GHZ - Photography - Leeds based Photographer | Lighting Patterns
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Lighting Patterns

November 14, 2014  •  3 Comments

Four Lighting Patterns

I thought it might be worthwhile blogging my set ups, both to aid my incredibly short memory and hopefully to help other shooters just about to dip their toes into lighting.

Lighting your subject at different angles can add drama or make the face appear slimmer. Some patterns suit some people more than others so learning which to use for your subject is good discipline.  Here's four basic lighting patterns to start with:-


JaniceJaniceShe's shutter speed friendly. Loop lighting with accent light on broad side. I purchased a model, Janice, to practise more complex set ups with. She's pretty quiet but stays still.

Before i start blogging my shoots I thought a post detailing the four main patterns might be helpful:-

  • Loop
  • Butterfly (or Paramount)
  • Rembrandt
  • Split

As well as the two positions - Broad & Short lighting.

Why learn lighting patterns?

People have different shape faces so it's a good idea to learn these patterns, each of which is suitable for a specific face a degree!  Similarly, learning how to use each of the patterns above is good discipline & helps improve your eye and be more aware of how light falls.  Not every portrait needs one of the above patterns though, you can just light your subject evenly, and sometimes you might be restricted by the surrounding environment.


ross,portrait,lightingJaniceLoop lighting. Lovely stuff.


There will be a background light in the examples, but you can choose to ignore this if you're just starting.  I won't be covering what flash or camera settings i used because it's irrelevant to this post, all of these shots can be achieved with flash or ambient light, just use a window and a reflector or two if you're not using strobes.  Future posts may cover how to use flash, but for now you can resort to THIS website for the basics. 

For info here's the equipment I used for the shots in this article:-

Sony a99

85mm f2.8

24-70mm f2.8

Yonguo 560ii

Cowboy studio triggers

Equipment required (if using strobes)

If you're using flash you'll need at least one light stand and preferrably a diffuser of some kind, i've used a medium size softbox for the examples.  I've kept the shadows a bit darker in the examples so they're easy to see, but you my wish to apply some fill with a reflector or strobe.


You can buy the mannequin i've used in the examples for £16 on Amazon. Perfect for practising, she never gets tired, never moves, has no requirement for food or water and is completely ego-less. If buying one try to get one with skin tones, rather than pure white or black. Janice might look like she's not seen a vegetable in years, but she's got the best skin tone i could find, plus, she has transparent eyes so you can see the catch lights (very important).  I bought the 'Scouser' wig at a pound shop (dollar store in  the US?) in Kendal. She looks like Eazy E from NWA.


Finally, the patterns..

Loop Lighting

Janice - Loop LightingLoop lightingMakes Janice look lovely.


Named so because of the loop shaped shadow this pattern casts beside the nose. Usually pointing towards the corner of the mouth. You can achieve this lighting by placing the light just above eye level at 30-40 degrees (it depends on your model).  This pattern is probably the most widely used and suits most subjects, it's also easy to set up. (I've not included one in the diagram below but i used a softbox.)


Loop LightingLoop Lighting


Butterfly (or Paramount) Lighting



Butterfly lighting casts a butterfly shape under the nose. The Key light should be directly in front of your subject facing downwards. The camera will be underneath the lights. Be careful not to create long shadows under the nose.



This pattern is often used in fashion and glamour modelling as it sculpts female models face by placing shadow under the cheekbones. It can also reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It's not used so much for people with rounder faces.  You may wish to put a reflector under the chin or add a fill light to avoid harsh shadows on the neck and under the chin.


Butterfly lightingButterfly lightingUsed mostly in fashion modelling to highlight cheeks. Often referred to as Beauty lighting. For reference of the best type of face, see my Facebook profile photo ;) .................................


Split Lighting

Placing your light source at 80-90 degrees to your subject lights one side of the face, leaving the other in shadow.  Great for artistic portraits of musicians, artists etc. Use a fill light between 35-45 degrees on the opposite side if you don't want deep shadow (depending on the ambient, i had a window at the right of the frame)

Split LightingSplit LightingDoesn't she look artistic.


It's a good idea to try and get some light to the eye on the shadow side by having your subject slightly turn their head. Keep checking the preview until you've got it right.

Split LightingSplit Lighting

Rembrandt Lighting

Named after famous artist Rolf Harris.. this pattern can add drama to a portrait.  A Rembrandt is identifiable by the triangle of light on the shadow side of the face. The triangle should be about the width of the eye and length of the nose. Position your light source 45 degrees to the subject, above eye level pointing downwards.


RembrandtRembrandtTechnically the triangle of light on the cheeky should appear on the broad side of the face. I've kept this shot face on just for simplicities sake. This pattern doesn't suit everyone, especially those with a sunken nose. Use it appropriately.


Rembrandt LightingRembrandt Lighting


Broad or Short?

In the examples and diagrams above i've purposefully kept the subject  facing the camera head on to make it simple, however, you can move your subject so they're facing different directions, or turning away and looking back at the camera. You'll need to move the lights accordingly.

Short Lighting

Short lighting, portraitureSplit lighting - Short side In short lighting the side of the face that's lit up is facing away from the camera.  Short lighting your subject tends to make the face appear slimmer.

Broad Lighting.

broad Lightingbroad Lighting


In broad lighting the light side of the face is facing towards the camera with the shadow side of the face turned away. Probably best avoided for people with larger, round faces as it tends to make the face look wider.


The patterns and two positions described in this article aren't hard and fast rules. There are never rules :)

They are amongst the most used patterns though, good old bread and butter stuff. Practise them until you know them off the cuff. You can start adding extra lights; background, hair lights etc and shooting at different angles, the possibilities are endless!


Ross, Portraiture.RossLoop lighting

If you find this post useful please comment to let me know, also, feel free to share the link. More tutorials coming up.



The diagrams really made a difference in this post! I'm happy to say I was familiar with one of the patterns, although I had forgotten about it! I may have to dig out my old head block from my hairdressing days! I don't think Janice needs to worry though...
Excellent making of tutorials
Terry Bishop(non-registered)
Thanks for this!

You've made it really simple to take in. Some tutorials make it hard to see the shadows, i know that sounds silly, buy to see examples with deeper shadows makes it really easy to see how the light falls.
I found this very useful and the comment about Rolf Harris made me laugh. Avoiding the technical aspect was good too. No need to bog the whole post down when you can do a separate one and link to the amazing strobist 101 in the mean time.
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