The 4 Essential Patterns and Portrait Lighting Setups

The 4 Essential Patterns and Portrait Lighting Setups

There are four lighting patterns we’re going to discuss today:
  • Paramount (Butterfly)
  • Loop (Open/Closed)
  • Rembrandt
  • Split
You could do all these with only a single light source, I’ll provide you with lighting diagrams showing you exactly how to do it. As you become more and more confident with your abilities, you may want to start experimenting more with your portrait lighting setups by bringing in additional lights and modifiers to really fine tune everything. For now, however, let’s stick to the basics, which you can easily get some incredible portraits from.
Let’s get started!

1. Paramount

Paramount is commonly used on females in portraiture because it conveys beauty and gives an overall glow to the face. Used for most fashion and beauty editorials, it offers minimal shadows and accentuates the subject’s cheek bones.
Paramount is also known as butterfly lighting due to the shadow under the nose resembling the shape of a butterfly.

Portrait lighting setups
Do you see the butterfly shaped shadow under the nose? That’s the trademark of paramount lighting. Photo by Dune Stewart

How To Setup Your Studio Light For Paramount Lighting

To achieve Paramount (or, butterfly) lighting, place the key light above the subject’s face, aiming down at a forty-five degree angle.

paramount lighting, lighting diagram
Paramount Lighting Diagram

2. Loop

There are two types of loop patterns: open loop and closed loop. An open loop will cast an oval shadow from the corner of the nose and stay close enough to not reach the shadows from the cheek. If it is a closed loop, the shadow from the nose will extend to the far end of the cheek, closing the shadow to represent it as one overall shadow.

girl, portrait, loop, black background,
Open and closed loop lighting are similar patterns that can be fine tuned until you have just the right amount of light and shadow on the subject’s face. Photo by Dune Stewart

How To Set Up Your Studio Light For Loop Lighting

A loop lighting pattern can be achieved by having the key light slightly to the side of the subject, and then lifted above their eye level, angled down towards their head.

loop lighting, lighting diagram,
Loop Lighting Diagram

3. Rembrandt

Rembrandt lighting derived from the dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn who used this lighting pattern in a majority of his paintings. The pattern is noticeable when there is an inverted triangle of light in the shadows. The key light should be at a 45-degree angle away from the subject while also being two feet above eye level. Be wary because the higher the light, the smaller the triangle will become.

Portrait lighting setup
If you’re going for a moody feel, Rembrandt lighting is a great choice. Photo by Dune Stewart

A perfect Rembrandt will show the triangle under the eye without seeping into it.  This pattern is commonly used on both male and female figures when trying to convey a moody scene.

How To Setup Your Studio Light For Rembrandt Lighting

Have your subject stand directly in front of the camera, then place your light source at a 45-degree angle towards their face. Make sure the light is slightly higher than the subject’s head. You can ask the subject to rotate their head away from the camera towards the light source until the desired “triangle” is achieved.

rembrandt lighting, lighting diagram,
Rembrandt Lighting Diagram

4. Split

Split lighting patterns are adjunct to Rembrandt lighting since they both offer more pleasing traits to masculinity and dramatic scenes.

Dune Stewart, guy, man, boy, self portrait, split lighting, black background
Perfect for male subjects, split lighting instills a sense of masculinity onto the subject. Photo by Dune Stewart

How To Setup Your Studio Light For Split Lighting

Have a light at a 90-degree angle from the subject, and their face split half with light and half with shadows. It’s perfect when 2/3 of the forehead are light and half of the face is in shadows.

lighting diagram, split lighting,
Split Lighting Diagram
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