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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Paramount, or the 'Butterly' lighting pattern for portrait photography.

Episode 13 of 1 minute 101's v2

What is... the Paramount lighting pattern for portrait photography?

Paramount is probably my favourite of all the patterns, so called because it was the pattern often seen in Paramount movies back in the day. The reason paramount lighting (or butterfly, if you prefer) is my favourite, is that it can do it all! To achieve it, all you just need to do is put a light in front and above your subject, angle it down, and you're good to go!

So why does it 'do it all'?

Well, you're going to highlight the all important plains of the face, and with less light fall off. Depending on how hard and far away your light is away from your model in a Loop or Rembrandt lighting set up, by the time it navigates the nose and reaches the far cheek, you may find you've lost a little exposure, and so you'll have the cheek closest to the light hotter (over exposed, but in this context, just higher exposed) than the other. Hitting your subject from above head on, the forehead, to cheek to the chin ratio of light will be negotiable, and you'll be placing the natural fall off of light right down the cheek bones, helping contour the face. If you're working with just one light and the shadows are heavy, they'll appear far less distracting or dramatic as other patterns as a result. You can also lower the light a little (or raise your model's chin) and then place that butterfly pattern on their nostrils instead of their lip, with the nostrils being a place where a lot of editors/portrait photographers will 'burn in' (aka, make darker) to offer more depth anyways. The big Brucie bonus if you're shooting your subject head on however, is you can hide their own shadow behind them and use the light from said key light to offer a natural gradient to the background too.

And what's the worse that's going to happen if your model wants to move head positions every few seconds and gaze off in a 45 degree direction to the camera? Well, then you've only just created broad Loop or Rembrandt lighting instead. Broad basically means that the shadow is on the far cheek from the camera, where it'll probably be less noticeable as a result, named as such became the cheek nearest the camera has a broader exposure of light making it appear bigger potentially due to the lack of shadow contour.. but i'll cover short vs broad lighting and how different lighting patterns can change the shape of the face a bit further down the line! Oh, and worth a mention, however, is that some people really dislike the hard chin shadow on the neck with this pattern. Like I said in the last blog, you'll have to find your own preferences, styles, and obsess over your own shadows and distractions to fit your vision - there's no right answer. As you can see in a few of the below images too, your paramount lighting doesn't need to be head on, just merely in line with the model's nose.

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