Westcott Top Pro Elite photographer Jerry Ghionis is widely considered to be one of the best wedding photographers in the world. Along with his wife Melissa, Jerry shares his expertise on posing, creative framing, and lighting in workshops, seminars, and events – often to sold out crowds.

During his recent Luxurious Light seminar at Vistek Camera in Toronto, Jerry discussed the essentials of lighting the human face. Lighting can make or break a portrait, flattering your subjects if positioned properly or pointing out their biggest flaws when positioned poorly.

Learning how to light faces is simple. Common, easy-to-recreate lighting patterns will help you flatter your subjects.

Here, Jerry suggests to first begin by observing your clients facial features. Does he/she has masculine features or feminine features? A strong bone structure or a soft bone structure? A clear complexion or problematic skin? A wide face or a thin face? After recognizing these important features, you can then select which lighting style your subject will be presented best in.

For strong, masculine faces, split lighting can be very flattering. Split lighting is created with a single light source placed to one side of your subject, as shown below. This creates drastic shadows on one side of the face.

Split Lighting by Jerry Ghionis

When photographing subjects with soft bone structures, you may decide to shape their face with shadows. Butterfly lighting is created with a single light source placed directly in front and slightly above your model. Butterfly lighting helps accentuate check bones and jaw lines, as shown below.


And for clients that may have problematic skin, Jerry suggests using clamshell lighting. This style of lighting “washes” the face with light, making the skin look smooth and clean. Clamshell lighting is created with two horizontal light source, one place just below the subject and one place just above.


With just a few simple techniques and a little bit of experimentation, you can master portrait lighting and impress all of your clients.

Lighting Gear in Action

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