Butterfly Lighting for Portraiture

Butterfly lighting is a lighting style that has been used a great deal in the fashion industry and slowly (very slowly) caught on in popularity in portrait work.  Butterfly lighting has a main light above the lens of the camera, in front of the subject, with a secondary light or reflector under the lens of the camera, in front of the subject to balance out of shadows of the main light source.  As with all types of lighting you can look to the eyes to see when you are doing it correctly.  You should see distinct catch-lights in the eyes in the 12 o’clock and the six o’clock position.

Typically, the main light should meter about one stop more than the secondary light/reflector, but with certain faces, I have  powered up the secondary light to read as close as 1/4 of a stop less the main light.  This will depend on the shape of the face, especially the cheek bone structure and how deep-set the eyes are.  One of the common mistakes I see when photographers use this style of lighting is placing the main light too close to the subject.  This doesn’t illuminate the eyes properly and in portraiture it is all about the eyes.  You can bring out the contour of someone’s face, but without the eyes being beautifully lit, the portrait won’t sell. As a general rule the main light will be above the end of the lens.  Many times when the subject has small eyes, I will only have enough room between the main light and secondary light to place the camera.

Another good thing  about Butterfly lighting is that you aren’t limited to only head shots. I often used this type of lighting when I am photographing more youthful brothers/sisters or families.  Obviously we would use larger light sources to achieve the same effect being that we would have to position the lights further from the subject.  For more about Butterfly Lighting, Ring-Lights and other lighting styles look for my New Books Head and Shoulders Portrait Photography and the Senior Portrait Photography Handbook.

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on January 18, 2010.

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