5 Classic Lighting Positions for Portrait Photography

5 Classic Lighting Positions for Portrait Photography


We get a lot of questions here at dPS headquarters about lighting subjects. Just today someone emailed asking the difference between Rembrant Lighting and Split Lighting.

In the following video Jay P. Margan demonstrates 5 different types of lighting:

  • Rembrant Light
  • Split Light
  • Broad Light
  • Butterfly Light
  • Loop Light

While Jay’s using some great studio gear in this video many of the principles will apply with different sources of light. Of course these are not the only ways to position lights – as mentioned in the video the way you light a subject will vary from person to person and these positions are more presented as ‘departure points’ from which you’ll create your own techniques.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Rob Lipscombe March 23, 2013 09:26 pm

    Great video...easy to follow and will definately help with my portraits. Look forward to more. Thanks!

  • Jeremy Nix December 16, 2012 05:58 pm

    I like the end, and the lady with the bowling ball is hilarious!

  • Pat October 15, 2012 06:05 am

    Super informative and super fun lesson. You probably couldn't have found a better model with perfect skin and contour features that respond to each nuance. Thank you.

  • Jim Penar September 3, 2012 07:30 am

    Great job, thanks a bunch for the info. Very down to earth informative. The ending is a ton of fun, big surprise. She did a great job with the wipeout.

  • Stuart Hemming May 19, 2012 05:20 pm

    Great instruction, well presented. Loved the end too! Will look for more of Jay's stuff.

  • Paul March 3, 2012 03:18 am

    Thanks for this, always welcome portrait tips for my wedding photography in Devon http://www.whitepetal.co.uk

  • RenĂ© February 20, 2012 12:57 pm

    It's Rembrandt, with dt. Thanks for the list! :)

  • David December 15, 2011 06:12 am

    Thank you, very helpful video. I don't do much portrait (mainly street and macro), but plan to do some portraits of my kids to use as Christmas presents. Your video should greatly improve my results.

  • Marco Gandeza November 16, 2011 05:48 am

    I'm a budding photographer and I love doing portraits. I've been having so many lighting questions in my head lately and this video kind of answers all of those questions for me. Good job, man! Keep those informative videos coming. By the way, the pretty lady looks stunning. She looks like my sister. :D

  • Melody November 15, 2011 09:18 pm

    wish these videos were closed captioned :(

  • Paul Webb November 15, 2011 10:52 am

    Very useful info and I love the ending. I would like to see something for people who would like to take good portraits but don't have the luxury of a studio or that kind of lighting.

  • cjh November 15, 2011 05:49 am

    Great simple instructional video. The end is great.

  • Vera Kerr November 14, 2011 10:08 pm

    informative and entertaining, great

  • Lina November 14, 2011 09:43 am

    HAHA, great ending :)

    good video, too -- I'm a beginner, so I appreciate clear instructions and advice!

  • Johan November 14, 2011 05:17 am

    Great description of lifting and the ending twist is so funny!

  • jackie November 13, 2011 11:43 am

    blahaha! great vid and ending to make it all seem accidentally hilarious :-). As one person said above, I, too, am mostly a natural-light shooter, and this vid was very helpful. Thank you for spelling it out in an easy to learn way. Would love to know lamp info:
    Tungsten? Florescent? LED? Watts? Continuous or strobes? thx in advance

  • Rick V November 13, 2011 09:17 am

    Very well done. Good instruction on what to look for in portraiture. The voice and speaking style are personable and very effective, similar to Johnny Miller, former golfer and now TV golf announcer.

  • Stu November 13, 2011 12:50 am

    Great piece. Learned a lot. Great shots of the lady. Did she ride the bike too?

  • Squeaky Weasel November 12, 2011 06:13 pm

    Very informative. There was an article or video on here recently about recreating studio lighting situations with a combination of available light and inexpensive hardware store purchased lights. Wonder if someone could show how to do these on a budget?

    Thanks for the great resource! - SW

    PS: What's with the guy on the bike riding through the scene just before the end?

  • Laine Torres November 12, 2011 06:51 am

    Very good! Very clarifying and too funny! Haha! Love the end!

  • Jeff November 12, 2011 06:25 am

    Thanks for showing a great demonstration. And thanks for the dash of humor in your last scene! :-) I hope you only had to do one take for that. ;-)

  • Kirk November 12, 2011 04:41 am

    AWESOME!!! Great ending also...

  • Mike November 12, 2011 03:42 am

    Great, simple to understand video. The ending was hysterical and surprising!

  • Alicia S November 11, 2011 08:57 pm

    Who saw the red bike wheel through at the last overhead shot? Great video!

  • Jan November 11, 2011 08:55 am

    Great video and LOL'ing at the ending :D

  • D. Skipper November 11, 2011 08:07 am

    I 'm new to this and I have got a lot to learn. This info was facinating. Thanks

  • Erin November 11, 2011 04:56 am

    This is exactly the kind of learning support I need!! Thank you! Thank you! Excellent resource!

  • Geoffrey K November 11, 2011 04:42 am

    Thank you for sharing. I am still new to portraits and am constantly looking for examples.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 11, 2011 02:42 am

    You can also use a snoot for directed lighting


  • Mike November 10, 2011 05:11 pm

    To the person that wants to know about soft box size... Get the biggest one you can afford! The bigger the light source, the softer the shadows. Also even with a big box, you want to get it as close to your subject as possible. Again it's the softer shadow thing.

  • Wayne November 10, 2011 08:53 am

    I've seen this demonstrated in still photos and words, but this video really pulls it all together, thanks!!

  • darris November 10, 2011 05:28 am

    Classic ending . . . .

    great lighting tips! Indoor lighting is the most challenging for me as I typically take outdoor photographs. Thanks for your great tips!

  • Robert Gabriel November 9, 2011 08:24 pm

    Darren, killing movie. :)
    The end is totally marvelous.

  • Jocelyn Harrold November 9, 2011 10:54 am

    Took a portrait photography course, did not really "get" it then. The light went on with this video (no pun intended) I actually understood.

  • ccting November 9, 2011 10:37 am

    I can no more see the movie.. my pc problem?

  • Sonya November 9, 2011 09:03 am

    Love it I just found this site love it i need classes i don't have the money jet to attend to one!!

  • Greg Aitkenhead November 9, 2011 06:42 am

    Thanks for the great information. I've been working on portraits lately--with no budget for lighting gear, just natural light. This is exactly the kind of tutorial I needed to understand how to improve my shots.

  • hansi trompka November 9, 2011 06:24 am

    Great! Thank you...

    Portrait from satyr


  • Barry E.Warren November 9, 2011 01:58 am

    Great lesson on lighting, Loved the ending.

  • Rik Ruff November 9, 2011 01:56 am

    This is a fantastic, informative & well made video! The ending is perfect :P

  • Jean November 9, 2011 01:14 am

    Hah, what an ending. At first I thought it was really an accident but it's brilliant :D And the tips are useful as well.

  • sil November 9, 2011 12:35 am

    Great video! Loved the ending! :)

  • James Clancy November 8, 2011 09:35 pm

    Ha haa, that was an excellent video and a really good lesson on all aspects of lighting.

  • Dewan Demmer November 8, 2011 08:32 pm

    Very informative. More toys to my growing list, although i think I will hold off a bit on the lighting ... so much to learn.

  • Balaji November 8, 2011 06:19 pm

    Very well explained... No jargons which flies over the heads of beginners like me. Looking forward to many such videos...

    Thanks a lot!!!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 8, 2011 04:51 pm


    Thanks for the great tips... here is a result

    A Bit of Boudoir


  • Tim0962 November 8, 2011 03:24 pm

    Thank you,
    I have always been scared when it comes to lighting. This video has helped me understand it much better.

  • Average Joe November 8, 2011 12:45 pm

    Hahaha! I read the first comment before watching the video, so I was expecting something, but that was still unexpected and funny!
    Great video! Jealous of the lighting equipment. I hear eBay calling.

  • Karl Charbonneau November 8, 2011 12:14 pm

    Awesome video & very well explained.

    I must admit I did not see the end coming at all! :) I always like when people don't take themself too seriously.

  • ccting November 8, 2011 10:27 am

    Wow... just going to buy those equipment. May I know what is the minimum size of softbox recommended?


  • Bekah November 8, 2011 10:06 am

    Enjoyed the video, and I now envy anyone with all this equipment even more!
    But I did learn today, while taking photos of a toddler outside, you can get catchlights from your clothing too, I was wearing a lime green tshirt, and in the photos there is a light in the eye from where I was positioned.
    I was pretty impressed with my acidental achievement. : )

  • Ray Villaraza November 8, 2011 09:38 am

    Amazing. Just in time for a shoot! Thanks!

  • Marcel November 8, 2011 09:00 am

    This video helps me understanding lighting a subject a bit more.
    Well explained and funny.
    Thank you.

  • Katheryn November 8, 2011 08:21 am

    Great info and AWESOME ending!

  • Bones November 8, 2011 08:03 am

    The End is just Fun as hell ! Great review of simple lightning, thx for the video !

  • James Bong November 8, 2011 07:56 am

    Great video on studio lighting! I really liked the ending.