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Working with the split lighting pattern

From: Lighting for Photographers: Portraiture

Video: Working with the split lighting pattern

Split lighting often gives the feeling of power and conviction, but not everyone's face can handle it because the intense side light brings out all of the texture of the skin. It also puts part of the eye in shadow. So with this setup, you've got to make small adjustments, half an inch either way can make a difference. I noticed that Craig was wearing lapel pin in the shape of a hammer. It was important to him that I get it in the shot. I needed to adjust it to get the maximum reflection from the light.

Working with the split lighting pattern

Split lighting often gives the feeling of power and conviction, but not everyone's face can handle it because the intense side light brings out all of the texture of the skin. It also puts part of the eye in shadow. So with this setup, you've got to make small adjustments, half an inch either way can make a difference. I noticed that Craig was wearing lapel pin in the shape of a hammer. It was important to him that I get it in the shot. I needed to adjust it to get the maximum reflection from the light.

Natalie Fobes: So today, we're going to work on split lighting. Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: And basically what that is, is that half of the face will be lit and the other half will be in shadow. It gives a very dramatic look to the subject. So go ahead and let's bring this light over. Sam: Sure. Natalie Fobes: Now with dark skin, you give shape and contour to the face by using the specular highlights. So go ahead and turn it vertically. Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: Now we're going to be kind of working with just some very fine adjustments, so bring it in further, as close as you can get, even closer, even closer, even closer, because I want that hard falloff from the specular highlights side to the shadow side.

I want that to be a very fast falloff into shadow. Sam: Why did you prefer vertical rather than horizontal? Natalie Fobes: Because I want that part to be lit, I want the vertical aspect of his face to be lit, and if I had turned it or kept it in a horizontal position, then the light would creep around. Sam: Spill on the other side of his face. Natalie Fobes: Spill on his other face. Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: Now remember when were working-- when we work with soft lighting and we want that wraparound, but in this kind of split lighting, I don't. I want it to be a very distinct shadow, a very deep shadow. I don't want any spill over there.

Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: So let me show you something here too. I am going to take a quick meter reading just to set it. Now come in a little closer and you can see how there's some hotspots on his face in the specular highlights side and that is because we're working with that hard light. Sam: Oh, yeah. Natalie Fobes: It's a small light. It's a small light in relation to his face. Let's put the diffuser up. Sam: Okay.

Natalie Fobes: So already, I can see the difference in how the light has gotten a little bit softer. I mean it's gotten more diffused and it's broadened out. We no longer have those heavy hotspots. Take a shot and show you. So we changed our exposure about a stop because of the diffusion fabric, it does affect it that way, but I can easily adjust.

Go, check that out. Sam: Oh yeah, it's much much better. Natalie Fobes: Yeah, we still have the great contrast between the shadow side and the specular highlights side, but it's a much more beautiful contouring of his skin than when we have the hot lights there. Let's go ahead and pull it in just as close as you possibly can. Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: Now I want him at the front of the box which is different. Sam: Up here? Natalie Fobes: Yes. Sam: Okay. Natalie Fobes: I want him toward the front and the reason that is is I don't want to have spill on the shadow side. Sam: Right.

Natalie Fobes: Now you are a little bit off angle from him. You are not parallel to him, so move it in parallel to him even more. So I think, go ahead and look right here at me. Okay, I think we're in good shape there, but there is a shadow. Let me show you here. There is a deep shadow by his eye. Sam: Right inside his eye? Natalie Fobes: Right inside his eye. So let's try to kick a little light in there. Go ahead and let's twist this down a little bit, very good.

So this is looking pretty good here and I think I'd like to try a few shots. Now I know that the hammer is something that we want to get bring out. And so we're going to work with that. Oh, I always take a gray card and then if you would just hold that right there, we need to get it in the light. This will help me in post to make sure that my white balance is correct.

Sam: Right. Natalie Fobes: And it doesn't have to be a fancy shot, but I'll be happy that I have it later on. Okay, so I'm going to open up just a little bit and expose about a third of the stop more because of the way we've messed with the lights. And let's see if we can bring this hammer out. So, have we talked about angle of incidence, angle of reflection? Sam: I think you have mentioned it, but I don't really remember.

Natalie Fobes: Okay, you know you've had a lot of the hour. So what happens is that light comes off, hits the surface and then bounces off at the same angle that it hits the surface at, and just as you can see I'll move it a little bit, it can really hit the reflective surface, then light will just really catch in it or it can go dark. Sam: Right. Natalie Fobes: I want that to go bright. I always keep a little piece of Gaffer tape.

So I'm just going to bring that out, have it just a little bit out, so that I can get that light to reflect and there it is. Sam: Um-hmm. It really pops there. Natalie Fobes: It sure does. Okay. So Craig, go ahead and tilt your head a little that way and lower your chin. Okay, turn your head a little toward the light, and lower your chin, there you go.

Now I'm getting a little bit of light on his eyes, but it's a beautiful light, so I'm not worried about it. Oh, nice! Sam: Oh, wow. I love the way the hammer is just popping out there. Natalie Fobes: So you can look at the-- the hammer is really out of the box there. I think it would be nice to have a background light. So let's go ahead and put it one on the background. Sam: Okay, so use this one over here. Natalie Fobes: Yeah, put it over there. It's going to give us a little bit of depth, maybe a little bit of interest because we've got the nice brown speckled backdrop up.

Sam: So it shines directly onto the backdrop then. Natalie Fobes: No, in this case, I don't want you to do that. I want you to angle it off, even more and get it as close as possible to the backdrop. The reason I want that is that I don't want it to be a vignette where you know his head is in the middle of this backdrop or the edge is going dark. Sam: Right. Natalie Fobes: In this case, I want to establish a pattern where it's very dark on one side and then it slowly goes to the light and what that does is it gives me dark background, light side of his face, dark side of his face, Sam: And then more light.

Natalie Fobes: Light background. The eye naturally goes to the place where there is the darkest next to the lightest and so that's going to be right on his face. Let's take a look at it and go ahead and twist it a little that way, oop, there you go. Very good. Let's see what we've got here. Okay. And Sam, if you could come over and adjust the box a little bit more. Sam: Since he is leaning forward? Natalie Fobes: Since he is leaning forward, go ahead and bring it closer to me, there you go, that's it.

How are you doing? Craig: Very good. Natalie Fobes: Good. And you're looking good. So let's tilt your head down, even more. As down as you can get it, and up just a quarter inch, okay, okay. Then I'll do a horizontal, because that's how I am built, love the horizontals and in this situation I am thinking about even as I am shooting, I am thinking about turning it into a square.

Okay. So let's go ahead and have you turn around this way. We'll move the apple crate over there too. Sam: Good? Natalie Fobes: Yup! Go ahead and do the same thing, lean in, I want you to turn your head back this way, lower your chin a little bit. And Sam, could you pull his shirt down in the back, his suit coat? Sam: Yeah. How's that? Natalie Fobes: Looks good.

Okay, so turn a little bit more. There you go. That's very nice and again working with that dark pattern of dark light, dark light. That's nice, great. That's looks great. Sam: That's an awesome pattern. Natalie Fobes: Thank you so much. With this kind of intense lighting, I made sure Craig's expression matched the mood.

A broad smile wouldn't have worked here. For a variety, I took a couple of horizontal shots, but it was obvious to me, it was going to work better as a vertical or possibly a square.

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Lighting for Photographers: Portraiture

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Natalie Fobes
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