Portrait Lighting (2)

Portrait Lighting:
Traditional Lighting Styles

Learn about the four traditional portrait lighting styles: Broad, Short, Butterfly and Rembrandt. Make sure you familiarize yourself with lighting basics first.

Choosing Your Lighting Style

Do you light from the same side of the face as the camera, or the other side? Should the light be high or low? Each of the photography lighting techniques described below has the key light positioned differently.

Portrait Photography Lighting Techniques I: Broad Lighting


Watch out when using broad lighting. If the subject’s head is turned too far away from the light, you’ll expose the ear to the camera, and it will usually stand out against the background – an effect you don’t want.

Broad portrait lighting
An example of Broad lighting
© Ron Liao

When the key light is coming from the same side as your camera, we refer to this as “broad” lighting (you are lighting the broader side of the face). Since more of the face is in light, the face appears fuller. This will fill out a narrow face, and de-emphasize irregularities.

Portrait Photography Lighting Techniques II: Short Lighting

Short portrait lighting
An example of Short lighting
© Ron Liao

When the key light comes from the side further from the camera, this is called “short lighting” (lighting from the short side of face). Here, the shadow of the nose is cast onto broad side of face. Since a smaller portion of the face is lit, it has a slimming effect, and is useful for lighting round faces. It is sometimes called “narrow lighting.”

Portrait Photography Lighting Techniques III: Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly portrait lighting
An example of Butterfly lighting
© Ron Liao

With butterfly lighting, the light comes from the front, but high up. The light should be at a height to create a shadow just under, and in line with the nose. It’s best used with women who have an oval face, and gives a “glamour” look to the portrait. It’s best to avoid this style of lighting for men, since it can light up the ears – something to be avoided.

Portrait Photography Lighting Techniques IV: Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt portrait lighting
An example of Rembrandt lighting
© Ron Laio

Reminiscent of the lighting that Rembrandt used when painting his models, this technique combines butterfly and short lighting by placing the light high, and on side of the face away from the camera. This lights up a triangle-shaped area on the cheek closest to the camera, with the lower point not below the nose level. Since the lower portion of the face is more shadowed, this foreshortens the face, making it a good technique to use on a subject with a very long face.

You may want to review portrait lighting: part 1.

Or you may want to learn about compositionnext.