Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on Feb 13th, 2022

The main way to achieve the perfect photograph is to have a good understanding of portrait lighting and how it differs from other forms of lighting. This is the same for ambient or natural light as well as any artificial lighting.

You can manipulate studio lighting to achieve the most flattering results and different patterns, ratios and angles will create different effects. There are numerous setups that can help to enhance the light on your subject’s face in order to create certain looks.

Flattering lighting positions can sometimes be achieved using minimal light as well as a reflector and this makes the perfect photograph very achievable.

Butterfly Lighting

This type of lighting is perfect to create butterfly-shaped shadows that can emerge beneath the nose of your subject. The main light source should be placed directly behind your camera and angled down slightly on your subject. This lighting inherently creates a shadow under the nose, chin and cheeks.

When the subject is situated at a turned angle, it will create more dramatic shadows under your cheekbones that enhance them. The higher that the light is positioned behind you and positioned above your subject, the longer these shadows will become. This is a very flattering effect for most faces.

Loop Lighting

Loop lighting can be created by placing light just above the eye level of your subject and at an angle of 45 degrees. This will adjust the nose shadow in order to place it on one side of your face. And this will give you a small loop shadow as opposed to a butterfly.

This kind of lighting undoubtedly has a lengthening effect on anyone’s face and it is incredibly flattering when used for headshots which can be set up on either side of your subject.

A shadow will appear on the opposing side to whether the light is placed and the size of this shadow will depend on the position of the lighting and how much your nose is blocking the light.

The end of your nose will cast a loop-shaped shadow and there will also be a shadow that appears on the opposing cheek. Loop lighting can behave similarly to butterfly lighting but it is just positioned further to the side.

Rembrandt Lighting

This style of lighting was named after a Dutch painter who used this style of lighting in his work. This style of lighting is incredibly similar to loop lighting with regards to the resulting effect. In

Rembrandt, the shadow loop is large enough to connect with the cheek’s shadow and this creates a triangle of light on the cheek itself which makes the subject look wonderful.

Start with the loop lighting and continue to angle your light upwards, angled towards the side until the nose shadow and cheek shadows join. This adds an edgy style to your subject but this can be softened using a reflector, if required.

Portrait Lighting

Portrait Lighting

In order to achieve a phenomenal shot when using portrait lighting, you should always position your main light to the side of your subject at a 90 degree angle. You can then leave the far side entirely in shadow or use a fill light in order for it to appear more clearly.

If you do not want too much detail to appear on the opposite side of your face then consider using a till light in order to create catchlights in the eye area. You should always bear in mind that this particular type of lighting will enhance the texture in your subject’s space.

It is perfect for moody, stylish portraits but it may not always be the most flattering.

Fill Lighting

Contrary to what you may believe, you will be able to achieve a lot with only 1 light. However, it is also important to consider whether you also need to use a fill light. Fill lighting doesn’t necessarily need to come from another light source.

So, instead of adding an additional light as your filler, bounce your light using a reflector that can act as your fill light. In order to use this style of lighting effectively, it is really helpful to get to grips with the basics of lighting ratios.

The larger the ratio between two lights, if you choose to use two, the more contrast that there will be between the light and dark aspects of your subject.

These ratios can become fiddly and are a little technical for beginner photographers but with practice, you will be able to get to grips with the different dynamics that are created by understanding the contrasts and depths of your main light source and your fill light.

You should aim to have your first light source at a certain level of brightness and then set your fill lighting at a lower level. These levels can be measured using a light meter or by eyeballing the lights themselves and gaging the dynamics between them.

As always, experimentation is your best friend when it comes to creative portrait photography and achieving flattering results for your subject.

Broad lighting

Broad lighting is a lighting technique that can be utilized alongside one of the lighting patterns that are listed above in order to solve very specific issues. You should position your subject so that the part of their face that contains the most light is also the part of their face that is positioned closest to the camera.

This means that your subject will be positioned at a slight angle which is highly useful if your subject is wearing glasses, for instance, as this will ensure that they remain outside of the perimeters of reflection.

Broad lighting is most commonly used during headshots or school portraits for this specific reason. However, it is worth noting that this style of lighting can inherently widen the facial area.

To conclude, there are numerous styles of lighting that are helpful in ensuring that the end photograph is as flattering as possible. As a beginner photographer, experimentation is key and using the techniques that I have listed above will ensure that you are able to fully bring out the best in your subject.

You can also use these techniques in order to hone in on specific features, like if you are photographing a model who has prominent cheekbones. The butterfly lighting technique is perfect for ensuring that your subject looks at their best and it is also wholly satisfying once you have mastered the ins and outs of this method.

Above all, practice and experimentation will never lead you wrong and you should allow yourself to be as creative as possible when obtaining the right angles and seeking for the most flattering shots.

Attention to detail will always stand you in good stead in the long term as you will inevitably catch more customers and the eye of bigger brands when you are able to work your models to look their best.