How to Improve Your Portraits by Using Butterfly Lighting

Have you ever wondered how fashion photographers manage to capture such beautiful light on models’ faces? Butterfly lighting is a technique that you can use to achieve professional results in your portraiture. In this video Mark Wallace explains how it’s done:

What is butterfly lighting?

There aren’t actually any butterflies involved; the name refers to the shape of the shadow created by the overhead light. Wallace sets a light up on an axis directly above the model and above the angle of the camera so that it shines directly down on the model’s face. This direct light creates a butterfly-like shadow beneath her nose.

butterfly light shadow

“Butterfly” shadow beneath nose.

How to Use Butterfly Lighting

Wallace uses a beauty dish to soften and diffuse the light. When using a beauty dish, it’s important to note that the grid has a tab on one side that is worth paying attention to, because it is quite difficult to remove from the light if installed with the tab facing inward. A good boom stand is also an important piece of equipment to have so that the beauty dish is securely supported.

After the overhead light/beauty dish is set up, you’ll find that there are still strong shadows beneath the subject’s chin. A reflector held beneath the subject’s chin, angled toward the face, will soften this shadow and give your model a lovely glow.

butterfly lighting reflector

A reflector is used to balance the light.

An added benefit of using a reflector with this type of light setup is the creation of beautiful catchlights in the model’s eyes:

butterfly lighting catch light

Butteryfly lighting creates distinct catchlights in the model’s eyes.

One of the many benefits of using butterfly lighting in your studio is that it allows you to achieve a soft, diffused light on your model with relatively uncomplicated equipment and minimal post-processing.


Butterfly lighting flatters almost any face.

Wallace notes that using butterfly lighting in the studio is fast, easy, and works with almost any face. You can achieve dramatic improvements in the quality of your own portraits by using this technique.

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