What is Split Colour Lighting and How Can I Use it?

An interesting topic we’ve seen mentioned online and discussed by various product photographers is split colour lighting. As a result, we’ve put together a brief summary of what this concept is and how it can be used by a commercial photographer to deliver truly outstanding shots for their clients.

So what is split lighting?

We have all seen those stunning images taken by a product photographer where a model is lit up in such a way that half of the screen is full of warm colours like oranges and reds whilst the other half are cooler blues. It has the ability to convey emotion, drama and style.

Split colour lighting is a technique that involves lighting a subject with colour from your chosen tonal ranges. It may be that a commercial photographer has to rely on the subject to determine a particular colour temperature, or perhaps a selection of complementary colours.

Here is an example of this kind of set-up in practice:

  • There would be the main light that is a neutral light and then two sidelights, that are used to complement the main (key) light. You would use colour gels on these additional lights to achieve split colour lighting. The colours you choose would depend on your desired result.

How to use split colour lighting

There are some fantastic guides out there on how a product photographer is able to achieve split colour lighting, but we have summarised the key steps below.

Step 1: When using a model, make sure to dial in skin tone for your key light. This will take some practice but for a commercial photographer, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Step 2: Think about the layout of the shoot and how different parts of the body will be impacted by additional lights (the ones with the colours on). There should always be a crossover to ensure the best results but it will take some testing as you may discover that one colour stops on the subject in the wrong place.

Step 3: The product photographer should now assess the background and how this interacts with the colour lighting. The busier the background, the harder it is to find the right balance.

Step 4: Make sure to set up your equipment correctly, particularly with regard to exposure and lighting. As a commercial photographer, I am sure you will have a light meter and this is such a useful tool at this step.

Step 5: The last major step before you can start shooting is setting up the white balance on your camera so that it mirrors the key light.

Make sure you’re patient and spend time practising

The last piece of advice we want to give on the subject of split colour lighting is to get plenty of practice and be patient with the process. This may be a relatively new concept or something you’ve been involved with before.

However, it is a challenging set-up that will differ with every single subject and as a result, testing is key on every shoot.