Friday, July 24, 2015

Follow Sarah: Lighting Patterns

In an earlier blog post we covered the very basics of light and the qualities we need to pay attention to when choosing what kind of light we want to use to light a subject. With this post I want to go a bit more in depth with lighting and how to achieve what kind of light quality and light pattern you want. Before you ever start shooting you need to plan out what kind of light you want to use and why. What quantity, quality and direction you want in order to achieve the effect you want.

Remember that every light pattern can be made with soft or hard light in high or low key.

Important term to know:

Light Ratio: describes the difference in QUANTITY between the lit and the shadowed side of the face. A high ratio will be a very bright light and very dark shadows.

Standard Light Patterns:

Over the years, portraitists have used light to define their subjects and create mood. Those patterns can define bone structure, show or diminish texture, and flatter (or not) features. These are the most common light patterns used. Most (if not all) can be done in studio or with natural light, though natural light will often need modification or possibly another light source as fill.

Keep in mind that all of these light patterns can be accomplished with hard or soft light and modifiers can be added.

Most of these patterns can be split into 2 categories: Broad light and short light

1. Broad 
Broad light is when the key light covers the side of the subjects face that is facing the camera and falls into shadow on the off camera side of the face. Broad light tends to make the face appear wider.

2. Short
Short light is when the key light is directed at the far side of the subjects face so that the shadow begins to fall on the camera side of the face. This light pattern is slimming to the face.

yes, that is a minion on my couch

3. Butterfly 

Butterfly lighting is a beauty light pattern that is created with a key light at 45 degrees or more above the subjects face and on axis with the camera. This light creates a shadow beneath the subjects nose that is shaped a like a butterfly. This light pattern will give shadows beneath the brow bones and cheek bones so that the structure of the face is clear. This style was epitomized in old Hollywood Glamour photographs.

yes, that is a bra strap holding my remote to the light stand.

4. Clam shell

Clam shell is a modification of Butterfly lighting and aims to give an even, flattering light and showcase features with minimal shadows in order to keep features soft and minimize skin detail. In this light pattern, the key light comes from just slightly above the subject and a second (fill) light or reflector is just below the subjects face in order to fill in the shadows caused by the direction of the key light.

 *notice how the shadows under the nose, chin and lips are much lighter?

5. Rembrandt*

Rembrandt light, named for the Dutch Master painter, is signified by the triangle of light that is created beneath the eye and between the nose and cheek on the shadow side of the face. This is a very traditional light pattern and usually lends a sense of gravitas to the portrait.
I missed the pull back shot of this set up, but it's just like the Loop set up below only slightly farther toward camera left and around the side of my assistant, Ms. Styrofoam Head.

6. Loop*

Loop lighting is a variation on Rembrandt so that the triangle of light on the cheek meets up with the light on the chin and jaw.

*both Rembrandt and loop are a type of short light

7. Split 

Split light is when the light is on a 90 degree axis and the key light only lights 1/2 of the subjects face. Its not used often in general portraiture without heavy modification because it is such a strong and contrasty pattern and not flattering.


Each of these light patterns can be modified in some way to adjust the light quality or quantity, and you can also bring in additional light sources for other effects. Some of the most common additional light uses are to give additional definition to the subjects face or body, to fill the shadows and lower the light ratio, or to help separate the subject from the background.

Rim Light: this is when a light is placed directly behind or just to the side and behind the subject to give a little glow to the outside of the subject. This helps separate them from the background.

Fill Light: Any time another light source or reflected light source is used at a lower power in order to lighten or "open up" the shadows.

To illustrate what fill can do have a look at the shadow on the far side of the subjects face.

Now I've added a reflector to the right side of the subject just outside the frame. Notice how the shadows have been opened up a bit?

Finally, I brought the reflector in even more, inside the frame so that you can see just how much light has been added to the shadows.

Now that you know these patterns, you can practice and finesse them. Keep in mind that the quality of the light will effect the portrait as well because light direction will show texture, so if you have a client and you want to minimize the appearance of the texture of their skin, you want to use a much flatter light that wont give as much of a shadow. If you want to show off the texture of a clients skin, you can raise your light and give the light more direction. Hard light will also show more texture, so it's generally avoided for people who have larger pores, acne, scaring, or wrinkles and fine lines that you don't want to make appear more visible.

All these things are points you need to consider when you are planning a shoot. If you go in prepared, knowing what quality of light you want to use for your subject and what you can do to shape that light and achieve the results you want you will be a capable and confident guide to getting the absolute best photo of your subject.

Here are a few real world examples in different kinds of light.




Get out there and start practicing these!

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