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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

The split lighting pattern for portrait photography.

Episode 14 of 1 minute 101's v2

What is... the split lighting pattern for portrait photography? So this is where we do what we said you probably shouldn't do in the previous blog! Don't get the light up, and don't get it angled down! With split lighting, you're pretty much on a level with your subject and hitting them side on. The light fall off will be dramatic and typically finish in the middle of the face, splitting it in two while leaving the remainder in shadow. It's all about mood and drama, but while it doesn't have to be low-key (heavily shadowed and dark), it more often than not will be.

So how can split lighting not be heavily shadowed? Well, we can fill it with another light or reflector, but that will probably take away the reason we choose that very pattern in the first instance, or let's say we're using two lights; we can then sandwich our subject in the middle. It'll also probably be one of the few occasions that we'll technically be using two key lights too, as they'll most likely be equally powered in terms of exposure, and effectively doing the same job either side. With normal white light, it's not a great look, but you can break the rules on occasion, plus you can get some funky results while getting creative with lighting gels (coloured light) too. I'm not sure if it would technically be quantified as split lighting doing this, but moving the split lighting set-up back slightly behind your subject, so it doesn't split the face at the nose, but say, the cheek bone either side of the face instead, then this is often the basis of all two light low-key set-ups... which we'll cover later in these 101's.

Below we have some examples of what I mentioned above, so from left to right, and from top to bottom, they are as follows: Our mannequin shot during the videoing of the 101. Then we have Libbie, a young client. Split lighting is typically more of an older, powerful vibe, and Libbie was only 14 here, but as a budding hockey player, it's great for sports drama and strong attitudes too! With Dee, this technically isn't split lighting, but it would be near enough if she was looking towards the camera in that same pose, and it's also a great example of said low-key technique of moving the light just slightly behind your model and facing back in towards her. Zoe Page clearly has slit lighting on her face, and that low-key vibe can also work wonderfully with art nude photography. Bryn is another example of something I mentioned above; using lighting gels either side. While the split isn't centred on the body, as a lighting pattern it is clear on the face. And finally, a classically split lit headshot of Josh.

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