Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Paramount Lighting

Paramount lighting is a lighting setup where a strong key light is placed directly in front of the subject with a slight downward angle, lighting the subject evenly from in front.

Marlene Dietrich, source Pinterest
It got its name from the classic glamour shots of Hollywood celebrities like Marlene Dietrich, who insisted on it. It's also called butterfly lighting because the shadow under the nose looks like a butterfly.

If the model is looking right at you, you need to have the light on an extension arm so that the light pole isn't blocking your line of sight. The diffusion on the key light can vary depending on the effect you want. Sometimes you need a softbox or a reflector as a fill light to reduce the harshness of the shadows.

Paramount or butterfly lighting off-angle Source: Zealfaith
It's still Paramount lighting if the subject is looking off to the side. Paramount lighting emphasizes the cheekbones and can be both flattering and dramatic.

Question for discussion: Do any art schools teach courses on lighting for artists? It seems like a basic thing all artists should know, but in my experience, photographers know this stuff, but most artists don't.
Related Posts on Portrait Lighting:


Andrew said...

I remember back at SCAD in the sequential art department I had a professor who was very adamant about teaching us cinematography theory not just for storyboard work but for comics as well. As best as I can remember, we got some of the basics of it, so we at least knew and could articulate what sort of dramatic lighting we wanted for a scene or were trying to go for. It's funny, because I do recall picking up a lot of that information somewhere along the way, but I can't remember if it was mostly during school or afterwards during my own educational explorations.

I do distinctly remember the illustration department at the time not getting at all any sort of training in that regard, which I suppose makes sense - we had some crossover with the game and film departments from time to time since we could speak a similar language and some of us were going into the same industries.

Michael Pianta said...

I spent four and a half years in college getting my BFA, and another five plus years at an atelier honing my craft. No one has ever spoken to me about types of lighting or lighting strategies at either of these institutions, except in a very generic way.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Wow, I never knew this was a "technique" of lighting. I've seen this effect bazillions of times and just assumed this was simply how gorgeous Dietrich was. I'm thinking about two things: artificiality and body dysmorphia, as well as learning from others.

Artificiality: we keep amping up photos to make them "better" to the point that they now surpass anything in reality, yet they are presented as real. Have you seen some of the flower and garden pictures on Pinterest where the foliage and the blossoms are altered way beyond reality, yet no mention of this is made? Is this helpful? Are all aspects of our lives going to be subject to the same issues as body dysmorphia has caused - where unrealistic presentations of women and our bodies creates in us anxiety, over-the-top preoccupation and weird attempts to fix the perceived problem? Will gardeners turn to Potemkin village solutions to try to achieve the otherworldly color and lighting effects of over-Photoshopped images presented to us? I don't think drawings and paintings fall into the same trap, for some reason - since we know they are creations, we bring a certain amount of idealism to the image - and enjoy this.

Learning from others: Always a great thing. Right? The world is filled with stuff that we'd never know if we didn't crossover either accidentally or as part of the educational process. We would miss out on wonderful tangents that create the richness of our lives. Any cross-over is good, I think. Although it is harder to put into practice. In my own life, I am willing to open up to some things (I listen to a podcast on statistics, of all things!) but I can't seem to get myself to open up to other areas of influence: a friend who does motocross - I just wrinkle my nose and tune out....pop music - I just can't seem to get there...why? It can't be that these things have nothing to offer me. I think it is that we have hierarchies of what we think are creative.

FlatClem said...

I did teach a lighting class in a visual effects school in France (2 weeks) but I definitely felt it needed more time to expand on.
People lack a lot of knowledge in this domain, especially in visual effects where you are supposed to complete/enhance the director of photography's work.

Krystal said...

I don't know about the policy of art school on that point, but I do teach lighting in my own classes - at least some basis. In my opinion, a basic knowledge in lighting is necessary for every artist who want to work on his own references to get the best of it. I took photo classes myself, in order to achieve better results in my imaginery paintings. Thank you for that post :-)

Garrett said...

At NYAA there was very little lighting instruction. Most instructors used 1-point lighting, I think just to keep it as simple as possible, adhering to a sort of traditional lighting conceit. Some of the drawing teachers were sculptors and they would actually fully illuminate the figure, eliminating shadow shapes! Good to understand anatomy, but not so much for image-making.

It wasn't until I was a professional commercial artist that I learned what little I know about lighting for photography, and boy I wish I had learned it earlier! It is almost like a dirty secret... So much can be accomplished by just placing the lights where they should be for the effect you're after.

There was one teacher at the NYAA, Wade Schuman, who did advocate taking as many steps as you could to make your reference material (whether photos or from life) as close to your desired end result as possible... He'd say something like, "painting is so hard, why make it harder by using awful references?"

But I feel like lighting is one of those 'dirty' technique questions that has been deemed below the 'enlightened' contemporary art student.

Glenn Tait said...

Not at art college. My introduction to a serious look at lighting was in Apollo Dorian's "Values for Pictures Worth A Thousand Words". His book is based on lecture notes from his mentor Frank Reilly. The book talks about lighting as well as showing how to create charts to help map out value.

Objects were lit by 4 main light sources:
Front Lighting, everything in light
Form Lighting, 3/5 in light, 2/5 in shadow
Rim Lighting, 1/5 in light, 4/5 in shadow
Back Lighting, all or most in shadow

Each of the 4 categories was further broken down into strong, normal and weak light sources. Additionally there were examples where the object lit had examples of being influenced by a reflective or an absorbent wall or object.

Transparent, opacity, transmitted light and the effects of coloured light were also discussed.

Dorian's book can be heavy reading at times or difficult to understand in some areas but there is still a lot of good information in there.

bernicky said...

I've never studied formally just pick up books that interest me. What I know of lighting for portraiture is from Nicholas Hillard's The Art of Limning in which he favours a full front. You can see this in portraits of Elizabeth I but when doing portraits of the knights and men of the court he varied the light angle a little more. For the Queen he sought the full front light to make her look as ageless as possible, for the men I fancy it was less important. I probably learned more about lighting from being a photographer but, on that front, I prefer to shoot into the light rather than with the light and tend to like paintings that have that as a quality as well.

Kyle Henry said...

I learned a lighting set up from one of John H Sanden's books. It even had a diagram of where to place the lighting. It was a big help.

Elena Jardiniz said...

I've known about lighting for years, but I learned on my own. The technical aspects of 'art' weren't taught by instructors when I went to school, but I was fortunate that I knew they existed and fought to learn them. Art has been my interest, not my bread and butter, but I have retained my love of it. Here's a book I found some years ago that beautifully explains lighting, color and a LOT of technical aspects of it. Don't be put off by the 'digital' in the title - the book's great whatever media you use. It's DIGITAL LIGHTING AND RENDERING by Jeremy Birn

Paul Sullivan said...

I didn't learn anything about lighting in school. I learned about it through hard knocks and a lot of great people willing to share their knowledge and experience. But the heck with all that.

That picture of Marlene stopped me cold! I always thought she looks just like the gal I almost married over 40 years ago. Now, the good thing is it looks like we may decide to pick up where we left off.

seadit said...

Not sure how things are done today, but when I studied fine art years ago we learned about light the way most do as it relates to your subject (source, reflected, etc.), but we never touched the subject of 'how to'.

A few years ago I found a great book on the subject for photographers, but I think it would be helpful to anyone wanting to understand lighting: Light—Science and Magic, An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua (published by Focal Press). It's 'provides you a comprehensive theory of the nature and principles of light so that you can use lighting to express your own creativity and master your photography.'