The butterfly lighting setup is one of the most basic lighting setups that you can use as a beginner in photography. It’s simple to set up and creates soft, pretty shadows on your subject’s face.

butterfly lighting

What Is butterfly lighting?

Butterfly lighting is a very popular portrait lighting style. The reason it’s called butterfly lighting is because the shadow below your nose looks like a butterfly. A

The setup is pretty simple – you need a light source above your subject at around 45 degrees.

You then place a reflector below the subject’s face to fill in the shadows (otherwise their face will be too dark). It doesn’t need to be anything special – it could be white cardboard or even just some folded paper will work fine.


What Is Butterfly Lighting In Photography?

Once the light is positioned above and slightly behind the subject, the second light is positioned in front of the subject, but below the first light source. This produces shadows and highlights on your subject’s face like a butterfly’s wings.

Each light should be placed slightly above and behind the main subject.

If you are using a flash instead of continuous light, use a piece of cardboard or black foam core to create a flag that will block the light from spilling forward onto your background.

Use the reflector card to bounce some light back into the shadows that have been created by your lights.

What Is Butterfly Lighting Used For?

Butterfly lighting is a type of lighting that’s created by using two lights to cast shadows in opposite directions, giving the subject’s face a slimming effect.

This kind of lighting is more flattering for some subjects than others, so you may need to experiment with it when you’re first starting. It can be used for any kind of subject, but it’s particularly good for full-length shots of people or objects where you want to avoid shadows.

Trying this kind of lighting is easy; just find a clear space and place two lights in different positions facing each other. Make sure the lights are low enough that they won’t create a shadow on your subject and make sure there isn’t anything else nearby that will cast a shadow on your subject while using butterfly lighting.

Once you’ve set up the lights, position your camera so that it’s between the two lights. Most cameras have an auto-focus feature that will help you find the right distance from your subject. 

Then take a test shot and look at how the shadows fall across your subject.

If they’re not what you want, try moving one or both of the lights around until you get the right effect.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what butterfly lighting can do:

Butterfly lighting can add depth to flat objects like cards and stationery products. Notice how the light on the card behind the iPhone in the first photo gives it more dimension.

Butterfly lighting can give dimension to textured objects like jewelry, clothing, and other fabric items. 

The Basics Of Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly lighting is an iconic lighting technique that has been used in studio portrait photography for decades. It’s also a very versatile lighting style that can be used in both portraits as well as product photography. 

Whether you’re shooting a headshot, a product or anything else, butterfly lighting is a great starting point because it’s easy to set up, easy to modify, and fairly forgiving of mistakes.

Essentially, butterfly lighting is created by placing two lights on either side of your subject at 45-degree angles to your camera position. There are several variations of this technique, but the basic setup always remains the same; one main light from the camera left and one from the camera right.

The main light from the camera left should be just outside of your subject’s forehead and aimed slightly down at them. This will be your butterfly wing light.

The other light should be aimed higher and brighter than the butterfly wing light so it crosses over onto your subject’s cheekbone to form the other wing – this is called the spotlight or hairline light

What You Need For Butterfly Lighting Setup?

A butterfly lighting setup is one of the most popular lighting schemes for portrait photography. The key element of butterfly lighting is that it illuminates both sides of the face evenly.

This makes butterfly lighting a great choice for photographing people with symmetrical faces, such as models, actors and actresses. It’s also a good choice when you want to create a more dramatic or moody portrait effect because it softens shadows and produces a highly flattering light on skin tones.

The butterfly lighting setup can be applied in two ways:

Butterfly lighting using one light 

This type of butterfly lighting setup is produced by placing one light directly behind your subject, shining on the background (or wall). 

Ideally, the light should be placed at 45 degrees to the left or right of your subject, depending on how much light you want on their face or background.

Butterfly lighting using two lights 

This butterfly lighting setup uses two lights — the main light (such as an umbrella) placed behind your subject and pointed toward the background, and a fill light coming from the front (i.e., from your camera position). 

This type of butterfly lighting is used when you want more detail in both the face and background of your photo.

How To Set Up A Butterfly Lighting Pattern

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to create a butterfly lighting pattern in Adobe Photoshop and then photograph products with it.

Tutorial Resources:

Step 1. Create a new file in Adobe Photoshop.

Create a new document in Adobe Photoshop that is 5 inches wide by 10 inches tall at 300 dpi. This will be the size of your printed pattern. 

If you are planning on printing your pattern on a different paper then the measurements should be changed accordingly.

Step 2. Fill your background with black.

Fill your background layer with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

Step 3. Create a gradient map adjustment layer.

Next, create a gradient map adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map). Click OK when you have chosen your settings and then fill this layer with white using the paint bucket tool (G). Use 50 percent opacity for your gradient map layer to keep the lights and darks in balance.

Step 4. Set up your butterfly lighting pattern with a grid overlay layer.

Go to Filter > Other > Grid to open the grid filter and set up your grid overlay layer


How To Set Up Butterfly Lighting Effectively

Lighting is a great way to add drama and depth to an image. In this video, we take a look at how to set up butterfly lighting for your subject. 

Butterfly lighting creates a rim light around the ears that draws attention to the eyes of your subject. This effect is perfect for portrait photographers or anyone interested in adding a catch light or reflection to their images.


  • Place your subject facing away from the camera with their head tilted down slightly, and then turn on an overhead light and place it above their head.
  • Set up another light directly behind the subject and aim it toward them. You should be able to see the backlight on the top of their head and shoulders; if you can’t see it, try adjusting the power of the backlight until it is visible.
  • Next, adjust your camera’s exposure settings to control how much light is hitting both your subject and background. Keep in mind that you want most of your focus on your subject so don’t overexpose your background too much.
  • Set up a reflector opposite of your subject to bounce some of the light back into them if needed.