Photography lighting tips

In photography, the lighting pattern in shooting portraits is fundamental to have under control: this is the way light and shadow play across the face to create different shapes, or simply what is the shape of the shadow on the face. The portrait lighting patterns are in four: split lighting, loop lighting, Rembrandt lighting and butterfly lighting.

Split lighting, as the name suggests, splits the face exactly into equal halves with one side being in the light, and the other in shadow. This pattern is better for dramatic images such as a portrait of a musician or an artist, preferably on male rather than female subjects. To achieve split lighting, simply put the light source 90 degrees to the left or right of the subject and possibly even slightly behind their head. Where you place the light in relation to the subject will depend on the person’s face.

Mind the “catchlight” effect: without the eye of the subject catching the light you are using, the eyes will appear dark, dead and lifeless.

Loop lighting is obtained by a small shadow of the subjects noses on their cheeks. To create loop lighting, the light source must be slightly higher than eye level and about 30-45 degrees from the camera, but this all depend on the subject. The shadow of the nose and that of the cheek do NOT touch. Keep the shadow small and slightly downward pointing, but be aware of having your light source too high which will create odd shadows and cause loss of the catchlights. It is probably the most popular lighting pattern as it is easy to create and flatters most people.

Rembrandt lighting takes its name from Rembrandt the painter. It is identified by the triangle of light on the cheek. Unlike loop lighting where the shadow of the nose and cheek do not touch, in Rembrandt lighting, they do meet which creates a little trapped triangle of light in the middle. Rembrandt lighting is more dramatic, so like split lighting it creates more mood and a darker feel to your image. To create it, the subject must turn slightly away from the light, which must be above the top of their head so that the shadow from their nose falls down towards the cheek.

Butterfly lighting is the pattern of the butterfly shaped shadow that is created under the nose by placing the main light source above and directly behind the camera. The photographer is basically shooting underneath the light source. It is a pattern most often used for glamour style shots and to create shadows under the cheeks and chin. It is also flattering for older subjects as it emphasizes wrinkles less than side lighting.

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