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Portrait Lighting - Names for different portrait lighting set-ups in photography

Portrait Lighting set-ups

There are basically five commonly excepted portrait lighting setups in photography.  These portrait lighting setup are based on the placement of the main light, relative to the subject and camera.

Out of the five types of portrait lighting set-ups, three are related to both subject AND camera position.  In most portrait situations, the subject will be pointing his(or her)  nose to one side of the camera or the other.  This will mean that the camera will see more of one side of the face than the other.  Lets call the more exposed side of the face, the broad side of the face and the less exposed side of the face the short side. 

rembrandt portrait lighting

Here's an example of Rembrandt Lighting

portrait lighting illustration 1
Broad Portrait Lighting – Broad portrait lighting is when the main light is illuminating the broad side of the face and the shadow from the nose is being cast onto the short side of the face.  In other words, broad lighting is when the more exposed side of the face is facing toward the main light. Another way of thinking of this is to say that the nose is NOT facing toward the same side of the camera that this light is coming from. 
Broad portrait lighting
broad portrait lighting closeup

portrait lighting illustration 2
Short Portrait Lighting – Short lighting is just the opposite.  Short portrait lighting is when the main light is coming from the short side of the subject and the broad side of the face is more in shadow.  In other words…  If the subject’s nose is facing left and the light is coming from that same side.

* Notice how the patch of light is on the "large side of the face.

short portrait lighting
short portrait lighting closeup

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Rembrandt Portrait Lighting – Rembrandt lighting is a name given to the lighting effect that the old master used to use for the lighting effects in many of his paintings.  It’s basically short lighting where the shadow from the nose connects with the shadow on the side of the face, thus creating a triangle of light on the short side of the face.  If the nose shadow does not connect with the cheek shadow, it’s not considered to be Rembrandt lighting, just short lighting.

portrait lighting sample rembrandt
Portrait lighitng rembrandt closeup

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Split Portrait Lighting – In Broad, Short and Rembrandt lighting, there will be a patch of light cast onto the shadow side of the face.  If the main light is placed so far off to the side of the subject that the patch disappears and only half the face is lit, then it is considered to be “Split” portrait lighting.  With split lighting, it rally doesn’t matter to which side of the camera the nose is pointing or if the lit or shadow side of the face is facing toward the camera.  Either of these situations would be considered split portrait lighting.
split portrait lighting
split portrait lighting closeup

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Butterfly Portrait lighting – Butterfly lighting is named that because of the shape of the shadow created directly beneath the nose.  When the nose is pointing in the direction of the light, wherever it may be, and the light is high enough to cast a downward shadow, you end up with butterfly portrait lighting.
butterfly portrait lighting
butterfly portrait lighting closup
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butterfly portrait lighting 2
butterfly portrait lighting 2 closeup

Portrait lighting on the vertical axis – When most portrait photographers discuss portrait lighting, they talk about the lighting set-ups mentioned above.  One subject that seldom gets talked about is lighting on a vertical axis.   How high should you position the light? 

There is no concrete answer to that.  It all will depend on the specific subject.  Again, photography is an art form and different artists will select different light positions.  For me, I try to get the light as high as I can without casting a shadow from the eye socket onto the eye.  I like to see both eyes lit. (except for split lighting)  this lighting position will be different with each individual.  Some people have deeper eye sockets than others.  Some people look Asian –like and some look like Neanderthals.  With Neanderthals,  I simply lower the light until  I see those baby browns.  If the subject is “normal”, whatever that is, I like to raise the light to a point that the nose shadow is cast nicely downwards.  I just think it looks a little weird to see the shadow from the nose cast horizontally across the cheek.  God made the light come from above and I think that most people like it that way and are used to seeing it that way. 

Unless you’re going for that Halloween look, the light should probably come from as far “above” and still give you detail.  That’s why I like to see both eyes lit.  It’s about the detail.  Eyes are important detail, the doors to the soul, and all that.  If you loose the eye, you loose some detail.  There are times, for the sake of drama, that I place the eye in shadow, but it’s not all that often.