black and white vintage photo by using butterfly lighting by Dmytro Tolokonov on Unsplash

Beginner’s Guide to Butterfly Lighting: 5 Benefits | Setup Tutorial

As a photographer, you’re always looking for new ways to add interest to your portraits. One lighting pattern that can create a beautiful, ethereal look is butterfly lighting. This article will show you how to set up butterfly lighting and give tips for getting the most beautiful results.

What is Butterfly Lighting?

Butterfly lighting is a type of lighting used in portraiture. The name comes from the shape of the shadow that is cast on the subject's face, which looks like a butterfly. Butterfly lighting is created by placing the light source above the subject and pointing it down.

This creates a shadow under the subject's chin, which defines the contours of the face. It's also known as glamor lighting, paramount lighting, and Hollywood lighting. And is useful in photography as it works well in cinema and video.

a beautiful girl looking through her shoulder

Photo by Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash

The lighting is popular in studio photoshoots, but you may also use reflectors outside. Butterfly lighting is often used in fashion photography, as it is flattering to the subject's features. It can make the subject look thinner and their eyes appear larger.

You can achieve butterfly lighting with one light or multiple lights. When using multiple lights, a reflector can be placed on the opposite side of the face to fill in the shadows. This will create a more even light, and avoid any harsh shadows.

Benefits of Using Butterfly Lighting in Photography

There are several benefits to using butterfly light photography which are:

1. It's Perfect for Portraits

Butterfly lighting is often used in portrait photography. This is because it's great for accentuating your subject's features and making them pop. The light creates a soft shadow under the chin and nose, highlighting the eyes.

2. Create Different Moods

Butterfly lighting can create a variety of moods in photography, depending on how the light is used. If the light is soft and diffused, it can create a romantic or ethereal mood. If the light is harsh and direct, it can create a more dramatic or sinister mood.

a gloomy girl looking at the camera by putting her hand on her knees

Photo by Denis Agati on Unsplash

3. Easy to Set Up

All you need is a light source (preferably a softbox or umbrella) placed behind the photographer and slightly to one side. You can then experiment with the angle of the light to find the most flattering position for your subject's face.

4. It's a Natural Look

If you want your photos to look more natural, butterfly light photography is the way to go. It mimics how light would fall on a person's face if they were outside in the sunshine. This lighting technique is perfect for those who want to avoid the "staged" look that can often come with other lighting techniques.

5. It's Versatile

Butterfly lighting is a versatile technique that can be used in various settings. For example, you can create different looks by changing the position of the light source and the reflector. You can also experiment with different light sources, such as strobes, LEDs, or natural light.

How to Set up Butterfly Lighting Photography?

Hard Light Version

Gear List

  • Camera
  • Key Light
  • Bounce Board

Setup Guide looking Directly Down the Barrel of the Camera

Step 1: Position Your Subject Looking Directly Down the Camera Barrel.

tutorial to show the butterfly lighting setup

First, position your subject within your scene facing the direction you want. One of the more common positions for butterfly light photography is looking directly down the camera's barrel. However, this also works wonderfully with your subject looking off-camera.

Step 2: Position the Keylight in Front of Your Subject

Grab your key Light and position it before your subject, so their nose is pointed directly at the Light.  

tutorial to show the butterfly lighting setup
Step 3: Raise your Keylight, angling 30 Degrees

tutorial to show the butterfly lighting setup

Raise your key Light above head height, so it's angling down at approximately 30 degrees. You want to move your Light up and down until you see a nice little butterfly shadow underneath the nose.

Tips for Positioning the Light

pictures show the positioning of butterfly Light

  • If you position the Light too high, the resulting shadow will be too long.  

pictures show the positioning of butterfly Light

  • If you position the Light too low, there won't be any shadow. You'll completely flatten out the face.

pictures show the positioning of butterfly Light

  • When positioned correctly, you'll also observe some lovely shadowing and shaping under the cheekbones as well as under the chin.

pictures show the positioning of butterfly Light

  • You can position a bounce board underneath your shot if you'd like a less contrasty look. This will enable you to bounce some of that key Light back into the face and fill those shadows.
  • The result will be like this:

tutorial for the butterfly lighting setup when the subject is looking off the camera

Soft Light Version

Gear List

  • Camera
  • Key Light
  • A silk net, piece of diffusion paper, or a softbox
  • Bounce board ( a piece of white corflute)
  • Light Stand

Setup Guide

There are two ways you can use the soft Light version:

  • Diffusion
  • Bounce Board
Diffusion

Add a layer of diffusion between your Light and your subject. You can do this using a silk net, a piece of diffusion paper, or a softbox. A softbox with a grid attachment helps control the light spill.

tutorial for the butterfly lighting setup when the subject is looking off the camera

Bounce Board

Bounce your Light off a bounce board; you can use a piece of white corflute which you can mount onto a light stand. Position your bounce board in the same position as your Light. Then bounce your Light into the board, reflecting onto your subject's face.

tutorial for the butterfly lighting setup when the subject is looking off the camera

Tips for Positioning the Light

When positioning your Light and your board, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

tutorial for the butterfly lighting setup when the subject is looking off the camera

  • The result will be like this:

final picture with soft butterfly lighting

With a soft Light source, you will still get that lovely definition under the cheekbones and the chin, but the shadows are much softer. Using the soft version of this technique can sometimes be more flattering on certain faces, and it also has the added benefit of hiding blemishes that you might see on the skin.

Conclusion

Butterfly lighting is a great photography lighting pattern, especially if you're starting. It is a flattering and versatile pattern perfect for portraiture. This is because it’s easy to set up and can create a variety of moods, depending on how the light is used. Try out butterfly lighting the next time you are taking portraits.

Setup Image Credit: youtube.com 

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