Light direction tip

Here’s a “quick start” for lighting a face:

  • For a man, start with having the main light come from 45 degrees above, at an angle of 45 degrees left or right (“Rembrandt lighting”)
  • For a woman, start with having the main light come from 45 degrees above, straight in front (“Butterfly lighting:)

The latter looks somewhat like this:

I took that snap at last Tuesday’s Phoenix “Advanced Flash” workshop. And you can see how: another course participant is holding a 430EX flash off camera, which I am firing from the main camera using TTL light control. Aperture and shutter speed, and ISO, are set so that available light is two stops darker (i.e. it provides the fill light).

Why this rule-of-thumb of “from straight in front” for women? Because it minimizes texture and features, and hence best shows beauty.

Please do not be hung up on these “rules” – they are merely good start points.

To some extent this snap is also an example of “short lighting”: I am lighting the side of the face that is narrower to the camera. This thins, which in the case of this beautiful woman is not necessary, but in case of larger people, or people with very round faces, can be a useful technique.

0 thoughts on “Light direction tip

  1. I am curious to see more examples of short lighting and its uses. Do you have more direct examples to share? An overhead view diagram would be great, too.

  2. Most certainly – in the ext little while I shall talk more about lighting.

    For those of you in Toronto, tomorrow (Tuesday) night, I teach an “advanced flash” course – and there is still some space.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I figured I’d add my 2 cents since it’s probably valuable for everyone reading here to understand that Rembrant and butterfly lighting mostly depend upon the shape of the shadow of the nose created by the flash firing. While the position of the flash is what creates the shadow, it’s the shadow that defines the particular style of portrait lighting. Butterfly lighting is so called for the butterfly pattern created between the nose and the shadow underneath the nose. Rembrant lighting results in the creation of a small triangle to the side of the nose.

    The article above explained short lighting very well already. If you do the opposite (light the side of the face that is more face-on to the camera), you effectively widen the face… really only flattering on extremely thin people.

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