7 Interesting Photography Techniques to Deal with the Lighting

1. Catch Lights

Catch lights are the highlights in the model’s eyes. Without them, the eyes look lifeless. So, the first thing you want to do is to use a light source that creates those highlights in the eyes. This means you need a light that is either in front of or slightly to the side of your model. You want the light to create a glint either in the middle or the upper corner of the iris. Your model does not have to look directly at the light source to create these highlights.

In fact, you can even get the catch lights by having the model sit next to an open window. But, the closer your model is to the light source, the larger the highlights will be, so keep that in mind.

If you’re shooting outdoors, you can create the catch lights by simply positioning yourself slightly above your model. As the model looks at the camera lens, the sky will be reflected in his or her eyes. If it is a bright, sunny day, though, you might want to place the model in the shade so that it will not be uncomfortable for them to look up at the sky.

2. Butterfly Lighting

This technique is named for the distinctive shape of the shadow it creates under the nose. Butterfly lighting is a favorite among portrait lighting setups because it is flattering for most faces. It emphasizes the jaw line and the cheekbones, and it is also flattering to different skin types. This makes it a common technique for beauty photography and for mimicking the 1950s style glamour shots.

This technique also creates a shadow under the chin and around the cheeks, and if you have the subject turn their head at an angle, the effect is to deepen the shadows on the cheeks. You achieve butterfly lighting by positioning the main light source directly behind and above your camera. It should be pointed down onto the subject at about a 45 degree angle.

3. Clamshell Lighting

This technique is just the butterfly technique with a reflector. You set up the butterfly lighting as described above–that is, directly behind and above your camera–and you add a reflector. The reflector should be placed in the subject’s lap (they will have to hold it in place), and it will serve to reflect some of that light back up as a fill light.

This technique creates an even softer, flattering light for beauty shots, and by moving the light source farther back, it can create deeper shadows that are common for portraits of men. The shadows on the cheekbones slim the face and emphasize the jaw line.

4. Split Lighting

As the name implies, it splits the face into equal halves, with one side being in the light and the other side being in the shadow. It tends to be used more with men rather than women because it creates more dramatic, masculine-appearing images. With true split lighting, the only light on the shadow side of the face is the catch light in that eye, but there are variations that result in a softer light that falls more on the shadow side of the face.

Split lighting is easy to create. You simply place your light source on the side of the model. It can also be to the side and slightly behind the model, which will create even more dramatic shadows. This is a great technique to create moody images, but it is less forgiving to skin imperfections. It also works better with a serious expression than a grin.

5. Split Lighting with a Reflector Fill

This is a variation on the split lighting technique that results in more of the face being visible than with true split lighting. The lighting is more prominent on one side of the face, but the other side of the face is readily visible. You can use this when you like the drama created by the split lighting technique, but want to see more detail on the shadow side of the face.

The setup is simple–you place the light source as you would with true split lighting, but then you place a reflector on the opposite side of the light source. This will reflect some of the light back onto the side of the face in the shadow.

6. Loop Lighting

Loop lighting creates a small shadow of the subject’s nose on their cheek. This lighting technique is a happy medium between the soft, beauty lighting created by the butterfly technique and the more dramatic images created with shadows. Basically, if you’re looking for the beauty image created by the butterfly technique, but with a little more dimension and interest, this is the lighting technique you want to use.

To create this type of portrait photography lighting, you set up the light behind the camera as with the butterfly technique, but instead of the light being directly behind the camera, it is set off to one side–up to a 45 degree angle from the subject. Additionally, the light should be taller than the subject, and it needs to be far enough away to create shadows, but close enough to completely light the face.

7. Rembrandt Lighting

This is the same technique as loop lighting, but the light source is usually set up at that 45 degree angle from the subject. You move the light further to the side of the subject until the opposite side of the face (the side in the shadows) has a small triangle of light on the cheek just below the eye. You should also set the height of the light a foot or two above eye level. If you’re using a single light source, you can use a reflector to create this lighting setup.

This type of lighting creates a more dramatic image. It is also one that pairs better with a serious expression rather than a grin, and it is less forgiving to skin imperfections.