9 Portrait Lighting Setups: One, Two, & Three Light Setups

Updated on May 3, 2024 in Photography by

9 Portrait Lighting Setups: One, Two, & Three Light Setups

Portrait lighting setup allows photographers to capture different moods.

Split lighting helps you create bold and dramatic shots. Butterfly lighting captures elegance. Cross-lighting adds depth to your image.

We are going to learn about each of them. Moreover, the article will share 9 types of portrait lighting setups with you.

This is to help photographers use lighting—and create engaging portrait images.

So, without any further ado, let’s get started.

9 Portrait Lighting Setup By Professionals

1. Split Lighting

One Light Setups

Split Lighting portrait image

Split Lighting is a portrait lighting setup where one light focuses on revealing only half of the face. The other half remains in the dark, essentially splitting the face.

You can vary the intensity and tone of the light to change how moody or dramatic it is. Hard lighting will emphasize skin texture while creating hard shadows on the other side of the face.

If you reduce the intensity, the shadow on the darker side of the face will reduce as well. This reduces the emphasis on the skin texture, making the model look more natural.

Split Lighting Setup

Split Lighting Setup for Portrait Photography
  • In Split lighting portrait photography setup, the camera and model align in one line.
  • A light is placed on one of the models at a 90-degree angle to the camera.
  • This setup illuminates one side while creating a shadow on the other.

2. Rim Lighting

One light Setup | Three Light Setups

Rim Lighting model portrait image

Rim Lighting is a portrait lighting setup where a light is placed behind the subject. This creates a clean outline of the model.

If you wish to capture a dramatic image, you can use a one-light setup. It will let you capture the outline of your model images with minimal facial details and Catchlight.

But if you are looking to capture a well-lit portrait image, can you use a three-point lighting setup.

This way, the backlight will create an outline of the model, as well as the lights on the side will illuminate the face.

Rim Lighting Setup

One Light Setup

Rim Light one light setup
  • For the Rim light portrait lighting setup, we simply use Light A and place it behind the model.
  • Camera, model, and light are generally aligned with one another. But if the outline of the model is not what you want, you can move the camera a little sideways.
  • Because lighting is right behind, the details of the face won’t be visible. But moving your camera on the side can expose some light that is falling on the subject.

2. Three Light Setup

Rim Light Three light setup
  • A three light setup is also a popular portrait lighting setup. In a one-light setup, where the front side is not illuminated, we use two lights (Light B & C) to expose the front.
  • One can also use a reflector in place of either side lights. This setup allows you to create a well lit portrait image with a clear outline of the model.
  • Furthermore, photographers can use color filters in split lighting as well.

3. Butterfly Lighting

One Light Setups

Butterfly Lighting side view illustration

Butterfly portrait lighting setup is a one-light setup for professional photography. The key light is elevated above the model and faced down at 30 degrees on the face of the model.

This is to create a soft lighting effect where shadows are not too hard. But if you are seeing shadows on the eye socket, you can lower the light a little.

Butterfly Lighting Setup

Butterfly lighting setup
  • Using a light stand, elevate your lighting right in front of the model. Once Light A is at a good height, tilt it to face towards the model.
  • Here, look out for shadows formed on the eye socket. If you are looking to remove them, lower your light, and this will help you with that.

4. Clamshell Lighting

Two Light Setups

Clamshell Lighting side view illustration

Clamshell portrait lighting setup for photography is a two-light setup for portrait photography.

Just like the Butterfly lighting setup, one light is placed at a height facing the model. In addition, a filler light from the bottom is placed to remove any shadows.

Since the side view of this setup looks like a clamshell, it is known as the clamshell lighting setup.

Clamshell Lighting Setup

Clamshell Lighting lighting setup
  • To set up a Clamshell portrait lighting setup, elevate your key light right above the model. This is just like a butterfly lighting setup.
  • Now, in order to remove soft shadows from the lower half of the face, use filler light from the bottom.
  • Once the portrait lighting setup is complete, you can capture the model from between Light A on the top and Light B at the bottom.

5. Loop Lighting

One Light Setups

Loop Lighting model portrait image

Loop Lighting portrait photography setup is a one light setup. It is used to capture natural portrait images where one side is slightly more exposed then the other side.

The shadows on the other side aren’t as hard as with split lighting. Rather, they add natural contrast, similar to light coming from the shadow.

Loop Lighting Setup

Loop Lighting Portrait Photography Setup
  • For loop portrait lighting setup, elevate the lighting eye level of the model. And with the camera and model aligned with one another, your lighting should be slightly on your side (right or left).
  • This will make the light fall on the three-fourth side of the face, with defined shadows on the remaining face.

6. Rembrandt Lighting

One Light Setups

Rembrandt Lighting model portrait image

Rembrandt Lighting is one light setup for portrait photography. The light is placed at a further distance to make the shadow of the nose reach shadows formed on the side of the face.

It creates a natural yet dramatic effect. On the side where the shadow is being cast, one can see a triangle below the eyes. This triangle is known as the Rembrandt Triangle. The use of Rembrandt’s portrait lighting setup can be easily seen across images where the aim is to create a natural setup while adding drama to the image.

Rembrandt Lighting Setup

Rembrandt Lighting Portrait Photography Setup
  • For Rembrandt lighting, place your lighting source further away from the model. This is to ensure a long shadow of the nose is cast on the face.
  • Move your camera close to the model in order to capture facial details.
  • Rembrandt’s portrait lighting setup works well for models with slightly long noses that are slightly tilted to one side.

7. Short Lighting

One light Setup

Short Lighting model portrait image

Short lighting is a portrait lighting setup involving one light placed at a distance to cast a long shadow on the model’s face. Additionally, instead of facing the camera directly, the model turns towards the lighting.

As you can see, it is similar to Rembrandt lighting, with just the model turning towards the light instead of the camera. Short lighting setup is generally preferred for female models as it makes the face look slimmer.

Short Lighting Setup

Short Lighting Portrait Photography Setup
  • For the following portrait lighting setup, place your lighting at a distance that casts a long shadow on the model’s face.
  • Now, turn the model towards the lighting. This will create a dramatic contrast that you can capture from a distance or a close shot.

8. Broad Lighting

One light Setup

Broad Lighting model portrait image

In the Broad lighting setup, the model faced away from the source of light instead of toward the light in the Short lighting setup.

This illuminates the face from the ear to the nose, making the whole face look broader. For the same reason, this portrait lighting setup is preferred for male models.

Broad Lighting Setup

Broad Lighting Portrait Photography Setup
  • Place your lighting at a distance that creates soft lighting on the face of the model.
  • Now, turn the model away from the lighting enough to illuminate their face from ear to nose.

9. Cross Lighting

Two Light Setup

Cross Lighting model portrait image

Cross lighting is a two-light portrait photography setup where lights are placed diagonally opposite to each other while facing towards the model.

This helps create a separation of the model from the background, as well as add a 3D depth to the image.

Cross Lighting Setup

Cross Lighting Portrait Photography Setup
  • Light A and Light B are positioned diagonally opposite to one another, where the model stands in between them.
  • The light from Light B illuminates half of the model from the back, creating a clear separation and outline of the model.
  • On the other side, Light A illuminates the face of the model–similar to Rembrandt’s lighting.


By mastering these nine types of portrait lighting setups, photographers can unlock endless creative possibilities.

From the bold drama of split lighting to the elegant simplicity of butterfly lighting, each setup allows you to shape light in unique ways.

To truly master portraiture, always pushing forward and trying new lighting styles. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

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