Lighting schemes

A short note today. About portrait lighting.

There are many lighting schemes photographers know. One of them, as you know, is split lighting:

Split lighting means that you light exactly half the face.

Let me take away a misconception: It has nothing to do with where you shoot it from: this is short lighting; if I shot the subject from his other side, it would be broad lighting.

More on all the lighting schemes in my upcoming book “Powerful Portrait Photography”… stand by for an announcement!


Dragging the shutter

You have seen me talk about this many, many times. Flash pictures start with the background, And to get light into the background, often you will want to use slower shutter speeds. These affect ONLY the background, not the flash part of the photo. Look here; an example from the course I taught today at Vistek:

Like here. f/8, 200 ISO, 35mm prime lens, flash on manual on 1/4 power, fired through an umbrella. The only thing I will change is the shutter speed.

1/125 sec:

1/30 sec:

1/15 sec:

You see? The background gets brighter, the women in the front, who are lit primarily by the flash, do not change. Analyze that carefully.

  • The woman on the left: lit by flash, so does not change.
  • The store in the background: lit by ambient, so changes with every shutter speed change.

And that is how the cookie crumbles.

Why did I use manual flash power setting? Because it is consistent. The same for every shot. No variation. Once I have it right, it’s right for every shot.


See for my collection of e-books. These contain my collected knowledge, both of photography and of how to teach it. They are all 100-200 pages long and are simply PDFs, so you can put them on all your computers and tables and large-screen phones, for convenient reading and reference. Enjoy!

Only if necessary

I generally recommend doing things only if they need to be done. And one of those things is a make-up artist (a “MUA”). You can be pretty sure that TV producers, for example, would not use make up artists if they were not necessary. But they are. Witness:

Make up artists do not just fix blemishes. They also shape the face so it is suitable for the shoot. Here’s MUA Melissa Telisman doing her thing:

And here’s what that results in:

Glamour and perfection without “photoshopping”, which I am not a fan of. Vut make-up is not just for glamour; not at all. I recommend a MUA and a hair stylist for corporate shoots, too, especially—but not only—if women are involved. If TV shows do it, you can be sure it is necessary, and not a luxury.

Incidentally: do we need the entire person in every shot?


Decidedly no. You get a much more intimate feeling when you do an extreme close-up (an ECU, in movie terms). Try it; experiment in your next shoot and do some shots like the one above. You’ll love them.


Be analytical

When solving problems, it helps if you are analytical. As in:

A f;lash photo is, at least in principle, always a combination of an ambient light photo (unless you are in a coal mine a kilometre underground), and a flash photo. They are both affected by aperture and ISO, and the ambient photo is affected by shutter speed also, while the flash photo is affected by flash power also.

Simple, but extremely powerful. With this knowledge, you can start by perfecting the ambient photo, then add the flash photo: and it works every time.

Now preparing for my evening Sheridan College class. Can you tell?




I remember as a child I made drawings with red and yellow flames: red, surrounded by a yellow aura, and I was impressed by how much that looked like flames.

So tonight in the studio, remembering that, I decided to add yellow hair to a red background, like so:

…and I am happy to see that it works just as well as it did when I was a child.

A beauty dish lit the face; a softbox on the right provided a little fill; the background was lit with a speedlight with a red gel; and then the yellow was from a gridded speedlight with an egg yolk yellow gel. 100 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/8. I used Bowens studio strobes, and speedlights with Honl photo modifiers (gels, grids). I set off the lights with Pocketwizards (and the light cell, in the case of one of the studio flashes).

The moral of the story: you should play. Children know how to do that; adults forget. To get new ideas, to be creative, it is important that you play. Try new stuff. Try odd combinations of things. That helps you create: in big ways, but also in little ways like in today’s shoot.

Now, back to authoring my new e-book, “Powerful Portrait Photography”. ISBN 978-0-9918636-5-5. Almost done: watch this space and