Welcome to the live series we’re doing every two weeks on Profoto’s Instagram called “Slice of Pye”. We’ll be covering a myriad of topics, discussing lighting principles, and showcasing a ton of Profoto gear in action over the course of the next year so please join us over on IG Live!

Tune in to our next episode: November 6th at 2PM PST!

In this episode, we’ll teach you 5 common key light patterns and give you situations and typical uses for each one. Watch the full episode below:


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Special thanks to Lindsey our model for helping us out in this episode, you can follow her on Instagram here. In case you missed our last episode, you can watch them all on the Profoto IGTV channel!

Gear Used in Tutorial

5 Key Lighting Patterns

This is a concept we discussed in detail in our Lighting 101 course because this is truly one of the most impactful lessons for fundamental lighting knowledge. Let’s start by listing out our 5 key light patterns:

  • Flat Lighting
  • Butterfly Lighting
  • Loop Lighting
  • Rembrandt Lighting
  • Split Lighting

In this episode, we covered where exactly to place the light to achieve each different lighting pattern but let’s do a deep dive into the common uses and characteristics of each one.

1. Flat Lighting

flat lighting
An example of flat lighting where the light is coming directly from where the camera is located.

Definition: The first key (or primary/main) common lighting pattern that you should be familiar with is flat lighting. Flat lighting faces directly into the subject from the angle of the lens. Flat lighting is the least dramatic lighting pattern because it casts the least amount of shadows on the subject’s face.

Placement: Place your key in front of the subject in the same direction where you will be shooting. Angle the light so it lays “flat” on the face. This makes it a very flattering light for portraits because it decreases wrinkles and imperfections. Also, when using flat light, remember to light from slightly above the subject’s face. Lighting from below will create an unnatural and unflattering look.

Common Uses: Because this light is a very flattering light, flat lighting is used primarily in headshots and glamour editorial shots.

2. Butterfly Lighting

butterfly lighting
An example of butterfly lighting, where the light is coming from overhead creating a small butterfly shadow beneath the nose.

Definition: Butterfly Lighting (or Paramount Lighting) comes directly in front of and above the subject’s face. This creates shadows that are directly below the subject’s facial features. The most notable shadow, and where this lighting pattern gets its name, is a butterfly-shaped shadow just under the nose. It is also called “Paramount Lighting” because this lighting pattern was used heavily in the Paramount movie studio of old Hollywood.

Placement: Start the key light in the flat light pattern, then raise the light up until you see the “butterfly” shaped shadow under your subject’s nose. Angle the face of your light so it points at your subject. The only difference between flat lighting and butterfly lighting is the height and angle of the Key Light. This creates the same flattering features as flat lighting but includes shadows underneath the nose and chin.

Common Uses: This lighting pattern is usually used in beauty shots when a reflector is added underneath to soften the shadows.

3. Loop Lighting

loop lighting
An example of loop lighting, where the light is coming from a slight direction to the left or right of the subject.

Definition: Loop lighting is probably one of the most common key lighting patterns. From our Lighting 101 Workshop slide, we see that it falls right in the middle between flattering flat light to dramatic split light. Loop Light is a nice middle ground where most of the face is still in light but you still have enough shadows to bring in some definition.

Placement: Loop Lighting evolves from Butterfly Lighting very simply. If you already know how to get to Butterfly lighting, all you need to do is move your light around the subject until you get roughly 25°-50° to the left or right and angled down to the subject’s face.

Common Uses: Because the light pattern comes from this angle, it creates a more dramatic look with a shadow that falls off the nose pointing down to one side. The subject will have more light on one side of their face. You can use this to your advantage if the subject has a “good” side or a preferred side of their face by lighting that side.

4. Rembrandt Lighting

rembrandt lighting
An example of Rembrandt lighting, where the light is coming from a harsher direction, creating a triangle underneath the eye as you can see in the image above.

Definition: The master Dutch painter Rembrandt used this style of lighting in many of his paintings thus honoring this widely known lighting pattern in his name. While it is true that many Baroque painters used Rembrandt lighting in their paintings as well, Rembrandt’s name was chosen to define this widely used lighting pattern (Also Vsnderveer lighting just sounds horrible). Rembrandt lighting can be distinguished by half of the subject’s face in shadow except for triangle-shaped light on the cheekbone and eye.

Placement: From your Loop Lighting position, move your key light around the subject until the shadow of the nose is touching the shadow of the face. This primarily leaves one side of the face in shadow but keeps a triangle of light on the cheekbone and eye.

Common Uses: Rembrandt is a stronger angle than loop lighting, making it look more dramatic. The more shadow we add to our subject and the more we turn our light away from flat lighting the more dramatic our lighting becomes. It is used heavily in all types of portrait photography including athletes.

5. Split Lighting

Split lighting
An example of split lighting, where the light is coming directly from the right or left of the subject, casting a full shadow of the nose on the opposite side.

Definition: The last lighting pattern we will discuss today is split lighting. Split lighting simply “splits” the subject’s face, lighting half of your subject’s face while leaving the other half in shadow. Because of the angle of light, there is no Rembrandt triangle, only shadow.

Placement: Set up the key light 90° directly to the right or left side of the subject’s face. The line separating light and shadow will be down the middle of the nose and chin. This creates the most dramatic light and the least flattering light to use.

Common Uses: If flat and loop lighting fill in wrinkles, split lighting will exaggerate them. This lighting pattern is used a lot in athletic portraits just for that purpose. It exaggerates their muscle definition and body features.

We hope you enjoyed this episode of Slice of Pye, please feel free to share or re-watch the IGTV video at anytime to reference the material we covered! For more tutorials and lessons on the fundamentals of lighting, check out our Flash Photography Training System!