6 Lighting Patterns for Portrait Photography

There are a lot of different lighting patterns that you should consider for your subjects, to make your pictures really eye-catching.  Different lighting patterns will give your subject a new look and express your photos in a different way as well. The four most common lighting patterns are (Split Lighting, Rembrandt Lighting, Loop Lighting and Butterfly Lighting. In this blog, I will talk about 6 types of portrait lighting and explain their uses.

  1. Split Lighting

This type of lighting splits your subjects face into two halves, one side is lite up while the other is in a shadow giving a dramatic effect. This lighting pattern is more masculine and usually more applicable to men than women. Split Lighting is set up with one light source 90-degrees off from your subject and a little bit higher than eye level. The light will then adjust to the subjects’ face position and there will be a little bit of light that is picked up on the shadow side but only on the eye.

Split Lighting setup

  1. Rembrandt Lighting

This lighting pattern is known by its triangle of light on the cheek of its subject. The shadow of the nose and cheek meet to create a triangle of light. This type of lighting is dramatic as well and creates a different mood to your picture. Your subject must turn away from the light source to create the triangle effect on their cheek. Not having these key features, this lighting isn’t really Rembrandt lighting but called “short” or “long” lighting. Rembrandt Lighting can be set up with one key light placed about 5 feet from your subject and at a 45-degree angle on the side of the camera above eye level but at a downward angle. I recommend using one key light, one reflector or fill light for a more natural look to your image. Your reflector should be placed on the other side of your key light, this will help with softening the shadows on your subjects’ face.

Rembrandt Lighting Setup

  1. Broad Lighting

Broad lighting can also be classified as either shirt, loop, Rembrandt or even split lighting. Your subject is turned away from the light and their side of his/her face is towards the camera. If someone’s face was heavier or more of a round shape this lighting wouldn’t work as well. This type of lighting will add weight to a thinner face and create a thickness of his/her face.

Broad Lighting Setup

  1. Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly lighting is just as it sounds, it is named from the butterfly-shaped shadow created under the nose of your subject. To create this effect, you should put your main light above and behind your camera and slightly above the head level of the subject. You want to make sure you are using a hard-light source to create an effect like this. Using window lighting will be harder to create this effect since you would have to place your subject and camera between the window. This type of lighting is used usually in a fashion or glamour setup. Other names for this lighting include “Clam shell”, “Glamour Lighting”, Beauty Lighting” and “Paramount Lighting.” You want to make sure when you are setting this lighting up you are looking for that small butterfly-shaped shadow under your subjects’ nose. Make sure that the light is soft and not too long of a shadow.

Butterfly Lighting Setup

  1. Loop Lighting

In loop lighting you should be creating a downward shadow on the subject, so raising the light above eye level will give you this effect. The end of their nose should cast around loop shape from the nose around the corner of their mouth. Your light source should be eye level and around 30-45 degrees to the camera. You will see how the shadow from the nose is creating a downward shadow. Loop lighting is great for people with more of an oval shaped face because it will lengthen their face. Be careful with having your light source too high, this causes different shadows and you won’t have any catch lights on your subject. Catch lights, for those who don’t know, is a light source that causes a highlight in your subjects’ eye. Adding a catch light to your subject catches the attention of to their eye.

Loop Lighting Setup

  1. Short Lighting

Short lighting illuminates the side of your subjects’ face that is turned away from the camera. The light will then fall on the narrow side leaving a shadow on the broad side of their face. Your subject should be in the center of the imaginary circle. Placing the camera at a 90- degree angle from the camera to the subject, and from the subject to the light. This lighting pattern is great for making your subjects face look long and slim.

Short Lighting Setup

Give these lighting patterns a try and post below some of the pictures you have taken with these lighting patterns. If any questions or future blog posts you would like to see please feel free to ask!

Happy Shooting!