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Classic One-Light Portrait Photo Setup: Loop and Butterfly Lighting

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Welcome back to 'Intermediate Flash Photography'. Now that we have a solid understanding of how to create Rembrandt lighting, it's time to move on to the next two lighting patterns, loop lighting and butterfly lighting.

How To Use Loop and Butterfly Lighting Patterns in Portrait Photos

Let's start with the loop lighting. This is by far the most versatile of all the lighting patterns.

Loop Lighting

Loop lighting is flattering on just about any face. When I do corporate headshots, this is the go-to lighting setup, because just about everyone can look good under loop lighting.

Loop lighting is most easily identified by the loop of shadow that it creates just below and to the side of the subject's nose. Here are some good examples of loop lighting so that you can see how versatile loop lighting really is.

So you may be thinking that to achieve such different results from Rembrandt lighting, that the lighting setup would be very different. But in fact, you can move from Rembrandt lighting to loop lighting by simply moving your light just a few inches or having your subject turn their heads just slightly towards the key light.

Adding Diffusion

As we're set up right now, my key light is in the same position as the Rembrandt lighting setup. You'd think that to get to loop lighting we would have to make big changes to our setup, but in fact, you only have to move the light a few inches. Let me show you how that works.

What I've done is put an umbrella on our key light source because I want a softer, more flattering light. In the previous Rembrandt setup, I wanted those hard shadows, but for the next two lighting setups, we're going to be using the umbrella because it creates a larger, more diffuse, and "softer" light source.

The shadow from her nose will separate from her cheek and it will move across her face until you can't see any shadows. It's going to go on the side and underneath: it's called loop lightening because of the way that shadow loops around her nose.

We still have an illuminated side of the face, on the right side, and then we have a shadow side, on the left. Again, we're going to bring in some fill light and try and fill in a little bit of the shadows. Using a reflector, I'm going to bounce some of that light back in.

This brings a little bit of light up into her neck and under her chin, which I think is really great.

So that is loop lighting! As you can see, with a small shift and a light modifier, it gives us really beautiful lighting that's flattering to both men and women.

Butterfly Lighting

The next lighting pattern we're going to learn is butterfly lighting. Butterfly lighting is also referred to as paramount lighting or glamour lighting. The reason it's called glamour lighting is because it's the perfect lighting pattern to use on a woman's face, especially a young woman with great skin.

In fact, most ads you see for makeup will use this kind of lighting. Here's what butterfly lighting looks like:

As you can see this lighting pattern gets its name from the butterfly shaped shadow that is formed just under the nose of your subject. It's funny to me that one of the first lessons you learned as a photographer was probably the necessity to see light, and then to shape it, but as we've seen in all of these lighting patterns it's also equally important to see the shadows in your images, and to be able to work in the shadows, to really get the results you want.

So let's see how to set up this lighting pattern. Starting from where we left off with our loop lighting, we'll want to raise the light up a little bit and then we're going to move the light until it's right above Brianna's head, so we want this light to be directly in front of her.

This is our butterfly lighting position. And so as you can see, there's this cute little butterfly right here underneath Brianna's nose, and this is a very flattering light. It adds a little definition, and there are still shadows, so we can see her cheekbones are highlighted.

And again, like everything, you're going to want to read the face of your subject and figure out what the best light is going to be. There is no perfect place to put the light, because it's always going to change depending on your subject.

Variation: Clamshell Lighting

With butterfly lighting, we can get de a special kind of variation on the lighting when we use a fill light. That kind of light is called 'clamshell lighting'. It's basically the go-to lighting setup for any kind of beauty and makeup ad photography.

Bring in a reflector and instead of using our big round reflector, which won't really fit in here, use a longer, skinnier, DIY reflector card, starting with the silvery side up.

Lovely. Let's try using the white side. Bring that right up under the face and keep it right out of the frame, but getting as close as possible.

That is such good lighting. So let's see a full size photo with this clamshell setup.

That is clamshell lighting and a butterfly lighting! As you can see, it's really easy to move from Rembrandt to loop, to butterfly, and to clamshell lighting. You can move through those different setups really quickly once you get a feel for them and you know exactly where you're going.

So now we have three solid lighting patterns available to us when we're making portraits. In the next lesson, you're going to learn one more lighting pattern, and then  a couple of ways to modify the all of the patterns we've learned to bring some variety into our images.

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