Lighting Patterns and Artist Voice: Split Lighting

Black, White, and the Shades of Gray in Between

On choosing the best lighting pattern for your subject, as well as for your photographic voice

Split Light in B&W. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Do you have a favorite lighting pattern? Have you wondered why that particular lighting pattern is your favorite? Have you ever wondered how (or if) it helps define your photographic voice?

Choosing one lighting pattern over another is often based on the subject, the visual story and how we want or have to tell that story, and the photographer’s preference.

The shape of the subject’s face as well as the texture of the face, as well as how or what we, as photographers, want to emphasize about that subject or face, can help us decide to use split lighting, also known as 90-degree side lighting. As we well know, split lighting enhances texture, surface texture. Hence, when photographing people, we might choose to use split lighting on male models, especially those with facial hair and/or a facial lines, and sometimes also on subjects with more of a round face. Fitness portraits and editorials are good candidates for using split lighting pattern, to best enhance muscle definition and, yes, add that element of drama. Sometimes we can use split lighting when photographing women. But, ask first, in particular when photographing headshots!

Split lighting also introduces a certain dramatic element. Add that to the already dramatic element that usually comes with a black-and-white image, in this case a portrait, and you’ve got yourself a dark, dramatic, intriguing portrait.

Here are a few examples of portraits and self-portraits photographed while using split lighting:

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Can we always use the lighting patterns of our choice or tell the stories we connect with the most? Not really. Most of the time, we have to make it work with whatever we can, and make it happen. But there are times when we can pick and choose. And experiment, too.

I’ve always been drawn to dark and dramatic subjects and stories. I’ve always been more interested in what’s concealed by the shadows rather than what’s revealed by the light. Therefore, maybe that’s why I’m drawn to lighting patterns that help enhance that dramatic element.

Split lighting is not my only favorite lighting pattern. Back and Rembrandt lighting are on my list of favorites, too. More on that in an upcoming post that is.

Until then, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald



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