flattering portraits.

This article was originally published in 2017 and updated with better information and images in 2022.

Flat Light Video

In just about 60 seconds, learn how to use soft, flat lighting and any camera (even your smartphone) to capture flawless selfies and portraits anywhere.

The video above is part of our Minute Photography series, where we explain photography and lighting tips & tricks, myths, and techniques. For more education and details on concepts related to this article, be sure to check out our Lighting 101 Workshop or stream our gold standard education in SLR Lounge Premium.

Common Sources and Situations

Common flat light sources and situations include the following:

  • Window light portraits with the subject directly facing the window.
  • Outdoors in shade with the subject facing the light.
  • Outdoors with the light coming from the sky and a reflector bouncing light back onto the subject.
  • On camera flash with the light pointed straight at the subject, i.e. direct flash.
  • Studio lights such as the “square lighting” illustration below.

What Is Square Lighting?

A square lighting setup, which can be created using natural light, on-camera flash, or a strobe, helps create even (or flat) lighting on subjects with minimal shadows to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes, and pores. The set up is not overly complicated, using one to four reflectors and one key light source, and we explore different ways to do it throughout this chapter. In the realm of professional headshot photography, square lighting is a popular lighting style worth learning to capture incredible headshots.


Practice makes perfect!  Get out there and capture an image showing your best flat light portrait. If it fits your vision for the image, you can also add a secondary light pattern.