If you want to capture complementary portraits , then you must master light. Fortunately, this is pretty easy, thanks to lighting patterns – that is, simple portrait lights setups you can consistently use for nice-looking images.
In fact , portrait illumination patterns are great for beginners and advanced shooters alike; as an experienced portrait photographer, I personally use these patterns all the time in my own work.
Below, I share six useful photography lighting techniques that every portrait artist ought to know. I also include lighting diagrams, so you know exactly how in order to replicate the pattern in your studio.
Are you ready to take your family portrait shots to the next level? Let’s get started.
one Split lighting
Split lighting looks the way it sounds; it splits the face into equal halves, such as this:
As this half-shadow effect is pretty spectacular, especially when the light is hard, it is often used to create moody shots of musicians and artists.
To obtain split lighting, simply put the light source 90 degrees to the left or right of the subject (you can even move it slightly behind their head). In true split light, the only part of the “shadowed” encounter that should be lit is the eye (as shown in the photograph above). Here is the simple divided lighting diagram, though remember that you can always spruce up a split-lit image with fill lights, rim lights, and background lights:
Also, make sure at least one of your subject’s eyes contains a
2 . Loop lighting
Cycle lighting positions a small shadow from the subject’s nose throughout their cheek. Look at the photo below; see how the nose shadow falls slightly towards the right of the nostril?
Loop lighting is probably the most common light pattern you’ll encounter in portrait photography. Why? It’s easy to create, plus it highlights most people! That’s why some photographers consider it the absolute greatest lighting for portraits (especially if you’re a beginner).
Note that, in cycle lighting, the shadow of the nose and the shadow on the cheek usually do not touch . That’s another lighting pattern, as I talk about in the next section. Instead, maintain the shadow small and pointing slightly downward (though do not put the light source too high; otherwise, you’ll create odd shadows and lose the primary catchlights). Here’s another instance, with a soft shadow falling to the right of the viewer:
To create loop lighting, place the source of light slightly above eye degree and about 30-45 degrees from you. The exact angle depends on the person’s face, so feel free to switch on your modeling lamp (if your light has one) or take several photos with the strobe positioned in various places. Over time, you’ll get good at reading people’s faces, and you’ll be able to identify the ideal loop-light position from the get-go.
The plan below models the illumination conditions for the couple image I’ve shared above:
Note that the particular black backdrop represents the financial institution of trees behind the particular subjects. The sun is coming over the trees, and I’ve placed a white reflector at camera left to bounce light back into the particular subjects’ faces. In a standard studio setup, you would position a strobe instead of the reflector, though in this situation – with the natural light from the sunlight – a reflector works just fine!
Please remember: Your light should be slightly above the subject’s eyesight level. Beginners mess this up a lot by putting the light down low and angled upward. That lamps the bottom of your subject’s nose, and the result isn’t therefore flattering.
3. Rembrandt lighting
Rembrandt lighting gets its name from the 17th-century artist Rembrandt, who used it in his painted portraits. It’s identified by a clear triangle of light on the subject’s cheek, like this:
Note that the shadow of the nose and the cheek do meet, which produces that little triangle; this really is different from loop lighting, where the shadows shouldn’t touch. Also note that Rembrandt lighting much more dramatic than loop lighting, so use it for moodier portrait sessions and not for standard family photoshoots.
To create Rembrandt lighting, place the light off to the subject’s side, and enquire your subject to turn somewhat away from the light. The light must be above their head so the nose shadow falls down toward the cheek. Here is a Rembrandt lighting plan, with a window instead of a strobe (though you can, of course , use any type of light source):
Not every man or woman face is ideal for creating Rembrandt lighting. If they have high or prominent cheek bones, it’ll probably work – in case they have a small nose or even flat nose bridge, it could be difficult to achieve.
Keep in mind that you don’t always need to create this particular pattern exactly ; as long as your issue is flattered and you have the mood you’re after, then the light is working.
4. Butterfly illumination
Butterfly lighting is named for the butterfly-shaped shadow which is created under the nose, like this:
The end result is a very glamorous photo, with shadows under the cheeks plus chin, so you’ll often find it in fashion magazines plus shots of movie stars. Additionally it is flattering for older topics as it deemphasizes wrinkles, along with slim-faced subjects (whereas subjects with round, wide face look better with loop lighting or split lighting).
Butterfly light is super simple to create. Just place the light source directly behind the camera and slightly above eye or even head level of the subject:
If the darkness under the nose is too solid, you can place a reflector directly under the chin (your issue can hold it, if need be).
This pattern is tough to create using only window gentle or a reflector. You’ll often need a hard light source – such as the sun or an adobe flash – to produce the more defined shadow under the nose.
5. Broad lighting
Technically, broad lighting isn’t a portrait lighting pattern ; it’s a family portrait lighting design , which you can use with loop lighting, Rembrandt lighting, or split lighting. However , it is an useful lighting setup that’s often grouped with the patterns discussed above, and I certainly recommend you master it.
You get broad lighting when the subject’s encounter is slightly turned far from the camera, and the side of the face turned toward the camera is lighted by the light, like this:
This type of light makes a person’s face appearance broader or wider (hence the broad lighting moniker) and works well when photographing subjects with very thin faces. But most people wish to look slimmer, not wider, so this type of lighting may not be appropriate for someone who is certainly heavier or round faced.
To create wide lighting, turn the face away from the light source, as shown in the diagram below. Discover how the side of the encounter nearer to the camera receives light, while the far aspect of the face remains within shadow.
6. Short lights
Short illumination is the opposite of broad lighting; the side of the face turned toward the camera is shrouded in darkness, while the side of the face turned away from the camera is brightened.
It’s a helpful lighting pattern for more dark, moodier, and even low-key portraits . Note that short lighting puts more of the face in shadow, is more sculpting, adds 3D characteristics, and is very slimming plus flattering for most people.
To create short lighting, inquire your subject to turn somewhat toward the light source, so the shadows fall on the side from the face closer to the digital camera:
Family portrait lighting setups: putting it all together
As soon as you can quickly create each of the various lighting patterns, you can start to understand when to apply them inside your portrait sessions. You’ll ultimately be able to determine the best portrait lighting simply by studying your subject’s face. And you will see, over time, how different lighting patterns change the mood of the final shot.
Technically, you can create these types of setups with any type of light: window light, natural light, speedlights, continuous lights, or strobes. But note that it’s much easier to change the lighting pattern whenever you can move the light source, so it pays to begin with a transportable studio light.
(Though if you can’t move the light source, you can always ask your subject to rotate in relation to the light. )
Portrait photography lights patterns: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re well outfitted to create beautiful portraits. Basically practice the lighting ideas I’ve shared, learn to quickly form each lighting set up, and you’ll be good to look!
Now to you:
Which of these lighting patterns is your favorite? Which design do you plan to use in the next photoshoot? Share your thoughts in the comments below!