Understanding Lighting Patterns

Have you ever wanted to slim a face, or produce dramatic black and white images?   In this blog you will learn that it does not take multiple flashes and enormously expensive Studio setups to control your lighting.

Whether your light is natural or augmented by a reflector, speedlight or strobe (or all three) it is important for a photographer to understand how to position the light source in a manner that will produce a lighting pattern on the subject.  Each of these images below was captured using this flash assembly – SB800 with Beauty Dish on a 8′ light stand.



There are five basic lighting patterns.

  1. Butterfly
  2. Loop
  3. Rembrandt
  4. Side (Split)
  5. Rim

Butterfly.  Position your light source directly above your camera.  It is best when the light source is 18-24″  above the camera and pointing down on the subject.  You will see a small, very small shadow on the hose of your subject that looks like the wings of a butterfly!  This pattern will produce even lighting across the facial plan along with a soft shadow under the chin on the neck.  The higher the flash is above the camera the more dramatic the shadows can be.  If too low the shadows recede and you will have flat lighting. 




 The Loop pattern is produced by simply moving the light source left or right of butterfly.  Moving 24-36″ along an arc that is the same distance from the subject as that produced the butterfly pattern. You can move the light either camera right or left depending on your taste and the shape of the subject’s face.  A modeling light will reveal a small shadow extending from the bottom side of the nostril down at an angle from from the nose and between the cheek and lips of your subject.  This is the first lighting pattern that reveals a clear direction of light.  In this image above you see light from Camera light moving across the face and casting soft shadows on camera left. 



This lighting patterns builds on loop by increasing the shadow on the side away from the light source just enough to produce a lovely “triangle” of light on the cheek away from the light.  Building the strength of the shadows in the pattern can make your image very dramatic and beautiful.   Please notice that the light has moved another 24″ away from the camera on that same arc.

Side Lighting


This pattern is just like its name.  By placing your light source at a 90 degree angle from your subject your light will fall across the face.  This is also known as “Split Lighting.”  Very dramatic and reminiscent of the 60’s album covers.   Many photographers will augment this pattern with a reflector opposite the light to give just a small, smooth outline on the opposite side of the face.   This pattern can produce some very dramatic Black and White Portraits.

Rim Lighting


This pattern produces the most dramatic lighting and when using a single source it too will produce very strong B&W images.  Simply produce the light source at a 45 degree angle behind the subject.  This works great for making facial silhouettes.  This lighting pattern is also very good when lighting older men who have strong features.  This position is also called a “Kicker Light” when you are working with multiple light sources.   Rim lighting is like garlic when cooking.  A little bit goes a long way!

You can see more tips and get answers to your Photography questions at


Visit Chandler Studios at http://www.Chandler-Studios.com  or Instagram @jwchandlerstudios.

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