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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Split Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, February 06, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: EJ

Split lighting is the most dramatic of the basic lighting styles and requires just one light. The hallmark of this style is that the subject is lit one one side, leaving the other side in shadow. The setup is simple, position the light to one side and if you like, use a reflector to add just a small amount of fill to the shadow side. It's a good idea to use some kind of modifier to direct the light like a grid or snoot so the background can stay dark. A regular parabolic reflector on the light can work too, but it will usually spill too much light onto the background making the photograph much less dramatic.

Here's the setup:


Getting a perfect exposure with split lighting can be challenging without a light meter. If you have an incident light meter, just point the dome toward the camera, not the light, and take your reading. If you're using your camera's histogram to evaluate the exposure, just be sure you're not blowing out the highlights, which is easy to do with this style of lighting.

Here's an example of a typical histogram for this style of lighting:

Notice that there is a lot of information on the shadow end of the histogram. That's because there's a lot of dark and very little mid-tones and highlights. 

This simple lighting setup can be easily done with a flash, strobe, bulb or window. Give it a try, it's easy!

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