Studio Lighting Series – Lighting Styles

This is another installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up to us for this series.

Alongside basic three point lighting and understanding light ratios in studio lighting, it’s also good to have a basic understanding of lighting styles. This subject can be a bit confusing as there are sometimes more than one term that applies to a particular style and the application of the terms are not always consistent. That’s understandable as photography is as much art as science the terminology is a little fluid. That’s really okay, it’s not worth fighting over.

There are a couple terms that it’s good to know. Lighting of the side of the face facing the camera is called the “broad” side. The part of the face not showing as much turned away from the camera, is called the “narrow” side.

rembrandt lighting
Rembrandt lighting is typified by the triangular lighting on the narrow side

The most common type of lighting, particularly for women, is called Rembrandt Lighting, named after the old painting master. Its signature quality is a triangle of light on the narrow side of the face. The effect is achieved by placing the key to the broad side of the subject and slightly elevated, the basic setup for our three point lighting demonstration.

Another common lighting technique for women is called Butterfly Lighting, sometimes also called Paramount Lighting, though it should be noted that a few consider those to be separate lighting styles.

Butterfly Lighting is achieved by moving the key closer to the camera and elevating the height, thereby producing a slightly butterfly shaped shadow under the nose.

split lighting
Hard side lighting with no fill produces Split Lighting

My personal opinion is that Butterfly Lighting works for men better than women, but it’s really just personal preference. I think men’s features are enhanced by shadows but it detracts from women. Again, personal preference.

After that come the variations. Move the key further to the side and drop the fill for Split Lighting.

Bring the key light toward the camera, move the fill slightly farther away for Loop Lighting, which gets its name from the loop-shaped shadows around the nose. Employed for oval faces to bring out more detail in the narrow side of the face.

Short Lighting is lighting from the narrow side of the face with the shadows to the broad side.

butterfly lighting
I could have moved the key higher in this example of butterfly lighting

Most of you probably noticed these lighting styles before, but may not have known they have a name. Now you can assign the proper name to the lighting style.