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Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 3 of 17

Lighting Patterns

Lindsay Adler

Seeing and Shaping Light

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

3. Lighting Patterns
Light has shape, created by lighting positions. Learn the main photography lighting patterns, including Paramount (or Butterfly Lighting), Loop, Rembrandt, and Split. Go through each lighting pattern -- see how the lights are positioned and the feel each option creates.

Lesson Info

Lighting Patterns

This next part is lighting patterns. This is the part that, when I learned this in college, I thought I was real smart, 'cause now I could label what I was seeing. This is going to be what you'd use to describe the shape of the shadows on the face. So this is what I'm saying when you look at a photo and you go, oh that main light was in Paramount position. So you can kinda study by the shadows. So these are the terms that you would want to know. And I'll take you through what each one of them means. For those of you out there that just said, wow, okay, she just did a whole bunch of terms, that's why I have a guide, right. So that you can go back and reference 'em, 'cause I just talked a lot about words, and we're visual people, so I want you to really go back and reference that. Okay, so the four most commonly used terms are Paramount, loop, Rembrandt, and split. As we proceed from left to right, there is more shadow on the face. So let me talk about each of these, and then I'll show y...

ou how they are created. The very first one on the left, Paramount lighting, is when the shadow underneath the nose and underneath the chin is perfectly even and symmetrical. You can see that there. The shadow from the nose is not going left or right, it's going straight up or straight down. Another word for this, or another term that you might hear depending on the tutorials you're watching, is called butterfly lighting. Because sometimes if that main light is a little bit higher, it creates little shadows from the nostrils, which looks like the wings of a butterfly. Paramount lighting is also called that because of Paramount, Hollywood, it was a very common lighting position used for Hollywood glam photographs. So that's where it got its name. This lighting setup is really nice. If somebody's straight on to you, and they have a perfectly symmetrical face, because it really showcases that because the lighting is all even. Paramount lighting is less dramatic. The further you go to the right, all the way over to split, split is going to be more dramatic, more shadows. So, in if your mind you're saying, bright, hi-key, glowing, not dramatic. In my head I'd say, okay hi-key, which backgrounds, lighter tones, not dark shadows, so get some reflectors, but my mind might also say Paramount lighting. Because there's less shadow and less drama, so that's why I kinda register it in my head there. Next one down the line is called loop lighting. The reason it's called loop is if you look, her nose creates a little loop shadow to the side. That's why it's called this. Loop lighting is nice if you don't want a super dramatic picture, but you do want a little bit of sculpting. That very first setup, the Paramount light, it's very, very flat. Sometimes, depending on the subject, maybe your subject has a rounder face, or you just want a little bit more dimension to your photograph. Very flat or Paramount light isn't giving you enough shadow to really sculpt out the face and give dimension. So at least popping over to loop lighting, it puts a little shadow on the side of the cheek, little shadow on the side of the nose. So there's just a little bit more dimension there, and it works quite nicely for around her face, which is just giving a little more definition. So if we go over to the right one more, this is Rembrandt lighting. So we've all probably heard of Rembrandt lighting at one time or another. Rembrandt lighting is when there is a triangle of light underneath one of the eyes. So what's actually happening, is the shadow from the nose, it grows, and the shadow from the cheek grows until they meet, that's what's happening. The shadows get longer on either side, and therefore there's a triangle. Rembrandt light is, of course, known in Rembrandt's paintings, that have that triangle of light. It allows you to have dramatic sculpting. One thing that I will note, is you could have Rembrandt light, but we talked about our fill light before. You could have Rembrandt light so you've got that nice triangle, but then you could also fill in the shadows so that it's not dark. So if I say Rembrant it doesn't mean it's dark. 'Cause you can add fill light and soften them up, and make it not so dark. So this is just, you're looking at the shadows from the nose, created by the main light. And the shadows with the cheek as well. So the last one over, the most dramatic, the most shadow, is going to be split light. So if you look at the face, half is lit, and the other half is not. Other half is in shadow. Personally for me, I would say split light is the setup that I use least often. It's very dramatic. If I were going for dark, ominous, if I were trying to show duality of a person, if I were going for high contrast, maybe I would do split light. But pretty much the first three are the ones that I use most often. So just to give you my descriptions, Paramount, I use for portraits and a lot in beauty photography. Loop, I use for beauty photography and portraits for a little bit more sculpting to the face. Then Rembrandt I often use for either a little bit more drama, just a little bit more sculpting. It kind of just goes that way. I don't use Rembrandt very often for beauty. Just personal, it's not right or wrong, it's just something that I do. So, lemme just show you. So you're going to be able to see the modifier move around. We're going to talk about modifiers later. The one that I have there is a beauty dish, and I will describe beauty dishes in detail later, but what it does is it gives me a little bit more of a defined shadow than I would get with a softbox. So it makes it easier for you to see those shadows here. If I'd used a softbox, it would be a little bit more of a gradient, and more diffuse, maybe just a little harder to identify. So I've got a beauty dish 'cause it gives me more defined shadows, but it's still nice on the skin, it's still forgiving. So let's take a look, Paramount, centered. Shadow under the nose, nice and even. Then I'm gonna pop it over a little bit to the right, the shadow from the nose and the cheek grow. I go a little further to the right, and now the shadow from the nose and the cheek meet, which give me that triangle. I go way over to the right, and it gives me split light. So those are the most common terms. So here you can see some examples. Just know that, alright, I said Paramount and loop and Rembrandt. There's loops hat are short, and loops that are long, and loops that almost meet. So like the picture on the left, it's not quite Rembrandt, but it kind of is. We're just using these terms so we can describe what we see. But the more shadow it has, the more definition I have. Backing up to some of the other terms. Picture on the left, this would be an example of soft light. It's softer, because that transition from the shadow to the highlight on the cheek side, on the right hand side of that first photo, it's much more gradual. Whereas if you look on the next on the right it looks razor sharp, that's hard light. So I know, okay, we'll talk about this later, I'll be able to say, alright soft light. Maybe an umbrella, could be a softbox, it starts giving me some modifiers. Where over on the right hand side, man, it's gotta be something like a zoom reflector, or it's gotta be a telezoom reflector or maybe a snoot. But we'll study other things to figure it out. So this is why you're kinda noting it, you start there, what type of light, where is it placed, and we're gonna take a look at all that in depth. Okay, may I have my lovely model for a second? I want to demonstrate another concept. Alright, so I'm gonna do my first little shooting here. We're just going to use one light. How you doin'? Good. Excellent. I'm actually gonna, I lied, can I scoot you back a little bit? There's less space than I thought. You're gonna face directly this way. Alright, so I'm gonna shoot with just this octobox. An octobox kinda behaves kind of like a beauty dish, but it's a little bit softer. But I'll still be able to get some nice definition. Okay. So let me just get this all set up. Perfect. Okay. And I'll do a quick test. So I want you to take a look at the position of the light on the face. I'm assuming, this exposure, lemme just adjust it. Alright, nobody judge my exposure. Let's get all the camera settings perfect, alright. Let's get one test in here. Well I got to turn on my trigger, right? Perfect, okay. I don't know if anyone else does this, whenever I want someone to smile, do you do this? Where you're behind your camera and you're smiling really big even though no one can see you. So when I used to shoot a lot of weddings, at the end of the day my face would hurt. And it's not because, it was because I'm smiling behind my camera, even though they can't see me. Terrible. Alright, so, taking a look right here, I would look at this lighting setup. And by the way, I'm putting on a spider holster, because this is what I use so that I don't drop my camera as I'm shooting, or I don't set it down on the edge of things. Okay, so taking a look at this, this would give me Paramount lighting. What I'm doing is. Can you guys lower these two top lights for me just a little bit? If you are trying to get these setups, in whatever space you're shooting in you want to eliminate as much ambient light as humanly possible, because it makes it really hard to see what you're actually doing. So when I shoot in my space, I will dim the lights overhead, I will close the curtains on windows, and I'll make sure that my modeling light is turned all the way up so I can really see what it's doing. That's the whole point of modeling lights. For the longest time I had no idea why I would use them. I'm like, wait, they don't affect what the picture looks like. Well, no they don't, but they're to help you place the light. So right now, Paramount position. It's relatively centered, and nice little shadow underneath her nose. If I move the light off to the side, and I'll mostly be able to see this. The further off to the side I go, I'll get a little more shadow. Lemme take a quick test here. And so I'll get a longer loop, shadow from her nose gets longer. Okay? But the reason that I wanted to shoot this demo, is for you to watch this one thing. Let's say you watch me and say, okay, Lindsay says if you put the light off to the side over here, that makes it Rembrandt light. Can you turn to the right for me? Perfect, just like that. Turn your head back towards me a little bit. Okay, and look your eyes here. Kay, if I look at this photo, watch the shadow under her nose. Shadow under her nose now, is technically what I said was Paramount. The shadow goes right down. But if you look, my light's off to the side. So my point is this, the reason I'm saying this, is if you are looking at these lighting patterns, Paramount, loop, Rembrandt, split. It's not based on the position light relative to the camera, it's relative to your subject. So, if the light is here, and I turn her a different direction, it changes the lighting pattern, even though I didn't move, and the light didn't move. So if you're lookin' at a shot, and you're lookin' at it and you're analyzing it and you're going, okay, alright I see that it's Rembrandt light here. You have to pay attention to which way the subject's facing. 'Cause if the subject's facing to the side, that actually changes where the light. It's not like you can go, oh, Rembrandt light. I know that it's right, front 45 to the camera. Or front 30, whatever it may be. So just so you know. These lighting patterns are relative to your subject's position, not me, not the camera. So with loop, where should the loop end, and what if, or how does that affect the size of the nose? Okay, alright, so that's actually a really good question. So one of the things I watch out for, and this is another whole other discussion. What I'm talking about now is not necessarily what is the most flattering to someone's face. But I'm gonna just address some of those things because why not, we're teaching and it's relevant. I know that if somebody has a longer nose, I wanna be very careful of my shadows. Because if my shadows are really long, whether they're long up and down or long to the side, it's drawing attention to the length of the nose. So I tend to, for somebody with a larger nose, I tend to have them a little straighter on towards camera, instead of to the side, because to the side you start to see the length. And I tend to use something more towards Paramount or loop lighting instead of Rembrandt. Just hiding the length a little bit. Similar to that, in talking about photographing perhaps more challenging features. If somebody has a very, very round face, I will likely not have them face straight on towards camera and light them in Paramount. Because if they have a round face, and I have them straight on towards camera, that's it's roundest. And then if I light them flatly, in Paramount, there's no shadow. So basically, their head will look the roundest possible. So the first thing that I might do is I might turn the subject a little bit to the side. What that does is it narrows the appearance of the face. It'll make the subject's face look a little less round. But then I will use shadow to help me out with that as well. 'Cause if I can sculpt, I can give a little less of that roundness. So this is where I might go back, and I might actually use short light. It doesn't mean like I see someone with a round face and I say I'm going to necessarily short light you. But it's definitely a technique I could use because straight on and Paramount is going to give me round. If I turn them to the side, it narrows it, but if I bring the light back around to the side, that makes it short light, which means less of the face is illuminated, shadow is towards the camera, which tricks your eye into thinking that their face is narrower. For the pattern, is it, are these only true if it's a single light, or if you add a fill would it still be Rembrandt? Or do you just kind of modify them a little bit? Awesome question. So, the very first thing I do is in my checklist of things is I'm takin' a look and figuring out, can I figure out what that main light is? We're gonna take a look at the catch lights, and the quality of light. So what I do is I say alright let's work on that main light first. And the first thing I'll do is say okay, is it hard or soft light? So I'm trying to figure out roughly what modifiers it could be. I try to see if I could see in the catch lights, looking in the eyes if I can figure out what it is. Okay, then next thing down the line, can I figure out, by the patterns we just talked about roughly where it's placed because of the shadows. Then the next thing I say, okay lemme look at those shadows. Are they filled in? Are they dark or are they light? Then I can figure out, do I think that is a reflector, do I think it's another light, whatever. So I start off and I figure out these lighting patterns for the main light first.

Class Description


  • Recreate the light from any image you see
  • Work with traditional studio lighting patterns
  • Design your own creative, complex multi-light setups
  • Understand how to use a studio lighting kit
  • Work with several different lighting modifiers


Decipher the complexities of light. From working with studio lights to using modifiers, Lindsay Adler helps photographers develop the ability to see and shape light. By the end of this class, you'll be able to look at any image and determine how to recreate the lighting in your own work.

Using clues like catchlights and shadows, Lindsay demystifies photography lighting setups. Learn how to create classic lighting setups, from a single light to multi-light setups. Build the skills to be able to recreate the light from any shot you see -- and the ability to design your own creative lighting system. Work with studio strobes, light modifiers, window light, and natural light outdoors.

Stop fearing studio lighting and start using your light kit to design create powerful portraits.


  • Any photographer ready to learn light
  • Beginners ready to learn essentials like hard and soft light
  • Intermediate photographers eager to learn to create their own lighting setups
  • Advanced photographers ready to learn the clues to recreate light from any photo


Fashion photographer Lindsay Adler is one of the most respected photographers of the genre, known for a clean yet bold style. The New-York-City-based photographer has work in some of the most prestigious magazines, including Marie Claire, Elle, InStyle, Noise, Essence and more. The Canon Explorer of Light shares her knowledge on digital cameras, posing, light and more with other photographers through speaking engagements, books, classes, and workshops.


Kaltham Ali

Wow wow wow- I finished the entire class in a day! I feel like owning and buy right away all her trainings... this is what a real trainer is al about.. I went from zero in light understanding to really looking to lights/shadows etc.. awesome thanks Lindsay .. the best purchase ever

Warren Gedye

Lindsay, you're an absolute genius!! Such a terrific teacher. You are so talented- not only as an out-of-this-world exceptional photographer, but also as a person who clearly is so passionate about her craft and has that very rare ability to teach your art in such a unique and structured manner! I have learned so much from you previous courses too, Lighting Bootcamp 101, I think was one of them. I look forward to more of your tutorials. On a side note- John in the background is such a stand-up guy! I love the rapport you have with him. I've seen him in on a few Creative Live courses now and he's a kind of guy I just want sit down and have a coffee with, and pick his very informative brain! Such a cool fella!

a Creativelive Student

Lindsay is a talented teacher. She is very knowledgable of what she teaches, but also can teach it well (which is not something all talented people are gifted with, whatever the field). She is humble, dynamic and her courses are interesting to study. The one small improvement I would have liked would have been a little more emphasis and theory on the shaping part. However, this not being the most important, it is better that more emphasis was put on seeing (if you can't see it, you can't make it). Finally, I will say that to study and understand this course, or Lindsay's methodology, you are then equipped with an understanding—you could even say partly knowing the language—of light, which gives you a huge set of tools and advantage, allowing you to progress quite substantially with your studio or out-of-studio photography.