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What are the different Studio lighting techniques for great Portraits?

There are several portrait lighting techniques that photographers use to create different moods and styles in their images. Here are some of the most common ones.

Rembrandt | Split | Loop | Butterfly | Broad | Short

Rembrandt Lighting

This lighting technique is named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this style in his paintings. It involves placing the key light at a 45-degree angle to the subject, creating a triangle of light on the opposite cheek. It is essentially the shadow of the nose combining with the darker side of the face to reveal the illuminated triangular shape.



Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna




Split Lighting

This lighting technique involves placing the key light at a 90-degree angle to the subject, so that half of the face is lit and the other half is in shadow. This creates a dramatic effect that is often used in film noir or other dramatic styles.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Split lighting is very often used to create dramatic effects especially for men but is used for women as well. It completely depends on the photographer as to how defined this split is. A hard light will create more contrast with the other side completely dark but soft light, being a larger light source will spill on to the other side and the difference between the bright and the dark side wont be much. One can also use a fill in light or a reflector on the other side to reduce the contrast.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

The light is positioned in such a manner that the face and the body is split. the objective here is to highlight and enhance the detail in the Lingerie which is white.

Loop Lighting

This technique involves placing the key light slightly above and to the side of the subject's face, creating a small shadow under the nose. It's a flattering lighting style that can be used for many different types of portraits.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

If the shadow of the nose blends with the darker side of the face, the lighting will become Rembrandt lighting instead of Loop lighting.


Butterfly Lighting

This technique involves placing the key light directly in front of the subject and above the camera, creating a small shadow under the nose. It's called butterfly lighting because the shadow under the nose resembles the shape of a butterfly.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Higher the light is, more is the shadow under the nose. It's one of the most symmetrical and uniform lighting which does not enhance the Skin texture as such and highlights the cheek bones. This is the lighting mostly used on Models, that's why it's also known as "Beauty lighting". Since its higher and closer to the camera axis, it's quite flat and hence does not highlight any imperfections.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

The light should be positioned in such a way that it is high enough yet does not throw the eyes in complete shadow. You can try different positions for the light as a slight shift can make a lot of difference depending on the eyes of the person. Some people have deep set eyes in comparison to the forehead where as with many people the level is quite uniform.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Softer the light is softer the shadow under the nose is. Further it can be reduced by adding a reflector or a fill light. Of course some bit of retouching also helps in the digital age. beauty shots especially when commission by a SPA, require a clean look which is why a neat white background was positioned behind the model with bare shoulders and simple yet effective Butterfly lighting supported by a reflector underneath to cover any shadows.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna


Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Such shots need to be more dramatic and a Grid with Honeycomb was used as a light modifier which has created a hard pool of light. This also helped show the candles better as that area is relatively a bit dark.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Even though it is "Butterfly lighting", the camera angle is not conventional and a rather lower viewpoint was used

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Although a very Symmettrically lit portrait, it is not always possible to retain the "Butterfly" shadow symmetrically right under the nose. And it is not really important and relevant to do so as the overall mood created by the light is far more important than to be particular about such small nuances.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Since the Model has deep set eyes, they are mostly dark but that is contributing to the overall effect created by "Butterfly" lighting.


Broad Lighting

This lighting technique involves positioning the subject's face so that the side facing the camera is fully lit by the key light. It can create a more dramatic effect and is often used for male portraits.


Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna



Short Lighting

This technique involves positioning the subject's face so that the side facing away from the camera is fully lit by the key light. It can create a more intimate and flattering effect and is often used for female portraits.

Learn Studio lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Photography lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Photography lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Photography lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Munish Khanna

Learn Photography lighting techniques by Munish Khanna

Photography - Together We Rock

Photography - Munish Khanna

The lighting here being "Short lighting" gives a more lean look, even though it's an out door shot, a flash was used to create Short lighting while still keeping it subtle.


There are many other lighting techniques and variations that photographers can use, depending on the desired effect and the specific conditions of the shoot. It's important to have a good understanding of lighting principles and to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for each individual subject and situation. When you shoot, you do not strictly follow the defined rules which define them as "Butterfly", "Short", "Broad" and so on but work on the principle that the lighting should work and compliments the subject in a positive manner. You should be able to tweak your lighting quickly as you see through the viewfinder or in fact even change your own viewpoint so that the lighting works better for you. Its actually a good practice to move around and observe your subject from different angles. From one position, it will be Broad lighting where as from the other position it would be Short lighting and you can always pick up the one which compliments your subject better.




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