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This post was most recently updated on January 8th, 2023

Loop lighting is a technique where you light a subject from behind using multiple lights. This creates a soft glow around the subject.

Loop lighting is a great way to create beautiful images. The technique has been used for years in Hollywood movies and is also popular with photographers.

If you want to learn more about loop lighting then keep reading. We have put together this useful guide to tell you the benefits of loop lighting, how to set it up and how to use it.

What Is Loop Lighting?

Loop lighting is a type of lighting that is often used for portraits. The subject of the portrait is lit from in front and above at an approximate 45 degree angle.

The face is well lit, but with a circular shadow across their nose and cheek, that extends to the jaw and under the chin. By lighting the subject of the portrait at an angle it creates an interesting effect that is very flattering.

The lighting is soft rather than harsh and the shadows do not mask too much of the face.

How To Setup Loop Lighting

The setup for loop lighting is not difficult, and once you have mastered you will have an easy way to create excellent portraits. Using loop lighting is more interesting than using flat lighting, but not as dramatic as Rembrandt lighting.

As mentioned above, the lighting is placed both above and in front of the subject at a 45 degree angle. The light should be placed above the eye line of the subject so that the shadow falls on their nose and cheek.

Place the light on the opposite side of the face to where you want the shadow.  This is the most flattering way to illuminate their face whilst creating enough shadow so that their face does not look flat.

It is similar to the setup of butterfly lighting, but a little lower and to the side.

The great thing about loop lighting is that you can use any kind of lighting equipment to achieve it. A continuous light source works best, but this could be natural light, a flashlight, an LED light, a light softened by a gauze sheet.

You can also use different colored lights. You can use speed-lighting or strobes, but it is a bit more tricky.

Once you have your lighting in the basic position, put your subject in position and take a bit of time to make minor adjustments until you are happy with the position of the shadow.

Each face is different and the angle and contours of the nose and cheekbones will have an affect on where the shadows fall.

What Is Loop Lighting? (Definition, Techniques, Setup, And Use)

Techniques and Tips

Placing the light approximately one foot above the head of your subject will create an angle that is approximately degrees. From here you can shift it higher or lower, as the exact angle you need will depend on your subject and on the effect that you want to create.

You should have a go at experimenting with different types of light to see what you prefer. Softer, diffused lighting lighting is quite flattering and will create a shadow that is less sharp.

If the light is brighter or more vivid then the shadow will be sharper, but the face will be illuminated more harshly. This will create a more dramatic effect so it depends on what you are going for.

You can also use a reflector to soften harsh shadows by reflecting light onto the side of the face that is in darkness. A second, smaller light on the other side of your main light will make the lighting more even, but not the same as flat lighting.

If you want to light up the background then use a flash, or put a flash behind your subject to bring more light from a different angle. Using different combinations of lighting and reflectors will create different visual effects for your loop lighting picture.

You can adjust the size of the shadow depending on the face shape of the subject and what you are trying to achieve. Smaller shadows work best as you can still see most of the subject’s face. A downward angle will lengthen the shape of the subject’s face.

Loop lighting is flattering for most face shapes, but it is particularly good for oval faces. It provides more definition by heightening the cheek bones to make the face appear slimmer and elongated.

How To Create Loop Lighting With Natural Light

With an artificial light source, you move the light around the subject. If you are using a natural light source then you will need to move the subject around the light. If you are using the sun, you need to find the right time of day.

Sunrise and Sunset are not ideal for loop lighting as the sun changes position quickly, and the sun is often too low in the sky to get the right angles. At midday, the sun is too high.

You might find it easier to take the photograph indoors, but use a window or an open door as your light source. You can move the subject around the room to find the right angle.

Remember that the height of the window or the width of the door will make a difference to the angle of the light as well.

What Other Types Of Lighting Can You Use?

Other popular types of lighting for portraits include butterfly lighting, flat lighting, split lighting, Rembrandt lighting, broad lighting, and short lighting.

Each one creates a different effect and gives the portrait a different mood, so which one you choose depends on what look you are trying to achieve.

If you are creating a portrait for a paying customer then it would be a good idea to show them some example photographs with the lighting so they know what to expect and which lighting they would prefer.


Now that you know how to set up loop lighting you can try it out for your next portrait photoshoot and see what you think.