Loop lighting, which is named for the loop-shaped shadow that it creates under the nose, is the most frequently-used pattern.  It is considered to be a relatively flattering and adaptable pattern that lights most of the face while imparting a sense of depth.  It is produced by placing the main light above the face (typically 25-60 degrees) and somewhat to the right or left of the of the direction in which the face is pointing (typically 20-50 degrees). 

 Loop Lighting Pattern


This section contains examples and brief descriptions of the lighting patterns of portraiture.  There is nothing sacred about these patterns, rather they are universally acknowledged benchmarks in a continuum of possibilities.   

The lighting pattern describes a relationship between the light source and the "mask" of the face.  It has nothing to do with the position of the face relative to the camera.  As such, the lighting patterns are shown in this section as frontal views.  If the face is rotated away from the frontal view, the light source has to rotate with the face to maintain the lighting pattern. 




 Rembrandt Lighting Pattern

Rembrandt lighting is named after the famous Dutch painter of that name.   The lighting is similar to loop lighting, but with the light source moved higher and further left or right of the face.  It creates a strong pattern characterized by a small triangle of light that appears under the eye on the shadow side of the face, along with a nose shadow that nearly extends to the corner of the mouth.  This is not an all-purpose lighting and is probably best reserved for character studies and moody fashion work.

Split Lighting Pattern



Split lighting, though not usually considered a general-purpose lighting, can be quite useful.  With split lighting, half of the face is lighted and the other half is in shadow.  It is produced by placing the lighting source to the right or left of the direction in which the subject is facing (typically 90-120 degrees),  with the lighting unit at or slightly above face level.  Split lighting is useful for narrowing the face and for cloaking facial imperfections in shadow. 









As mentioned above, the lighting patterns are defined relative to the frontal view of the face.  Another set of terms are used to describe the light and subject's facial position relative to the camera.  


 Short Lighting Example

Lighting is said to be short when the light source illuminates the side of the head not visible to the camera.  A rather typical example of short lighting is shown to the left.  In this example, the main light was placed to the left of the camera and illuminates the side of the head away from the camera, while also illuminating the face with the loop pattern. 

A more extreme example of short lighting is shown in the profile view image to the below.  The loop lighting pattern was used in this example, though that is not terribly obvious from the camera position.  

The short-lighting position is probably the most commonly used position.  It works well with a variety of faces and is often mentioned as the choice for narrowing the face.   




 Profile View Using Short Lighting




Broad Lighting Example


Lighting is said to be broad when the light source illuminates the side of the head visible to the camera.  An example of broad lighting is shown to the left.  For this example, the main light was placed to the right of the camera and illuminates the side of the head facing the camera; a Rembrandt pattern is cast on the face. 

The broad-lighting position is very useful, but not so popular as the short position.  It is often said that broad lighting makes a face look fuller, as it illuminates  both the side and front of the face.  I'm not sure this is nearly as true as it sounds.  With appropriate positioning of the face, broad lighting can be used to either broaden or  narrow the apparent width of the face.  Broad lighting is also useful for eliminating eyeglass glare, as the direct reflections from the light source are directed away from the camera. 






 Butterfly Lighting Pattern

Butterfly lighting, also known as Paramount lighting, became a staple pattern for the Hollywood photographers of the 1930s.   This lighting is characterized by the butterfly-shaped shadow that it casts below the nose.  The butterfly  pattern can be quite useful for a variety of faces, but is at its best on lean subjects with high and pronounced cheekbones.  It is produced by placing the light source above the face (typically 25-70 degrees) and in line with the direction in which the face is pointing.



Lighting is said to be frontal when the light source, camera, and subject are all aligned on the same lateral axis.  Frontal lighting illuminates the front of the face and, depending on the size of the light source,  the sides to differing degrees.  As frontal lighting does not rake across the face, it is not particularly good at imparting contour and depth.  A frontal source that is positioned at a fairly shallow angle above the camera can minimize the appearance of winkles and lines.   The butterfly pattern image on this page was created with frontal lighting.