Glamour Lighting How-To

Lighting styles are the direction you choose to have your light hitting your client to create different styling, or looks on them. You can make a client look 30 pounds lighter (or heavier) just by your choice and direction of your lighting. These styles work with natural light, and with flash, but we are going to focus in on the flash side with this post. But do remember, you can simply replace “soft-box” with sun, reflector or any other light source you encounter.


Mastering the effect of some of the basic lighting styles will not only add some new tools to your photography tool belt, but will also give you much more confidence when you encounter a client that can seem more difficult to photograph. Some clients have round faces, or features that they want minimized, and it is our job as pro’s to help make our clients look their absolute best! So in this series, we are going to show you how to handle tricky situations, bring out the best features of your clients, and take ALL of the guesswork out of it.


When we are headed out to a session (either a wedding or an engagement shoot), one of things that we are thinking about is our “client lighting profile.” Meaning, what type of lighting is going to look great on my client and flatter them, and what type of lighting is going to highlight features that they are not stoked about? You can even go as far as to make some personal notes of lighting that you should, and should not use on that particular client whenever possible. Sometime you can’t control the lighting, but whenever you can control it, do!

So here we go!!


Today’s lighting style that we are going to cover is called “Glamour” lighting. It is also known as Butterfly or Paramount lighting.


glamour lighting


This type of lighting was made super popular in the 30’s by fashion photographers who used this lighting on many of their classic images of fashion stars, models and celebs. The reason we prefer to call this lighting pattern “Glamour” is so that we are reminded of who to use this lighting on – people with above average features. :)


Use for clients with:

Great cheek bones and thin faces

Great skin

Next to no flaws


Don’t use on clients with:

Round faces

bad skin

features they want to hide


This lighting can be very unforgiving if you don’t have a great face (or if you shoot their body straight on and they don’t have a skinny frame), so use it very cautiously with most clients.


How To Do It:

The way to acheive this lighting patter is very simple. We just need a light source (in can be any light source) which for these posts will be the Elinchrom Quadra light rig with a 24×32 Westcott soft-box attached to it.

Step 1. Place to soft-box directly on towards the subjects face (the lighting pattern is determined by how the light hits their nose, so they could be straight on, or have their head turned. As long as the light is hitting them square in the face, it will still be glamour). Then raise it up so that the center of the soft-box is anywhere between 25 and 70 degrees ABOVE the center of their eyes. We use the simplest system, where we make sure that the bottom of our soft-box is at the clients chin height, which places the soft-box in just about the right position with zero guess-work every time!

Step 2. Then you just need enough room to get between the light/light stand and your subject to shoot the image.

The sign that you got the lighting right, is that you will have that small shadow just under the clients nose that looks like a small butterfly (hence the term “butterfly” lighting) as you can see in the above image example.





Now, as we mentioned, the client does not have to be standing square on to you and the light does not have to be right above your head to do this lighting pattern. As you can see in the above shot, you could have their body facing you, but their face turned to the left or right, and as long as the light hits their face straight on, it is still glamour lighting (you can see the small butterfly pattern on the bride above just under her nose). In the above image, the light was about 30 degrees to camera right and we had the bride slightly turn her face that direction. What this does, is still highlight her strong cheek bones, but give some depth and dimension to her body with the highlights and shadows.



When shooting couples, we tend to use this lighting a lot, but make sure that the light is coming from an angle, then have them slightly turn their heads in that direction. This helps us to avoid a seriously dark shadow as the light hits one of them and casts the shadow on the other, and moving to one side helps add that dimension and shape to their body.


Guys that are remotely trim can usually handle glamour lighting fairly well. One trick is to go higher with the light (like the outdoor groom shot) and add more flash than ambient to get those deep shadows and really chisel out their features. I don’t always need beautiful light in a guys eyes, but I prefer to have them look masculine, so raising the light high is a quick way to do that!

So head out today, set up your light, reflector, or find some open shade and turn your clients face directly toward it and try it out! Knowing what this lighting does and how to pull it off fast is a great tool to have in your arsenal!