Photo Tip – Get Rid Of The Turkey Neck Waddle, Use Butterfly Lighting In Your Portrait Photography!

In previous articles, we’ve been discussing photo lighting patterns where we place the light source to the side of the subject – split lighting, loop lighting and Rembrandt lighting – and create shadows that go off to the side. Continuing with our series of portrait photography lighting patterns, today’s photo tip discusses “Butterfly Lighting”!

Keeping in mind that it’s shadows that create 3D depth and form in our photos, these lighting patterns are good ones to make our subjects come to life and “POP”.

But, the flip side of shadows showing form is that they sometimes show things we may not want shown!

For example, what if we are doing a portrait photograph of an elderly lady? I’m not talking about some moody character study; I’m talking about a nice photo of grandma.

Everyone over a certain age wants to look younger. As an old dude myself, I can tell you that my outward appearance has absolutely no relationship with the way I feel inside and the way I wish I looked!

In other words, I’m a 23 year old trapped in a 63 year old body.

But, what makes us look older?

It’s sagging skin and wrinkles that visually age us. The older we get the more – and deeper – wrinkles we get.

If we could tone down the wrinkles, we would visually appear much younger.

By the way… never COMPLETELY get rid of them, it looks fake and will make the portrait worse.

Since it is the shadows that show form, it is the shadows that visually create wrinkles. The darker the shadow, the deeper the wrinkle – and vice versa. So, to visually eliminate or tone down wrinkles, all we need to do is lighten the shadows that visually created them. Obviously the way to do that is by shining a light into the wrinkles.

To do that means we have to have the light coming from straight in front of the subject – at the camera angle.

A ring flash (a ring light is an on camera flash, but completely circles the lens) can work.

In fact, we most often see ring lights used in modeling shots where they need an absolutely flawless skin.

This is the ideal light for removing any sort of blemish or wrinkle, but it is a very flat light and really isn’t that good for portrait photography. It leaves an odd looking, unappealing catch light in the eyes too!

Slightly better is the on camera flash that is normally attached to the top of the camera. But we still have a flat light – and with both ring and regular on camera flashes we have problems with red eye.

So, we take the light off the camera and – staying at the camera’s position, we raise it up. It’s above our head and we will actually be shooting from under the light.

This creates the “Butterfly Lighting” pattern because it casts a small butterfly shaped shadow under the nose. It can be tiny and almost unnoticeable, or slightly larger – depending on how high you position the light. But, it is enough to add some depth and life to the photo.

The butterfly lighting pattern fills in and lightens a lot of the shadows in the wrinkles – but not so much that it looks phony – and it will create a shadowed area under the chin too! This visually gets rid of that turkey neck waddle we old people get!

True, this can be done in Photoshop – if you want to spend hour after hour retouching. Or you could spend 5 minutes setting up a butterfly lighting pattern. Your choice!

Grab your favorite model and a flashlight… get out there today and experiment with this photo tip. Learn how to create a butterfly lighting pattern in your portrait photography and your wrinkly older subjects (and acne ridden younger models) will thank you!