Butterfly Lighting in Photography (Capture Stunning Portraits)

Butterfly Light in Photography (Capture Spectacular Portraits)

butterfly lighting in portrait photography

What is butterfly lighting, and how can you use it for complementary portraits ?

In this article, I actually aim to share everything you need to learn for beautiful butterfly lighting setups, including:

  • When you should (and shouldn’t) use butterfly light
  • Necessary butterfly lighting equipment
  • A step-by-step method to build a simple butterfly setup
  • Advanced methods of altering your setup for better still results

So if you’re ready to get started with this gorgeous lighting technique, then let’s dive correct in.

What exactly is butterfly lighting?

Butterfly lighting, also known as glamour lighting and paramount illumination, is a basic portrait photography lighting pattern . It produces the characteristic butterfly-shaped shadow under the subject’s nose, hence the butterfly moniker.

butterfly lighting example in photography

Note that butterfly illumination differs from loop light, where the nose shadow drops onto the subject’s quarter, and Rembrandt illumination , where the shadows develop a triangle under one eyes. Butterfly lighting is a form of direct lighting; the light source comes from directly in front of the issue for a powerful, dramatic appearance.

When in the event you use butterfly lighting?

Butterfly lighting is ideal for formal portrait sessions. You can even use butterfly lighting for the purpose of fashion portraits.

Because butterfly lighting has a tendency to give the face a leaner, sharper look, I’d recommend avoiding it when carrying out children sessions, family sessions, and engagement sessions. Rather, look to other portrait lighting patterns (such as cycle lighting, mentioned above).

How to do butterfly lighting: the two-step procedure

Fortunately, whilst butterfly lighting looks amazing , it’s actually very easy to achieve. You will need a light of some sort (I recommend speedlights plus studio strobes, though you can use a continuous light, too), a light stand, and generally a reflector, though the latter is optional.

Step 1 : Position the light directly before your subject

Butterfly lighting begins with your light pointed directly at the subject (so the light supports toward your subject’s nose).

Set the sunshine on a lighting stand, and raise it up above your subject until it gets to a 45-degree angle (or thereabouts).

You are free to fiddle with the height, but you’ll need enough space to get your camera under the light, and you’ll likewise require the light high enough to create a beautiful butterfly shadow.  

Take a test shot. You don’t have to pay attention to the overall exposure; just make sure you have the right shadow form. Then continue to the next step…

Step 2: Add in a reflector

At this point, you should have the basic butterfly look (simple, right? ), but it generally pays in order to slightly decrease the intensity.  

I’d recommend adding a reflector under your subject’s chin. The particular closer the reflector is to the subject, the softer the particular butterfly shadow will appear – so look through your viewfinder and do some test shots until you get the look you are after.  

man with butterfly shadow under the nose

If you want even more control, you can use a second light instead of a reflector. Make sure the lighting is several stops less strong than the main light (after all, you don’t wish to cancel out the shadow totally, or worse, send it upward! ).

Pro tip: Check the subject’s eyes for a nice catchlight or two. If the main light or the reflector/fill lighting is positioned too high or lower, you can lose the catchlight (which lends your portrait a sense of lifetime ).

Also, remember: You need to fit your camera between the upper light and the lower reflector. Before you move ahead with your set up, make sure you can shoot comfortably from between the two items.

Finally, you will need to expose carefully for your shot. I’d suggest phone dialing in your shutter speed , ISO , and aperture ahead of time, then relying on the flash power to adjust brightness; consider using a handheld lighting meter to accurately determine the proper exposure variables. Don’t be afraid to take multiple check shots, especially when starting out. Tethering can be a big help; it’ll allow you to view your images on a huge computer monitor so you find out exactly what to tweak in advance.

Modifying your own butterfly lighting setup for the best results

While the basic butterfly lighting pattern is great, and it can definitely get you plenty of pro-level photos, it’s always good to change and enhance your setups pertaining to uniquely outstanding results.  

woman headshot with butterfly lighting

Here are a few tips for more advanced butterfly illumination:

1 . Include lighting modifiers

You can do butterfly lighting using a bare strobe or speedlight, but if you’d like to develop more flattering results, I’d recommend adding a modifier to your light source.  

Beauty meals are a great place to begin, as they soften the light whilst keeping it directional for this nice glamour look.  

If you’re after an even softer, ethereal look, consider using a softbox rather than a beauty dish. The larger the softbox, the softer the light (so if softness is your thing, try a 6+ foot octabox)!

And by moving the light closer to the topic, you can increase softness (on the other hand, moving the sunshine farther back will increase light hardness and shadow intensity).

2 . Add a background

If you’re after an ultra-professional seem, I’d suggest including a background in your shot – one that you light individually from the model.

You can hand paint your own backdrops, you can use sheets associated with white paper, you can find naturally stunning backdrops, or you can buy large fabric and/or papers backdrops online.  

Another option is by using a sheet of grey paper, then add in different history files using Photoshop.  

In general, it is best to light your history independently of your main subject matter. So first aim to produce a low-key image of your issue – where the background fades completely to black. Then put a light on the backdrop with enough power to make an artistic ring behind the subject.

(you actually may want to put the light directly behind the subject so that it evenly lights the background; alternatively, you may use two lights positioned just outside the frame on either side. )

3. Add a rim gentle

The best portraits tend to contain separation between the subject and the background. Basically, you can clearly see in which the subject ends and the background begins.

That’s where casing lighting comes in: It lights the edge of the subject, so that there’s a clear difference between the beautiful background and your stately subject.

Note that the rim light will simply add for your butterfly setup. You will not need to do any adjustments to the main pattern, and I’d recommend you achieve all the necessary butterfly elements before attempting a rim lighting.

Position your own rim light behind your subject and off to the side, so it’s sculpting your own subject from the back. You are able to technically do this a second time – on the opposite part – but one edge light is generally enough.

Then take quite a few test shots, experimenting with different rim light exposure values and positions. Ideally, you’ll achieve a very slight casing along the back of your subject matter.

Butterfly light in portrait photography: last words

woman butterfly lighting headshot

Butterfly lighting is a spectacular portrait pattern – plus it’s super easy to achieve.  

So follow the instructions from this article. Test out different lighting modifiers and positions. And have plenty of fun!

Now to you:

Have you tried butterfly lighting before? How do you plan to get it done this time? Share your thoughts within the comments below!

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