6 Light Patterns for Creative Photography

Meet Jules, short for Julius Caesar (he's my version of Tom Hank's friend, Wilson.) He not only holds Caesar's crown and laurel, but also stands in when I'm setting up lights for lighting patterns.

When discussing lighting patterns it is important to note that I am only referring to how the light strikes the subject and the shadows it creates - not the intensity of the light. For my purposes I shot all of these of Jules using only one key light and without a fill light or ambient light other than some that creeped in through the window shades and curtains.

As a former film director and producer I appreciate drama. Lighting is one of the tools we use (both in film and photography) to help with this. Briefly, here are six basic light patterns (the placement of lights and the direction of that light) which will help in creating more drama and depth in photography.


This is illustrated in the above photo of Jules. It is a flat light where the full face is lit. It is often used in fashion photography. It gets its name because of the slight shadow under the nose which resembles a butterfly. The light is placed behind the camera and slightly elevated pointing down at about a 45 degree angle. This method is good when you only have one light and have several individuals in the same shot. If outside the sun would be behind you (the photographer) and shining on your subject/subjects.


As the name implies, half of the face is lit and the other half is in shadow. The light is placed to one side of the subject. You can also use a fill light to lesson the shadow if desired, depending on the effect you are seeking. Here is another example from my recent Julius Caesar photoshoot featuring my friend and actor, Mr. Dave Moak.

For this shot I left most of the side of the face unlit (except for some slight eye light in his left eye). This creates the feeling of anger or danger (which is what I wanted here). It can also be used to show two natures in the same person (one light, one dark). When used to this extent the subject can appear menacing. Of course Dave helped sell it by tilting his head and a slight expression of anger. Clearly you would not want to be on Caesar's bad side.


Loop lighting is created by causing the shadow of the nose to fall onto the cheek or upper lip. It is an attractive lighting pattern and very popular for portrait photography because it adds some definition and dimension to the subject's face. The light is about half way between the side of the subject (as in Split Lighting) and in front of the subject (as in Butterfly Lighting). See how the shadow of the nose makes a little loop on Jules' face? Hence the name.

Below is another example in this self-portrait photo I took (with a fill light and hair light added). Notice that the shadow of my nose runs along the side of my face almost reaching my mouth.


This simply means that the light first strikes the broadside of the face (the side closest to the camera). It tends to make the face look fuller and more rounded and is normally not the most flattering lighting pattern for portrait photography. But that does depend on the subject and what you are attempting to create.

For example, below is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens of Julius Caesar (and my inspiration for the photo that follows it).

Clearly Rubens' light source was from the front side of the subject. The light first strikes the broadside of Caesar's face. In this case it creates a regal, more rounded, appearance. My photographic recreation inspired by Rubens likewise has the light first strike the broadside of my subject's face.

In this case it creates the feeling of inspiration (again highlighted by Dave Moak's wonderful acting ability - acting is always more than repeating dialogue, it is also presence.) Julius Caesar was a leader, someone to follow into battle. The light emphases this. I should note that this photo could also be considered an example of Rembrandt Lighting because of the triangle of light created underneath his left eye, falling on his cheek.


The light first strikes the short side of the subject's face (the side farthest from the camera). It usually creates a thinner image. It is an attractive lighting pattern and adds more depth and drama to a portrait.

Below is another example of short lighting in this self-portrait (the Covid-19 quarantine afforded me with a number of self-portraits for lack of other subjects). I look like I'm ready to face the open sea, which is hilarious to anyone who knows me - I'm neither a fisherman nor a seaman, and would surely drown if ever I captained a boat. But the illusion of drama is created, which was the goal of this portrait.


Personally, this is my favorite lighting pattern. It gets its name from the famous Dutch painter. I will be doing a blog just on Rembrandt and Rembrandt Lighting in my next blog. For now it is enough to say that it creates a small triangle of light under the unlit portion of the face and is considered a very attractive lighting pattern.

Each of these lighting patterns has its own effect and can be created in a studio or in the field. With natural, reflective, or artificial light. Because light defines the photograph, the photographer does well to remember each of these lighting patterns in order to create the desired affect.

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