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Lighting The Scene

Lesson 7 of 7

Image Review & Select


Lighting The Scene

Lesson 7 of 7

Image Review & Select


Lesson Info

Image Review & Select

So, we're back at the CreativeLive studios to look through and edit our film from lighting the scene, which is all about telling a story, creating narrative, using the lighting as really a key element. Not just, of course, the storytelling of the models, but using the light. Now, we were at this Georgetown steam plant, which is amazing, a sort of 100-year-old factory that has a great story of its own. And, you know, you walk into an area like that, and you could immediately sort of feel the story that the plant has had, the people who have worked there, and you can imagine that the light coming through the windows. You can almost hear people and imagine people going up and down the stairs and working the machinery. So, there is a story, and my first reaction is, let's tell that story. It's a great story. And using the ambient light coming through the old window panes, casting a certain type of look and feel because of the dirt and grime that's on the window pane and the patina of the p...

aint on all the machinery as a sort of film on it that's slightly brown and slightly yellow, casting this great kind of color. That's a story, using that natural light. But what we also did, of course, was tell our own story. We lit the scene up, and Rhonda was our first model, and we placed her right on these stairs. And in this particular shot, we used the ambient light. And so, for each scene, I used ambient light, and then we lit it. And here you can see, I mean, it's a beautiful picture. It's very simple, it's soft, it's gentle. The light here is really, the key light here is just the light coming through the window, and we have a bounce on one side, and it's really stunning. Playing with angles, it's sort of, I look at these pictures and it harks back to a different era, a different moment in time. I'm using certain elements of the factory to shoot through, creating a sort of, a distraction in the foreground, having her in the background piercing through, almost more voyeuristic. And also just, you know, asking her to relax and to sort of be very sort of stoic and peaceful in the pictures. And it really comes through. Now, we juxtapose that with when we light the scene, and in this particular shot, we used three lights, and here you go. From this, to sort of, boom, here we go, a completely different scenario. But the same, you know, ten minutes later, here we are, and we've really controlled the light. Now, the story here now is more this sort of sci-fi kind of concept. We added blue gelled lights to the top and the bottom of the picture. We had a chocolate gelled ProFresnel Spot as the main light coming through the top. So, we've added all these colors. Now, you know, the story obviously is completely different here. It looks like something out of "Blade Runner" or a sci-fi movie. But if we hadn't added these blue colors, we couldn't have actually played with them after the fact, which is what we've done. We've tweaked the color. We've sort of changed the blue, we made it a little bit more purple. We've made it look a little sort of more yellow, green. We de-saturated the picture. But by introducing the gelled lights, it creates a color palette that you can then pull from. If we hadn't done that, yes, you could still go in and you could still manipulate the blues and the greens. But it wouldn't look this way, because those colors would not be present in these areas of the photograph. So, we are controlling what we then have to play with later. And, as you can see, it's quite dramatic. It's a big change. And everything from the body language, really stiff, and the piercing gaze in the eyes, to the dramatic blue light and the chocolate gel casting shadow. We also changed our shutter speed. We were working with a high-speed sync, which meant we could, I think this was, what? 2/1000 of a second? 2/1000 of a second, yeah. (laughs) And so, you know, really we shut down the sun outside as a result of it, which is great, 'cause it, you know, changes the time of the day, the look, the feel, almost the point in history, which is great. Now, for our next shot, we used a model called Richard, and we found a really dark sort of area, a little nook which had a lot of grease, and oil, and silver pipes, and chains hanging down, and things for him to play off. And we used the ambient light, which, there wasn't much. There was a sort of window on one side, and it was a bigger window, but it was blocked by a big pillar. But that created kind of an interesting light that was coming through in little sort of shafts and lit him up in interesting ways, and again is that nostalgic type of picture. It's, you know, it almost looks like this picture was taken 40 or 50 years ago. There's no sort of time stamp on it, a sort of classic kind of type of shot. But then, we lit the picture using five lights, again with our chocolate filter on the ProFresnel and the red gelled lights on the background, and we had a light in the foreground just to give him a little pump in the eyes, a backlight with no gel on it at all, which casts more like a, looks almost like a white silver kind of backlight on him. And by introducing all these lights, as you can see, there's a dramatic difference. We can still see the two incandescent lights at the top shining through, but, wow. Now, all of a sudden, it went from being a nostalgic picture that could've been taken 50 years ago to a photograph that looks like it might be taken 50 years from now. So, we totally changed the story using the lighting. And Toby, talk through what we did to manipulate what we had in the raw file to look like this. Well, we did a lot of shifting in color with selective color, and choosing our scenes, and de-saturation. And it was really a process of building up the feel of it, not necessarily, you know, it's like we'd nudge colors here and there until it started to look good. So, basically, by introducing all these different colors, by introducing all these gelled lights into the background, it gives us the opportunity to play with a red background, whereas, you know, it wasn't red before. The cast from the chocolate gel creates, you know, quite a red-y orange look to the skin. Then we get in and really play with that. And, as you can see as we zoom in here, how stunning it looks on his skin tone. And, you know, you see the tar shining and the pipes, which were in fact silver, are now gold. So, all aspects of it just really have been changed by the light. And, if you don't add all these different lights, and gels, and colors, you can't play with them after the fact, and that's the main point. This is the photographer owning the picture, owning the light, and using the light to tell the story, my story, not the story that was already there. So, it's very interesting, I think, to see both sides. For this next shot, we went into this great long tunnel, and I decided to use both Richard and Rhonda in the picture as a couple. And, you know, when you're talking about that sort of nostalgic, romantic kind of shot, obviously having people work together as a couple immediately helps tell that story. And what I'm gonna do here is just very quickly flick to our next shot, because it's a very similar crop, and I want you to see the difference really quickly, 'cause I know it's an instant kind of reaction. Here they are. Rhonda's leaning on his shoulder. They're both looking at camera. They're very evenly lit by three windows that were above them. And here we go. I mean, it couldn't look more different. I don't even know what period of time this is, but they could be in the subway. That could be a train coming down on them. They could be in a spaceship. But we have introduced eight different lights into this picture. So, we went from just the natural light with a little bounce, and using a flag to knock off light, to introducing eight heads, beauty dish in the background that is that one light, that is sort of an ominous light. And, you know, occasionally I put lights in the background to kind of flare directly into camera. And if they're this far back, which this was literally almost like a 50 yards in the background, you can't tell what they are. Is it an oncoming car? Is it a train? Is it, you know, what is it? Who knows? And then we have these red gels, these blue gels, hidden in these nooks and crannies, all the way up to our big ProFresnel with the chocolate gel, and, wow. What a story, and what a transformation. And I'm gonna go back to the previous one for you again. Boom, look at that. What a difference. Flicking back and forth 'cause I love the change. And they're two completely different stories. Same models, moments apart, same clothes. We haven't changed the styling, we haven't changed the models, we haven't changed the location. All we've done is change the light, and we have a completely different story. And finally, for the last shot, we decided to only use one light, one head. So, for the very first shot we used three, then we went five, then we went eight heads, and then we went all the way back to using one head, one strobe, to light the picture. Here it is, is an ambient picture with just Rhonda. When you look at this picture, it's beautiful. Obviously it's the sun coming through the window. It's late afternoon and there's a warmth to the light. Again, that romantic kind of feel. And, you know, wanting to play the romance up, I start to look for flare coming through the window. I'm also using elements that were there, the various lids that were open, to sort of create different shapes in my foreground. And this is the very first time I'm actually going through this film, so it's interesting for me too as I'm seeing these pictures pop up, and, you know, I remembered the flare, and here it is. You can see this classic flare through the lens and those great sort of orange, and green, and blue balls of flare that pop through. But they also help tell the story, because they are classic. And so, you know, you can use those sort of tricks, like, okay, I wanna tell that story, that old-school flared picture. Makes it more nice and soft, takes off all the edges of the blacks and what have you, makes it a little milky, and that's what's happened here. And then, of course, this look in her eyes, soft and gentle. Now, contrast that with what we did when we lit it with just one head. (laughs) There we go. I mean, it is very dramatically different, and a gorgeous picture as well, and a completely different story. It's the same time of day. The sun's still coming through the window. With that one head, we've made it look like, we've made it modern, you know, we have made it now. We've made it current, and the story here is radically different. Instead of being soft, and gentle, and dreamy, and nostalgic, there is still a wistful look in her eye, but I don't know what could be happening. She could be on a spaceship that is, and she's working in the engine room and something's about to happen. Or, you know, she may not even be on a spaceship, although I like the spaceship idea. (laughs) I think I've got sci-fi stuck in me for some reason, but that was the overarching theme I was going for. But I see, you know, there's a lot of detail in the background, and I'm really focused and pulled in to her face. So, as you can see in this picture, it's super dark, super moody. We've almost lost the sun, it looks like. Of course, the sun was there. It's creating all this light on the background, but we are in control of the light. We own the light in this picture with one head, and that ProFresnel's almost like a bare head. It's really dramatic when you put it on someone, and it casts this very dark shadow, similar to the sun, which is one of the reasons why I like it. I mean, that sun has that harsh light that can just, you know, cast that shadow, your shadow, against the wall. ProFresnel does a very similar kind of thing, 'cause it's like an old-school hot light. And to create this sort of sci-fi look is the reason why we went for these red gels, blue gels, chocolate gel, by lighting it with unusual lights, not colors that you would find in nature. It tells a sort of story of something that's unbelievable, about something that is, you know, unnatural. And oftentimes that works. Oftentimes, by introducing something that it would not be there, it makes the person who's looking at the picture stop and think, huh, what's that? What's happening here? That doesn't look right. That doesn't look normal. That doesn't look how I would imagine it. But by doing that, you're telling your story. You're letting the light tell the story, and that's really fun, and that's what photography is often all about.

Class Description


  • Light a complex, cluttered scene with different textures and surfaces
  • Dramatically alter the mood simply by altering the light
  • Use natural and strobe lighting to tell a story
  • Comfortably move between natural light and strobe within the same space
  • Develop a story using tips on light, pose and more


Harness the story-telling power of light. In this class, watch fashion photographer Nigel Barker use light to tell two entirely different stories within the same space. Learn to evaluate a scene for potential lighting advantages and pitfalls. Train your eyes to spot existing natural reflectors already within a scene. Build your artificial lighting prowess with a behind-the-scenes look at lighting set-ups from a simple single light to a dramatic eight-light ensemble.

Learn how to use light to build a story and a mood into your photographs using both natural light and strobes. In this approximately 90-minute class, watch a start-to-finish shoot in an industrial steam plant. Keeping the setting, styling, clothing, and models the same, Nigel demonstrates how to use light to go from a World War II-era industrial story to a futuristic tale with a touch of sci-fi. The only thing that changes? The light.

While this class follows a photographer primarily known in the fashion industry, the lighting tips and tricks aren't limited to a single genre of photography. Whether you are tackling environmental portrait photography or a fine-art portrait, learn how to light the scene in this CreativeLive class.


  • Intermediate photographers ready to take lighting on-location
  • Professional photographers looking for on-location lighting inspiration


Capture One


As the photographer (and a judge) on America's Next Top Model for 18 seasons, Nigel Barker knows fashion photography. Besides his TV appearances (which also include hosting The Face and Top Photographer), the New York-based photographer also led films and documentaries for Hollywood clients. Respected in the world of fashion photography, Nigel has owned his own studio since 1996 and is the author of two fashion books. Students praise his engaging, to-the-point teaching style (and his British accent doesn't hurt either).


  1. Course Introduction

    Meet the instructor and gain an overview of the class in the first lesson. See the scene that you'll learn how to light, including complexities like reflective surfaces and windows.

  2. Location Assessment

    On-site fashion photography presents a number of different challenges. Go behind the scenes as Nigel assesses the location for the fashion shoot. See what aspects photographers need to consider when exploring the location. Learn how to assess natural ambient daylight and plan the light for the location.

  3. Portrait - Side Lighting

    Learn to work with side lighting in fashion photography and environmental portraiture. Tell a story with the image, from the way that you communicate with the fashion model or portrait subject, the light, and the pose. Then, move into working with strobe lights, gels and diffusers in the second set of fashion images, moving from a soft look to a strong one. Watch how Nigel uses lighting and posing to change the mood of the images without changing the location. See the gear and lighting Nigel uses for the shoot.

  4. Lighting Environmental Elements

    In the second shooting spot inside the same warehouse, work with lighting the scene while factoring in the environmental elements. Work with a new, male fashion model. See how sometimes lighting the background elements is just as important as lighting the subject. Learn how to reassess the environment as you work. Working with a reflector and ambient light, factor in the objects in the environment that can also reflect light. Then, move from natural light to a five light set-up with multiple gels and modifiers.

  5. Dramatic Portrait

    In the third set, create a dramatic couples portrait with two fashion models using natural window light. Watch behind the scene posing and camera settings. Then, move into an eight light set-up using modifiers and gels to create color and drama in an industrial corridor.

  6. Completing Your Visual Story

    Complete the story with the final set, working with strong, directional window light and a reflector. Work with color temperature, flare, and other challenges. Then, move into a single strobe set-up with a gel for a more dramatic story blending both natural and artificial light.

  7. Image Review & Select

    Review a selection of images from the class shoot and see the final pieces of the story. See how the outfits, posing, setting and light all work together to complete the story. With light, a single setting can take on several different high fashion looks.



Nigel is a good communicator and excellent photographer. However, you won't learn too much from this class. It is a Behind The Scene footage showing Nigel at work. That's all. Nigel doesn't measure ambient and artificial light, and won't tell you the light values you need to achieve the desired effect. Recommend to those who look for motivational support; certainly do not recommend to those who look for technical knowledge. For that reason, I feel like the tutorial is a bit overpriced. Thank you

Margaret Lovell

I prefer natural light, but want to learn more about studio light. Nigel is an excellent instructor, and photographer. He can explain lighting concepts in easy to understand steps. He also gives plenty of excellent and useful tips.

Stefan Legacy

Simple class about storytelling a shoot. Nigel goes through the process and explains everything he does. Nigel is excellent at breaking everything down step by step. Another course by Nigel called "The Business of Photography" covers the same material but goes way more in depth. Personally didn't learn much from this course but was enjoyable to watch a professional work regardless.