Portrait Lighting Patterns You Should Know For Better Photo Sessions


Lighting can make or break your photography skills. One of the first steps to becoming a great photographer is to understand how light works, how to use perfect lighting for your photo shoots, and learning to control light. Lightning plays an important role in every kind of photography, but it is crucial when it comes to portrait photography. As it is with photo assignments, you’ll be taking many different kinds of photos, portraits being one of them.

Since portraits are all about capturing the details of the subject in their best form, it is essential to understand different types of portrait lighting and techniques. If you’re looking to enhance your portrait photography skills, then we have just the techniques for you. In this blog post we’ll go over different types of lightning patterns you can use to amplify your photo shoot results!


Portrait Lighting Patterns and Techniques to Start Using Today!


Using some portrait lighting techniques and set-ups will help you to take flattering photos! These patterns can not only help beginners but also advanced photographers. It is easy to get used to your comfort zone, but trying out even one of the lightning patterns will add qualitative value to your photo shoots, and maybe, you can even use a few of those photos in your portfolio!


  1. Loop Lighting

Loop lighting is one of the best and easiest ways to take flattering portraits. This style of portrait photography refers to positioning the light at such an angle that it creates a streak of shadow that runs from the nose toward the cheek of the subject. However, this is only if you’re using a flash. But if you’re only using natural light, then you simply place the subject at an angle where the light creates the shadow leading from the nose towards the cheek.

The catch here is that the shadow of the nose should not merge with the shadow of the cheek. If that does happen, then it won’t be a loop portrait lighting pattern. Loop lighting is one of the most preferred portrait lighting patterns because, despite the shadows on the subject, it gives you an incredibly bright photo. The shadows help you to get a better photo than flat light!

Think of loop lighting photography as sculpting the face of the subjects with light. This helps you capture details, and helps you elongate the faces of your subjects. This pattern is ideal for oval-shaped faces. However, it works just as well for round or square faces! This form of pattern helps you define cheekbones.


  1. Split Lighting 

Split lighting photography is a lighting technique to take portraits where only half of the subject’s face is visible. The other half of the subject’s face is in a shadow. The name of the technique, split photography, comes from the fact that lightning is used to split the subject’s face into two halves, one lit by light and the other one with only shadows, Split lighting portraits are achieved by placing the light source exactly perpendicular to the subject’s face in such a manner that it directly illuminates only one part of the face.

Split lighting is known for creating dramatic shadows and bringing out the textures of the subject or subjects. Split lighting, unlike loop lighting patterns, gives you glamorous, assertive, and dramatic photos! This kind of portrait lighting pattern is easy to achieve with natural light as well as by using flash! All you need to do is have your model or subject stand directly in front of the light source. You can use natural sunlight to achieve this as well. Other than this, you can also use flashlights or external light sources to achieve this.

To add charm to split lightning portraits you can practice capturing catchlights. Catchlights refer to the reflection of lights in your subject or subject’s faces! Since split lightning portraits are all about capturing textures, and smaller details, catchlights make the photos appear even more dramatic. Although dark and light, where one side of the subject’s face is shrouded in shadows, is a great way to capture your subject, it can be a little too intense. If you want to capture different moods through your portraits, you can try varying the intensity of the light. Varying lighting can help you capture smoother and softer portraits.


  1. Rembrandt lighting

Rembrandt lighting is one of the oldest forms of portrait photography patterns. Dubbed a classic photography technique, Rembrandt’s lighting is perfect for capturing beautiful and wonderful portraits. This technique has survived the test of time and is one of the easiest portrait lighting techniques because it is minimal and only needs one light source. In other words, you do not need a complex setup.

This technique is known for its moody effect. The technique consists of using a dark background and using a light source to illuminate the face and only the face. Rembrandt’s lighting is all about capturing the details of the subject’s face. This technique is named after a 17th-century Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. His paintings were iconic because they’d capture the details of the face of the subject. His work was known for focusing the light on the subject’s face and making it distinct.

That said, if you master the loop lightning pattern, this will be easy. Unlike loop lightning, where the shadows of the nose should not merge with the shadows on the cheek, Rembrandt lightning is about merging the shadows but is not as intense as split lightning. Additionally, note that this form of portrait lightning pattern is easy to achieve but you’d need to use a light source you can control. Natural light is not easy to control, which is why you won’t get the results you’re looking for. Also, Rembrandt’s lightning pattern uses a dark background and shadows, but it does not hide the face of your subject. Despite the light playing on the face of your subject, these kinds of portraits will still give you a complete view of the subject’s face.


  1. Broad Lighting 

Broad lighting is the kind of lighting that allows you to capture the broader side of your subject’s face. In other words, broad lighting portrait photography refers to capturing the side of a subject’s face that is facing the camera and is lit more brightly. A broad lighting portrait pattern is used to add an illuminative effect, widening the face of the subject, and helping you add more contrast to the background. This technique helps you to add more dramatic effects to subjects with narrower faces.

To use this technique, all you need to do is place the light source, facing directly at your subject’s face, then pay attention to the shadows and lights. Because to master the technique, you will need to capture the area where the light hits better and more. You use natural sources of light or artificial light sources.


  1. Short Lightning 

The opposite of the broad light portrait photography technique is the short light portrait photography technique. It is the exact opposite because all you need to do is use the same set-up, as you would if you’re looking to capture broader areas. Once you have that, instead of capturing the broader side, capture the shorter side. In other words, capture the opposite side of the face where the light is the brightest. This will give you a softer and more dramatic portrait. It has the opposite effect compared to the broad light technique.

Note that shorter lighting means capturing more shadows and contrasts, instead of the brighter areas. This form of lighting pattern is perfect for faces that are broader or wide. The short-lighting portrait technique allows you to capture depth instead of details.


  1. Butterfly lighting 

The butterfly lighting portrait pattern, also called the paramount lightning technique, is known for its glamorous quality! Made popular thanks to Hollywood, the lightning technique allows you to focus on the best areas of your subject’s face. The thing with this photography technique is that it highlights the areas around the subject’s eyes, nose, and chin, which creates a vague form of a butterfly, hence the name.

To achieve this, you need to use only one light source. Place the light source directly in line with the camera and the subject. Keeping everything at the same level will allow you to capture the dramatic effect. However, if you feel that the shadows are too deep, then you can use a reflector to bounce the light back to the subject’s face.

What’s more, when you’re working with the lighting, you need to remember that the light should be placed at an angle, above your subject’s face. This will give you a soft glow. Also, placing the light above your subject’s face will help you to create the shadows where you want to.


Want to Capture Better Portraits? Here Are Some Creative Ways to Add to your Photo Shoot Pose List


Apart from understanding good portrait lighting and mastering lighting patterns, you’d still need creative ideas to make the most of your photo shoots. Apart from the techniques we’ve mentioned above, let’s talk about other creative ideas to use. The points above will help you to enhance your photography skills. However, apart from that, when you’re going through your assignment prep, you will consider the shots you’d take and the poses you’d have your subjects in for the best photos. And that brings us to some creative ways to help you use lighting for portraits, apart from the classic techniques we went over before.


  1. Partial Silhouettes 

One of the best ways to capture a dramatic moment is to use silhouettes. Silhouette portraits have a specific charm, and help you capture the moment’s value. The allure of such photos is that most of the photos are black or dark, and only a part of your subject or subjects is visible only because the light is hitting them. The reason why partial silhouettes are still amazing and are widely popular is that it leaves a lot of room for imagination and interpretation. Silhouette photography captures subliminal details and adds great value to the moment. If you’re trying different techniques, adding silhouettes to your roster of poses and shots to take will make your photo shoot perfect!


  1. Rim Light 

Rim light photography is perfect for capturing the details that matter to your subjects. Rim lighting has become popular in cinematography and photography because it gives you a dreamy 2-D photo. The best way to describe this form of lightning is that you place a light right behind the subject so that the light shoots from behind the subject. What’s more, the light should not bleed into the photo. It should be used to highlight the contours of the subject. The highlighting factor of such lights is what adds a dramatic and mysterious effect. You can use rim lighting in a variety of ways. You can have it turn into halo lighting, hair lights, or perhaps have a flare as well.


  1. Pockets of Lights 

Another interesting way to add more creative value to your portraits is to look for pockets of light. Although the traditional form of lighting, as we just went over, gives you a great portrait, there are more ways to capture the subjects. Pockets of lights in areas, for example in a room that has light streaming from different areas and angles, will add a natural bounce to it. And the fact that you won’t be able to control the light, would give you a very realistic photo of the subjects. Apart from this, you can also master using pockets of light for better photos if you’re going out to parks or hiking trails for photo shoots.


That said, lightning is a very crucial element of your photography skills. Practice will make you perfect and better. And knowledge of the different techniques will help you know which form of lighting pattern will work the best for your subject or subjects.

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