Classic Portrait Light


This lighting pattern is named for the loop-shaped shadow that falls down and to the side of the nose. This shadow, in the proper form, should be well defined and not spread so far as to disappear into the shadows beyond the cheek and below the mouth. In the right position, this lighting pattern is the foundation for many great portraits, as it’s flattering for a variety of faces. It defines the shape of the face, whether round or narrow, and is neither overly dramatic nor flat and plain.

To turn a butterfly pattern into a loop, move the light source slightly lower and toward the side of the face—say, at approximately a 45º angle. One bit of advice regarding the head position: Choose short lighting with the loop pattern to ensure the shadow from the nose falls visibly on the side of the face that’s directed at the camera. This makes it easier to identify and accurately position the loop shadow, ensuring the light is in a position that’s generally flattering to the face.




The Rembrandt lighting pattern is named for the guy who made it famous, 17th-century Dutch master painter Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt employed a chiaroscuro technique that emphasized light and shadow, adding mystery and a bit of drama to an otherwise straightforward loop-style lighting pattern.

To re-create his approach, simply lower the light source even farther from the loop position, and move it slightly farther around to the side of the head. This will make the loop shadow close across the face and reveal a small triangle of light on the subject’s shadow-side cheek. This highlight, ideally, should be about as wide as the eye and as long as the nose, and subtle changes in position of the light source, as well as each subject’s unique anatomy, can dramatically change the pattern. Know that the Rembrandt pattern also has a slimming effect—which is frequently useful—and it enhances shape and texture, which often is not.

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