Lighting Patterns for Painterly Studio Portraits
What they are and how to create them.
Lighting is a crucial aspect of my painterly photography style and can make or break a shot. As a photographer and composite artist, it is essential to understand the different lighting patterns and how they affect the subject. In this blog, we’ll discuss three of the most commonly used lighting patterns in my painterly images: Butterfly lighting, Loop lighting, and Rembrandt lighting.
Before we dive into these three light patterns that I use most regularly, let’s talk about equipment choices. In my studio, I use strobes by Paul C. Buff along with a variety of modifiers. I generally use an Einstein for my main light source with a PLM (parabolic light modifier) or rectangular soft box as the modifiers. If I use a kicker or rim light, I use an Alien Bee 800 with a long rectangular soft box for the modifier. I also use one or two V-flats often to create subtle fill or negative fill depending on the lighting scenario.
Now let’s dive into these light patterns!
Butterfly lighting is a lighting pattern that creates a shadow in the shape of a butterfly under the subject’s nose. It is named after this shadow, which resembles the wings of a butterfly, although I tend to have softer shadows with my modifiers so it looks less “butterfly like” under the nose. Another name used for this type of lighting is Paramount lighting, named after the famous signature glam look of movie stars in Paramount Pictures movie studios in the 1930’s. Butterfly lighting is often used to highlight the cheekbones and create a beauty effect.
To create butterfly lighting, place the main light source above the subject, ensuring that it is angled down towards at about a 45 degree angle to the subject. This lighting pattern works best with a soft box, PLM or beauty dish as the main light source, as it creates a soft, diffused light that wraps around the face and helps to minimize harsh shadows.
Loop lighting is a lighting pattern that creates a small loop-shaped shadow on one side of the subject’s face around the nostril farthest away from the main light. It is a balanced lighting pattern that I use for most of my portraits. To create loop lighting, place the main light source 45 degrees to the side of the subject and slightly above eye level, angling down at a 45 degree angle towards the subject. This lighting pattern is great for creating a more natural look, as it helps to highlight the subject’s features and minimize harsh shadows. Loop lighting works best with a soft box, umbrella or PLM as the main light source, as it creates a soft, diffused light that wraps around the face and is flattering on most every subject.
Rembrandt lighting is a classic lighting pattern that creates a small triangle of light on one side of the subject’s face. This lighting pattern is named after the Dutch master painter Rembrandt, who was famous for using this lighting technique in his portraits. Rembrandt lighting is often used to create a more dramatic effect and I typically use it for a more moody look in my portraits.
To create Rembrandt lighting, place the main light source 45 degrees to the side of the subject and slightly above eye level and bring the light back slightly towards the backdrop until a triangle highlight is achieved on the cheek opposite of the main light source. I generally use a V-flat on the white side for fill, but when trying to create a dramatic look, I like to use the black side of the V-flat opposite the main light. This lighting pattern works best with a soft box or beauty dish as the main light source for added drama.
Understanding and implementing different lighting patterns is essential for any photographer. It can help tell your client’s story and bring to life the mood you want to create for your session. Butterfly lighting, Loop lighting, and Rembrandt lighting are just three of the most commonly used lighting patterns that I use for my painterly portraits and can be used to create a wide range of effects. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, taking the time to experiment with different lighting patterns can help you to improve your skills and create stunning portraits.
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