Light it Like Jeff | Shooting a High Contrast Split Background Portrait | Ep 20

Today, we’re gonna light it like Nashville-based photographer Jeff Carpenter and model, Caroline. Let’s step into Jeff’s studio as he crafts a high contrast, split background portrait with sci-fi vibes and a three-light setup.

Crafting a Three-Light Setup for a High Contrast Portrait

Envisioning a very “sturdy posture” and “square to camera pose” for the final image, Jeff set a folded, white V-Flat on Caroline’s lap to help as a posing table.

v-flat and model
White V-Flat used as a posing table with a black V-Flat as part of the background.​​
v-flats photographer
Behind the scenes with a three light set up and photographer Jeff Carpenter and model, Caroline.​​

To create a split backdrop going from black to white, he used a five-foot octabox with a black V-Flat covering the front half of the octa. A gridded beauty dish provided the key light to camera left “creating either split light or Rembrandt lighting depending on where her face is.” 

If you’re new to lighting: the key light is the main light for the scene. In today’s example, it’s the gridded beauty dish lighting Caroline’s face and shirt. Grids are basically fancy flags for your softbox. In this lighting setup, Jeff is using the grid to direct the light toward Caroline and keep it from spilling onto the black backdrop behind her.

After testing the scene with just the five-foot background octa and the beauty dish, a third light was needed to pop Caroline’s right side off the dark backdrop. Outfitted in a black, long-sleeved shirt, her right side blended into the shadows of the black V-Flat behind her.

To separate Caroline’s dark shirt from the dark backdrop, Jeff brought in a three-foot octabox to camera left, behind the beauty dish. (Normally, he’d use a strip box, but went with an octa since it was already set up from a previous shoot.) Because the three-foot octa didn’t have a grid, Jeff feathered it away from the background and toward Caroline, enabling him to keep the black part of the background dark and the overall portrait high contrast. Feathering is simply turning the entire light modifier away from the area you don’t want lit.

Also known as rim lighting, this second octa added just the right amount of light to outline Caroline’s right arm and shoulder, further defining her form and popping it off from the dark backdrop.

The Final Image

The final image is just what Jeff was seeking: a high contrast portrait that’s crisp, clean, and “looks really cool,” says Jeff.

Yep. Nailed it. That rim light on Caroline’s right side is subtle but makes a huge difference. As a photographer, if you take the time to make subtle changes like this, it’ll set your work apart from the rest.

model v-flats

Gear and Settings

Camera: Panasonic DC-S1

Lens: Lumix S 24-105mm F/4

ISO: 100

Aperture: F/4

Shutter: 1/250th

Focal Length: 84mm

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Photographer: Jeff Carpenter,

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“I’m really loving how I can turn into a background, use it to fill shadow or add more shadows, and also as a changing room lol. I’m loving it.”

Jefferson L.