Ep 35: Classic portrait lighting styles every photographer should know


When you’re shooting portraits, it can be easy to focus on the posing and the location. But what about the lighting style? Which is the best lighting style to achieve the look you want? Get these classic “go to” lighting styles under your belt, and you’ll always have a solution regardless of who you’re photographing. From moody and gritty, to Rembrandt lighting, Gina and Valerie discuss the four styles you MUST know make your portraits picture perfect.

This week’s theme for #ginachallenge is #rembrandt

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Show notes

Gina dishes on why she loves Khloe Kardashian’s booty (well in these shots anyway)

Photo critique, pics by Gary Lun.
Gary used a beauty dish that the studio provided attached with an Alienbees B800.

Gary Lun 1

Gary Lun 2

Gary Lun 3

Gary Lun 4

Check out Gina’s feedback in this episode.

Gina’s quote of the week: “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Gina discusses her first time. Yes, really.

1. Classic Beauty lighting

Main light is positioned directly above the model’s head

Classic beauty lighting 1

Former Miss Universe Aus
Former Miss Universe Australia – Scherri-Lee Biggs
Actor Firass Dirani
Actor Firass Dirani


  • Also known as Hollywood lighting, or paramount lighting (named after the film studio it was first used in)
  • Clamshell lighting because it is often achieved with two lights arranged like an open clamshell one above the other.
  • And butterfly lighting because the position of the top light creates a shadow under the nose in the shape of a butterfly.
  • This style of lighting can be used with both hard and soft light.
  • Beware of using hard lighting in this style
  • Beyonce untouched: VIDEO: Please Restraint Kenya! ‘Not-So-Flawless’ Photos of Beyonce Just Leaked!
  • I don’t recommend this style be used on fuller models with older or imperfect skin as it tends to emphasise every imperfection and make people look older and fuller than they really are.
  • I use this style of lighting often for my celebrity portraits but have modified the style of lighting to be much softer and more flattering by adding extra fill lights either side of the top and bottom light.
  • This is also my go to single light setup for 80% of my location shoots.
In this image of the cast of underbelly I have used Loop lighting.
Alex Dimitriadis
Actor Alex Dimitriadis


  • A variation of beauty lighting is called loop lighting. This is basically the same setup as beauty lighting but instead of having the light in front it’s to the side slightly.
  • The name “loop lighting” comes from the loop of light under the nose.
  • I use this style of lighting for most of my location shoots because it sculpts the face and replicates natural light better than the classic beauty style.

2. Split lighting

Rockstar Tommi
Rockstar Tommi for the Drop Bears Promo
  • Split light is where the model is half in light and half in shadow. It’s a very moody looking lighting and perfect for creating character portraits or if you want to add drama to an image.
  • I use this style of lighting a lot when I’m shooting dramatic cover shots or to add character to a headshot.
  • This style of lighting tends to suit male models better than female models but I have seen it work really well on certain female models. Rules are meant to be broken right?
  • The amount of contrast can be varied by the amount of fill light used and the style of light.
  • Hard light will give darker shadows with less detail whilst soft light will give less contrast and more detail in the shadows.


3. Rembrandt lighting

Rembrandt lighting

  • Rembrandt lighting is a style named after 15th century Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.
  • Rembrandt used to paint portraits using a single window light to the side of his model and position the model at a certain angle that would create a triangle of light under the eye in the shadow side of the face. This was his signature style.
  • This is probably the most flattering of all the classic lighting styles because it adds a three-dimentionality to the model’s face.
  • The only difference between split and Rembrandt is the slight shift in position of the light which creates slightly more detail in the shadows and of course the triangle.
  • Like split lighting the contrast between the shadow side of the face and the highlight can be increased or decreased using fill light or reflectors.


4. Rim lighting

Kate Ritchie
Radio personality and actress Kate Ritchie. This is a combination of rim light (hair) and daylight lighting the face
Starwars parody rim lighting
I’ve used rim lighting in this Star Wars parody. The rim light separates the models from the heavy background.
Sun as rim lighting
Using the sun as rim light and flash to fill in the shadows.


  • This style of lighting is also called backlight or hair light
  • This style of lighting on its own can give a really cool effect.
  • Rim lighting basically has lights set up behind the models and creates a glow of light or “rim” of light around the model.
  • This style of lighting looks great as a dramatic effect, single light portrait against a dark background, or in conjunction with any of the lighting styles I’ve mentioned above.
  • I often use rim lighting on location outdoors in conjunction with daylight to add a bit of bling or sparkle to my shots in very flat lighting conditions like an overcast day.


Is this my good side?

Short lighting 1
Short lighting
Broad lighting 1
Broad lighting
Short lighting 2
Short lighting
Broad lighting 2
Broad lighting


  • Another really important factor to consider when lighting your models is what side of their face to place the shadow and whether to photograph into the shadow side of the face or the highlight side of the face or square on.
  • Photographing someone from the shadow side is called short lighting. Photographing from the highlight side is called broad lighting.
  • Short lighting gives the optical illusion that a face is narrower than it appears. This lighting style is really flattering for most faces and my go-to technique for most situations.
  • Broad lighting tends to make people’s faces appear wider than they really are. Many inexperienced photographers shoot into the highlight side of the face unintentionally.
  • The effects are quite subtle to the untrained eye but once you see the difference in practice it’s like night and day.

#ginachallenge #rembrandt

4 Responses
  1. Great episode! This has really simplified these lighting techniques for me – the things I had read previously made it seem quite complicated and daunting! Its motivated me to get my lights out and get practicing. Cheers!

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About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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