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Lighting The Scene

Lesson 3 of 7

Portrait - Side Lighting


Lighting The Scene

Lesson 3 of 7

Portrait - Side Lighting


Lesson Info

Portrait - Side Lighting

So we're about to start shooting. I've got the wonderful Rhonda, who is gonna be our model today. Now Rhonda we've got quite an interesting story to tell, we're gonna set up two different light scenarios here on the stairwell. One which is more nostalgic, more in keeping with the building. You kind of get inspired, you're wearing these great work overalls, and it's sort of tied around your waist. You can play with that while I have you on the stairwell. We're going to use that ambient light to light you up. And it's more sort of this old school slightly romantic kind of feel, gentler. Then we're going to mix things up. We're going to introduce a lot of lights. And I want it to be tougher, stronger almost a more sci-fi look. At that point your whole body language will change. So the way you model and pose will talk to the storyline that we are building. For each different light scenario. So we'll have fun, a bit of direction here and there. But you've got an incredible face. I want to w...

ork with the bone structure and make it come to life. Let's get started, let's get you in the window and start looking at you and start to introduce lights. Tony let's bring the camera in and let's also get Squib. Get you right up there. I'm thinking, I'm thinking kind of like this to be honest to start with something just to, if you start somewhere in here, I'll have a look through the lens, but if you start here this is the main sort of key light. I'm going to be down there so you'll sort of twist your body, play off the stair to look at me. But it's that kind of softer gentler, softer face. And then when we do the next one it'll be. Okay. More angles and push and pull. And this will be, you know, I'm thinking that you could even play on the stairs, but the body language is like, verses. Got it? You see I look at you through these windows, but I look at you with the light coming through the windows and I already see a story being told in the softness in which you hold the rail. All those things, every little element helps tell that story. 'Cause if you hold it just gently like that it is a softer moment. As soon as you grab, then it becomes a completely different thing. Okay, so a couple of things too, I'm looking around the whole scene, I see there's orange jackets down there I don't want to capture them in my picture. So we're going to remove that. What else do we have here? This light coming through here so we probably can introduce a bounce in around here just to fill on the scene. I'm not sure if we can get another kind of reflective in the back? Yeah, we'll get a reflector up there, we'll do a little bounce up from here. Okay, brilliant. You got it? I got it. I like the way your feet are standing right there. Maybe back up one more step. Back one more? There you go, yeah. Specifically when you're using the daylight, literally feel the light on you every now and then. Like you rotate into it and kind of feel the light. It'll help you play with it a little bit more, you can kind of rotate in and out of it, thank you. Gorgeous, isn't it? Beautiful, so look at that. That looks gorgeous. It looks gorgeous! You already took it? I just took a shot already. Oh! (laughing) We're not done, don't worry, we're not done. Although we could be done because you look gorgeous, it looks beautiful, but let's play with this situation right now. Stunning, I love the way it's already looking. It's just really soft, really pretty. (crewman mumbles) Bring that in a little bit more. There you go, that's enough right there on the edge, thank you. Gorgeous there. You want to come in even more with this? If you can play it off down there. Gorgeous there. (shutter clicks) Feel free to move around as you want at this point. There you go. That's nice honey, really nice. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Breathe. (shutter clicks) Nice. Play into that corner now. This way? Yeah, try that. (shutter clicks) That's good, that's actually interesting when you go full profile like that too. Go full profile, lean back a bit more onto that piece, there you go. (shutter clicks) And it's interesting because when you're just using this ambient light, although the light is very strong and very directional coming through a window like this, when you actually take the light reading from the ambient light in the room, it blows out and becomes quite airy and soft and gentle. And not how it actually feels, right? Right now I'm seeing it and it's crashing down your back. You know it can be really contrasted, but actually it's really soft and pretty. (shutter clicks) Gorgeous, nice. (shutter clicks) Really nice. Gorgeous there. I'm going to open up a tiny bit. Around to me with your face. Just a little bit with your eyes, there you go. Relax your mouth, breathe. (shutter clicks) Soft breaths, it's really nice. (shutter clicks) You're looking almost all the way past me over there. (shutter clicks) Gorgeous. Very pretty, okay. Sitting in the middle of the stair. There we go. Very interesting, okay let's do this. (shutter clicks) You can stand there again, stand up. See, and I love the way you really taken it to heart even when you're standing, everything is soft and gentle and that whole movement and that flow in that rhythm. That all helps play to the whole picture. Nice. (shutter clicks) And I'm using elements of the building to actually help tell the story too. I'm not sure that I actually captured the cobwebs in the picture. (laughing) But I feel them. Nice, gorgeous there. Soft, gorgeous. (shutter clicks) Can we move this corner out just a little bit? There we go. (shutter clicks) So with the light settings actually, I'm using an ISO 400 on the camera. Shutter speed of 100. And F-stop is 5, 6. Which is creating this sort of various soft light. It's amazing actually how much light is in this room, with all that light coming through and all that bounce, it's actually working really rather nicely. (shutter clicks) Go ahead and look out the window again. Turned back into it. There you go nice and subtle. (shutter clicks) Looking above me, looking over me. (shutter clicks) Gorgeous. Put both hands on this side. There you go. (shutter clicks) Gorgeous. Beautiful. (shutter clicks) I think we've got this moment with an ambient light source. Really soft, really pretty. I'm in the moment, I could shoot you all day here I think. But what we wanna do now is change it up and do something completely different. Okay, so we have lit the scene, we have totally changed it. We've got all kinds of strobes going off. I've got my Pro Fresnel spotlight up there that's going to literally cast a dramatic light on to you. I put a chocolate filter on to it, which gives it a really nice texture and feel. I have a head down here, lighting at the bottom. And there's one blue gel on this light. And there's an umbrella on a head up there with two blue gels, and that's creating another blue cast back there. So we've really dramatically changed the way this is going to look. Gone is the romance, gone is the softness of the light. You want to see where that light comes down here, that's your main key light. So this is your area to play with. And I want strength, toughness, that sort of strong, empowered woman. It can be a little aggressive. You can pull, pull, keep the face pretty though. Okay. Don't show aggression. Just with the muscles, the eyes can look tough and strong, but don't grit your teeth or snarl at me, not yet anyway. Okay. (laughing) Okay let's get you right up there. Let's test our lights. And actually so these flags as well, I've got two big black flags up here and they are just knocking off so that it doesn't light up the whole side of this stairway. Okay, let's get you strong with that body language. Gorgeous, look at that. (shutter clicks) And we're just gonna have a look at these. I think you've been too light with your body language. You could be coming up the stairs, you could pull, but you see how I'm moving too? Yeah. Like if you start to do this sort of stuff too, and act a little bit more. You have before, it was real soft and you were moving slowly. It helps I believe, to get into full character. Okay. So the more you actually pull and push and feel the tension, it'll help with that whole dance that we do as a photographer, model kind of relationship. These are open a little bit for her? Yeah, we're at four, five. So yeah we can open up them. We have half a stop. I'm wanting to do a little de-saturation on it as well. Play with that. And de-sat that and get really sci-fi with it. Yeah, get a little tricky with it, that's cool. Not so green. By adding all these gels, the chocolate gel, the blue gels, we have all these different colors coming in. Of course we have ambient light lighting it up as well. And it helps us to actually then in post, we can additionally play with all those unusual colors that you would never get in a normal scenario. Which adds to the sci-fi kind of effect. I love it, I kind of like it in that world. Looks great. Cool, and you look stunning, you look fantastic. Continue doing what you're doing. (shutter clicks) Okay, strong. (shutter clicks) Yeah. (shutter clicks) Come up again, stand toward. Yeah, just like that. Hold that. Love this, love this angle. Coming around keep that kind of body posture, that strength. (shutter clicks) Yeah, I like that. That was really nice when you twisted. Twist to the light actually to the windows, hands on your hips. Okay, hold it like that. And now to me with your face, just your face. Gorgeous there. You can play with the banisters. Okay yeah, your feet can move and your legs too. Not so up with the legs, I still think maybe one leg up one leg down. Here? Yeah, bring that other leg closer to your other leg. Yeah, there you go. Literally do it, look out the window. And now look at me. Boom, there. (shutter clicks) One of the things that can happen is that you get twisted, right? As a model you started one place and you're asked to move, and you start moving and you find yourself, wait a sec, what position am I in? When you have to sort of shake it out and go now I'm looking out of the window, and now I'm looking at camera. (shutter clicks) You may see that I actually get up into my own light, and have Toby shoot me. And one of the reasons is so I know what she's going through. So when I'm saying to her she needs to sort of turn around, not twist. As a photographer sometimes you can get confused, like why is the model doing that? You have to understand from the models perspective, when she's up there and she's seeing you, it actually is confusing sometimes when you get all these instructions on where to be. But if you put yourself in their position you understand okay, I get it. When I'm up here, what that's like when you're down there and I'm up here. And that kind of empathy between the subject and yourself. Which is very important. There we are, nice. (shutter clicks) Looking right above me. (shutter clicks) Twist your body all the way around now so you're leaning over this banister. Strong again, feel that strength in your body, tough. (shutter clicks) Gorgeous. Come down a step. There. (shutter clicks) Can you go wider with the hands? Yeah, that's cool. Hold that. (shutter clicks) Beautiful. So I'm using elements like this banister into my picture. Helps play a lot of this (mumbles). (shutter clicks) So I'm using this sort of banister element, she's playing off it, she is working with it. I saw her, came in for a close-up, it's really kind of fantastic because of this great angle through the picture, which looks great. It's also casting a shadow across her face which I like, because you're actually beginning to light yourself now which is kind of cool in this particular instance. For my settings I'm actually shooting at 2,000th of a second. At three, five, and the ISO is 400. With this high speed, I can shoot at 2,000th of a second. Which you couldn't do until recently. Which changes everything of course. It helps make outside look a little bit more like late afternoon. A couple more here, like that. (shutter clicks) Bring this hand down. (shutter clicks) Beautiful. Out a little bit further. There you go. (shutter clicks) I think we got this shot. That was great. Yes, fantastic, come on down.

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.