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As my time without a dedicated shooting space is [finally!] coming to an end, I thought why not pop up a tutorial in one of the smallest spaces I’ve worked in, using one light only, and a dog. This lighting technique is a really simple one when you get all your bits and pieces lined up well, just make sure you do your prep work.

I have to say, you do need to have some basic flash knowledge to actually set up your camera and lights correctly, but never fear – we have the essential bits in our Flash 101 – how to start with off-camera flash series here. So if you don’t know your strobe from your speedlight, or how to get your flash and camera to talk together, you need to go there first then come back here.

There is a full BTS of the Instagram Valentines post plus a full edit of the image available to MTog’s, that’s here.

As for this session looking at a good placement for this lighting technique with dogs, that’s here:

What do I need to do this?

Diving into this in a little more detail, you could split the photography equipment required into two camps, entry-level and studio-level:

Remember, you can use the code 10OFFTPSJM to get 10% off using the links provided below…

Entry-Level EquipmentStudio-Level Equipment
StandSimple stand like this.Boom stand like this OR
My stand, which is here.
LightSpeedlight like this.Strobe like this (mine).
ModifierAdaptor like this +
Simple softbox, like this. (switch to S-Type for use with the adaptor above)
Lush parabolic umbrella, like this.
These are not affiliate links and we do not get any money from purchases made through them.

What is butterfly lighting in photography?

Originally known as paramount lighting, it is essentially where the light source is placed immediately in front of and above the subject. With this placement, and when done correctly, the light casts a shadow that is in the shape of a butterfly underneath a human subject’s nose, hence the name.

Usually, it is at a slight angle but it can often be placed literally on top of the subject. Usually, the subject is positioned slightly behind the light, or behind the centre of intensity of the modifier, to soften the light even further.

Again, usually, the light is used alone, but it can be paired really nicely with a hair light, rim light, backdrop light or a reflector to bounce light back up at the subject’s face from below. With dogs, the latter is usually not really an option.

As a helper, this screengrab from the lounge “small-room set up” can be seen below:

In an ideal world, and if I was using my kit with a parabolic like the one I’ve linked above, I’d have the light even more directly above, pointing almost straight down, but in the same place, so Bryt’s head would be only just touched by the spill of the light at the back there.

You can swing the mount on this light stand so it is underslung, this would also be helpful to add a more downward direction of the light, but then it would be less replicable for the vast majority of you guys!

This is a good way to get started though, but it is important to ensure the subjects head is set behind the centre line of the light source if you can.

Things to remember when using butterfly lighting with dog photography

Butterfly lighting relies a lot more on your skill in subject control and positioning than my other easy small-space studio set-up that you can find here. Therefore, there are some important points to consider:

  1. Can you keep the subject in their little sweet spot there?
    If not, use a leash! If that isn’t an option, angle the light more at the subject than down, to achieve a little more cushion room with the spill (this will sacrafice the “butterfly” nature of the light!)
  2. Can you get the subject to stay still in a straight line to you, or are they looking off to one side a lot?
    If they are, this lighting set-up isn’t going to work very well unless you photograph them side-on. A 45-degree look away from the camera will make your catchlights really unneven which can be less desireable.
  3. Can you get their attention at you, or are they looking up or down a lot?
    If they are, again, your catchlights are going to bite you in the behind. Not the end of the world, but that other set up linked at the top of this section will be best for these situations.

Using butterfly lighting creates gorgeous soft light from above that really highlights the faces of your subjects, but it isn’t the easiest technique to apply if you do not have a good connection with your subject.

It is, however, absolutely one to try!

Here are some more of Bryt from this session – nothing moved for these! There is a full BTS of the heart photo and a full edit over on this post here for the MTogs. You can learn more about Premium Membership here.