The Best Lighting Patterns for Portrait Photo Shoots

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This post is written and sponsored by Venture Photography.

Portrait photography is highly specific. To be successful, you need great understanding of aesthetics and the right equipment which is why many couples and families turn to professional photographers for their group photo shoots. Proper light is very important for capturing the best facial features and emotions of the person.

There are several lighting set-ups or patterns that result in the production of the most incredible portrait photographs. Loop, split, Rembrandt and butterfly lighting are all examples of appropriate patterns for portrait photography.

Loop Lighting

Loop lighting creates a rather interesting effect. It is one of the most popular set-ups in portrait photography. Loop light is suitable for people with oval-shaped faces.


The light gets positioned in a way that allows a small nose shadow to form on the cheek of the person that is being photographed. The source of light needs to be positioned above eye level, 30 to 45 degrees from the camera. Experiment with the light until you get the correct shadows. When loop lighting is used, the nose and the cheek shadow do not overlap with each other.

Split Lighting

The name explains everything about this portrait photography light set-up. The light is placed in a way that ‘splits’ the face of the person into a dark and a light half. Split lighting can be used for the creation of mysterious and very deep portraits.


Many celebrity portraits make use of split lighting. The pattern of light is mostly used for male model photography. Achieving the effect is easy – the light source should be positioned 90 degrees to the left or the right of the subject being photographed.

Rembrandt Lighting

Named after the famous painter, this type of portrait photography light set-up results in a more dramatic visual than the use of loop light. Shadows appear under the eyes of the subject and accompany the nose shadow.


Rembrandt lighting is achieved by placing the light higher and further from the subject than in the case of loop lighting set-ups. The use of Rembrandt lighting results in moody, somewhat melancholic photographs. It is perfect for a more dramatic effect and an emotional portrait.

Butterfly or Paramount Lighting

Paramount lighting is another very prominent and widely used technique. It became very popular among Hollywood photographers in the 1930s. The name stems from the butterfly-shaped shadow that appears on the face of the subject.


To achieve the effect, the photographer will have to position the camera underneath the source of light. The light should be above and slightly behind the camera. Shadows will form underneath the cheeks and the chin, which results in glamorous and very elegant photographs. Butterfly lighting is suitable for the portraits of ladies and for elegant, sophisticated pictures.

Experimenting with the lighting setups and comparing the results will help you understand the effects and the manner in which they change the portrait’s mood. Start with the basics and move on to more unusual, advanced portrait lighting techniques.

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  • David

    Thanks for this post, a really informative blog for anyone thinking of becoming a portrait photographer, or for anyone questioning if it’s worth employing a professional photographer Go for it!!

  • Dennis

    Great information for portrait photography. Subject examples of the various techniques would have been useful.

  • Chris Renton

    Very useful post – agree it would be nice to see some example photos to go with the diagrams. How about a follow up post with 2 light setups? For example, add a second light below the camera in the last butterfly setup for a nice soft ‘clamshell’ effect.