I've noticed that bathrooms often have overhead lighting (typically pot lights). The lighting makes it so I can't see my own face in the mirror due to the shadows.

Sure, I'm not actually taking loads of pictures in bathrooms. I'm just wondering: is there a technical term in the photography industry that is used to describe this sort of lighting?

I'll admit that I know nothing about photography. The answer might be obvious.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If you ask another, related, follow up question such as how to incorporate or compensate for this situation to get great, better, good, adequate lighting, etc. prepare to be blown away by the answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 12:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I had to google 'pot light' - I know the concept [of course] now I've looked it up, but I'd never heard the term before. We just call it 'recessed lighting'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 13:08

2 Answers 2


I'm afraid the answer is not very profound. The actual technical term for overhead lighting is "overhead lighting." In addition, it is always advisable to specify the type or kind, which you have. Consider taking up photography since you already have some lighting experience. :^)


Overhead lighting is flattering. Mankind has experienced light from above since the beginning. Lowered light is unnatural. Watch old horror movies; they create the illusion of dreadfulness using low lights. Overhead lights create shadows that must be mitigated.

This type (direction) of light simulates afternoon sun. When doing portraiture we mitigate by inducing a "fill" light. This is a subordinate lamp at about lens height. The classic portrait lighting is to adjust the ratio of the "main" (key lamp or sun), to the "fill". Generally we adjust the "fill" and set it so that it contributes 50% (subordinate by 1 f-stop). This creates a 3:1 lighting ratio.

Why 3:1? Say the "main" contributes 1000 units of light and the "fill" 500 units of light. The frontal areas of the face receive light from both while the shadows only receive light from the "fill". Thus the frontal facial area receives 1000 + 500 = 1500 units. The shadows receive only 500 units. The ratio is 1500 : 500. This can be considered to be a fraction which can be reduced. We divide both sides by 500 thus; the ratio is 3:1. This is about right.

If the "fill" is cut in half again, making it 2 f-stops subordinate = 250 units, the shadows receive 250 units, the frontal area 1000 units. The ratio is 1250 : 250 = 5:1 (more contrast).

Reduce the "fill" again so that it is 3 f-stops subordinate, the frontal areas receive 1000 units from the "main" + 125 units from the "fill". The ratio is 1125 units to 125 units written as 1125 : 125 and reduces to 9:1 a higher contrast theatrical lighting (quite masculine).


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