Tag Archives: Split lighting

The basics of portrait light patterns

Portrait light patterns • Portrait :: A man of substance •

• A man of substance •
Portrait light patterns each have a different name This one is called the ‘short’. The main light is onto the side of the face furthest from the camera.
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Portrait lighting on the face.

Good use of lighting can flatter and enhance your subject. The way you use light on the face is called the “light pattern”. In general there are five or six main Portrait light patterns that are in use. The number varies depending on how important the speaker considers each of them.

These portrait light patterns are:

  • Portrait light patterns :: The butterfly: Soft light, light high, full on to the front of the face. The underside of the nose is slightly dark, but no triangle of shadow on the space under the nose to the top lip. Creates a broad light to the face and shows off the eyes to an advantage and tends to hollow the cheeks. Flattering for females.
  • Portrait light patterns :: The Rembrandt: Light high but off-centre (approx. 45-60 degrees). The main light only lights one side of the face. A triangle of light shows on the upper cheek on the side away from the light. Flattering for men.
  • Portrait light patterns :: The Broad: The light comes in from the side. The face is angled so the camera sees mostly one side of the face and that is lit by the key light. The shadow of the nose and the face on the other side of the nose are lit, but only softly. The nose shadow trends toward the corner of the mouth. May also be called “the loop”
  • Portrait light patterns :: Split lighting: one side of the face is lit; light at face height. The other side is in soft shadow. Technique is sometimes used as a way of preventing shadow from a hat falling on the face. Very dramatic is hard light is used.
  • Portrait light patterns :: The Short: Often used to help rounder people have slightly longer faces. The face is angled so that the shadows are on the side of the face nearest to to the camera. The lighted side is on the side furthest from the camera.
  • Portrait light patterns :: The profile: The camera sees the subject from the side. Lighting is best high, from 90 degrees (above the camera) or greater than 90 degrees so it is pointing at the back of the face. Emphasises the jaw line and nose. A “strong” male pose.

Depending on the authority, the “short” or the “profile” may not be included in the main Portrait light patterns. But they are all used at some time or other. Actually all these can pretty much fade into one another with very slight changes in the light position.

Portrait light patterns – video

In the video we see some of these Portrait light patterns shown off on a dummy. The light shown is much harder/harsher than you would normally do a portrait. This is for the purposes of demonstration. Not all of the above are in the video. You will need to watch carefully to see the characteristics of the others mentioned above.

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
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