Ok, so I got interested enough in the other lighting setups, what is split portrait lighting and when is it appropriate to use?

  • I'll be your dancin' monkey and answer this quesiton! ;-) – Jay Lance Photography Jan 9 '11 at 7:48
  • can we have a question like "what are the different types of lighting" and have done with it ;) – Matt Grum Jan 10 '11 at 1:00
  • Now where's the fun in that? :-) – Jay Lance Photography Jan 10 '11 at 7:27
  • Actually, I'm liking getting more detailed responses in a per question format. – rfusca Jan 10 '11 at 16:11
up vote 17 down vote accepted

What is Split Lighting?

Split Lighting is one of the 5 basic lighting setups used in studio portrait photography. Split lighting at its most basic level is constructed with a single light source placed 90 degrees offset from the subject and a bit higher than eye level, lighting one half of the face, and leaving the other in shadow.

The thing that distinguishes Split Lighting from Short or Broad lighting is the placement of the subject’s head- Split Lighting is always taken with the subject facing square to the camera, unlike Short, Broad, and Rembrandt lighting which all have the subject’s head angled in relation to the camera.

One-light Split Lighting setup:

One-light Split Lighting setup diagram One-light Split Lighting setup example

When do I Use Split Lighting?

Split lighting is a very ‘moody’ lighting option, so it is generally used when the photographer wants to create a strong sense of drama with the image. It is less frequently used in portrait photography because generally people want to see a subject’s whole face in a picture, though it does go in and out of fashion for commercial and advertising photography every few years. This is often referred to as ‘the comic book villain’ lighting style, and indeed, many comic artists use this technique when they are portraying the bad-guy in their comic books. Whereas Short Lighting and Rembrandt Lighting are 'everyday' lighting choices and the vast majority of portraits will use one of these lighting setups, Split Lighting is an 'accent' lighting choice... A session with a small number of Split Light portraits can add some variety, but a little goes a long way and an entire session of Split Light portraits can become boring very quickly.

  • 1
    what do you use to make your lighting diagrams? – AJ Finch Jan 11 '11 at 12:08
  • 2
    It's actually just a Photoshop file with lots of different elements that can be arranged however you'd like on a page. It was designed by Kevin Kertz and you can download it for free from his website here: kevinkertz.com (link is bottom center of the page) I think the elements he created are really classy looking, myself. – Jay Lance Photography Jan 11 '11 at 18:11

Here is a summary of the main lighting schemes : paramount, rembrandt, split, etc.

The split is achieved by placing the main source to 90° relative to the axis of the face and approximately at the height of the face. it can be done in broad lighting and more rarely in short lighting.

split lighting split lighting

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