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Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 16 of 17

Advanced Set-ups

Lindsay Adler

Seeing and Shaping Light

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

16. Advanced Set-ups
Practice deciphering advanced lighting setups. See the image first, see if you can determine how that light was created, then see the actual studio setup. Work through several different setups that use multiple lights for more complex scenarios.

Lesson Info

Advanced Set-ups

Okay. So let's show my screen and let's put up this shot for everyone to see so you can analyze it. Okay. Try to move this a little bit. So take a look at catch lights. How many are there? Is there fill? Highlights? Room lights? How many are there? Is it soft? Is it hard? Where is it? How about shadows? Direction? Fill? All the things we've been talking about? So, taking a little glance. I am going to take a little zoom in for just a second. Okay. All right. I'm gonna zoom back out. Have another glance. The background's a soft box and it's a beauty dish for the key, and then it's got, there's two it looks like white reflectors you can see on the bottom, I don't know if there's another one, but there's at least two. Okay. You guys ready? Okay. (humming) Sorry, hitting myself. Okay, now, I need those two, hold on. You two gotta go back into your position. Let me move this out of the way. Ready? And... Okay. Like that. All right, so it is beauty dish and paramount. The answer is, yay.

(applause) Beauty dish and paramount may be a little bit off to the left, and you can tell that it was a little bit off to the left. Then those are two white reflectors, but it could be two pieces of white foam core, and the way that I had them positioned was in a V, because they catch the light and fill it in better. If they're just flat, some of that light gets lost. So V-ing it in fills in all the shadows. So you can see that, and then you're right, it was a soft box behind. You could light a background white with two soft strips, but that's too much effort. So this was a three by four foot soft box behind. So perfecto. Okay, let's take a look at this one. It's all the same scene, but the light is varying. So take a look. Let me show you. We're going to look at the catch lights. All right, take a look at the catch lights for a second. All right, so looking at catch lights, looking at shadows, looking at highlights. All right. So let's take a look and see if you roughly guessed right. By the way, since I'm going to reveal it to you, that's my shadow. Like right there is my shadow. So you can kind of see me in the scene a little bit. So if you want to take a look. So how'd you guys do? She was right. All right, I see several thumbs up in the audience here, so. There were a lot of people online that got that last one. Okay, good. Excellent. So what we got here is we got a beauty dish mixed with the natural light, the ambient light here, which is the sun on her hair. And the reason that you can tell that is as you can see the catch light is more defined. You can see the difference here between a reflector, like a white reflector. Silver reflector looks all irregular. And then, popping back, like there's just more contrast than you get with natural light, but you can tell it's not a silver reflector. I mean, the beauty dish, you can tell by the fact that it's round, and you can see the light on her hair. This one is not easy. I'm making it complicated for you all, okay? And I'm going to leave it up for a second, and then we will zoom in and take a look at the catch lights in a moment. Okay? So how many catch lights, position of the catch lights, height of the catch lights. How many room lights? The texture, the quality of the room lights. Where are they placed? How about the shadows? The direction of the shadows? How about the edges of the shadows? How about the fill of the shadows? Okay. So I'm going to look over to you to see if anyone's chimed in yet. You want to read me one? Not yet. Yeah, I'm difficult. This is a hard one. We're still waiting. And we have a delay. Yeah, we have a little bit of a delay. Yeah, exactly. I mean, some people are super stellar, super fast. So while they're guessing, I'm going to say okay. I see one catch light. But I'm looking at that shadow, and that shadow's not matching that catch light. That's the key there. That's the trick part of it. I'm also checking at that shadow not being dark. So I know there's got to be something to make it not be so dark. I'm looking at the edge of that shadow. The edge of that shadow is quite crisp. That catch light is a low catch light. It's an unusual shape. Getting some kind of light source somehow. Giving just a little bit of room light, and of course the white background. So let's take a couple of guesses. So we got beauty dish up high, soft box behind, reflector underneath. Okay. We have a PhotoGuyMike says clamshell in front of soft box, beauty dish above, reflector below. Okay. Two side lights with high level, grid spot on the nose area, triflector on the bottom. Okay. All right, you want to do one more? Yeah. Soft box behind and reflector for the catch light. Okay. So should I reveal or talk it through? You want to reveal it? All right, I'm going to point this angle. Okay, ready guys? All right. So. Okay, thanks. So this is the type of stuff that I do all the time where I look, like it's cheating but it's not. I look at other photographers' work and go, ooh, I like that light, how is it done? Like I do it all the time. What I would see here and how I'd piece it apart is I'd go, all right, this is a weird catch light. And it's long and narrow, and so the only long and narrow catch light I know is a strip soft box. This one, it's a little bit dim, so I could guess I could see how somebody might think it's a reflector. But it's very defined, so it's got the shape of a strobe over a reflector. Reflectors usually have some sort of misshape to them. So I've got that catch light I can see. But from below, a strip light would not make a paramount crisp shadow from the nose. So there's obviously got to be another main light, you just can't see it in the catch lights. So that main light, I know it's not to be paramount, maybe it's a little bit off to the side, but it's mostly paramount. And those are pretty crisp shadows. They're filled in, but I know already why they're filled in. They're filled in because of the strip soft box from below. So I already know that. It's crisp. That is just from my own experience. That is more crisp than you would get with a beauty dish. And you can also see a little bit more on the textures from the cheeks. A beauty dish has a little bit more of a glow to it. It's a little bit softer. But it would be that shadow that would be my giveaway that it couldn't be a beauty dish. It's got to be something a little harsher than that. Of course, what I recommend you do if you go home and try it, and you liked your beauty dish better, awesome. But if you're trying to recreate something, you might look at that shadow and go oh man, that's not crisp enough. What can I do next? What's the next harder modifier over on this side that I could try? Yes? If you did use a beauty dish but like pull it away so relative size was like the same, would it be that crisp or just wouldn't be different? So the further away you pull the beauty dish, the more crisp it would be. But it's more about this angle, because the further away you get it, the higher up you'd have to keep going to get that length of the shadow. So you'd have to kind of play with things. Plus this is silver, a silver beauty dish would help you out more. A silver beauty dish would give you a little more definition than a white one would. And so the last part, you guys were all right. Soft box behind, but it's turned down relatively low. So it's just subtle, just subtle highlights around her. Okay, guys. This one is a super tricky one. We do this setup in fashion photography all the time. Not so common in portrait photography. I don't see it as often. This one, I don't have a closeup of the catch lights because, no catch lights. So I took away one of our sort of clues that you usually try to have here. So this was shot right outside of my studio in New York. You walk out the front doors, you go to the right a little bit. So this one's tricky. And so I'm going to tell you a little bit of what I'm looking at. All right, so what I'm looking at is, first of all, it's really saturated blue behind her. If we were shooting into the sun, it wouldn't be as saturated, right? If you go outdoors and you face toward the sun, the sky isn't as blue. It's the opposite way. So I'm thinking that's the direction of the sun, but I can also see it on her face. See the irregular, like the irregular texture? You don't get that irregular texture from any modifier. Like that's going to be from the sun. The sun across her hair, the sun across something. But then, man, all of that texture is nice and even. Look at that crisp jaw line. Like, there's that weird texture, but it's also filled in real nice. And I see shadows going to the right, but then I also see shadows going down. So that's going to tell me there's probably two light sources, right? One is the sun, which is going to be the light from the hair, from way above. And see that highlight on her nose? That's the sun. There's a little bit of a highlight on her nose. But then it's a studio strobe. There's a studio strobe used in the sun. So a lot of times what we do in portrait photography is we will have somebody put their back to the sun, so they've got nice hair light, and then we do a strobe that way. In fashion photography a lot of times what we do is we have the sun on the face, and then also a strobe on the face. Because what it does is it's that hard main soft fill that I mentioned before. It's like, you've got the sun, so it carves them out and it makes all the colors really rich, but the sun is so brutal. The sun is going to give you bright highlights, dark shadows, show the texture across the skin, so if you can add an octobox, or a beauty dish, or an umbrella, it fills in all those shadows and softens it up, and it mixes the two of them together. The one other one, I told you this was the hard one outside, yeah? I'm just wondering if there's something like in that environment or something. It looks like there's another light coming in from camera right. Yeah, there is. Okay. So that was the last little thing. If you look basically on her rear, slash, on her hand, there's also some other light there. Now, honestly, on a bright sunny day, it could be the sun bouncing off a car that's right there. Like, it could easily be that. I'm going to show you what it happened to be. The point is, is could you get it to look like this? If you are just beginning in light, do not worry, I wanted to end on hard ones. I started off nice and slow, I wanted to kind of step it up. So here's how it's actually lit. This is exactly like everything. You see that highlight on her nose from the sun? Same highlight on the nose here. Same highlight. But there's a beauty dish added to that. So the beauty dish fills in the shadows and shapes it, and then I've got a reflector behind catching the sunlight and kicking it back as a room light. This is like, if you look at a lot of the high end fashion editorials, they do this all the time. The sun plus either an octobox, an umbrella, or a beauty dish. And then I just threw in the reflector, not because it needed it, I just wanted to trick you all. Do you see why I'm tricky? The audience sees why I'm tricky. Yeah. Okay, so take a minute and see if you can guess how many lights are in this shot, what lights are in this shot, is there any fill, and I will give you a zoom into the catch lights, which you don't always have that ability, but there's a zoom in to your catch light. So, catch lights. Okay. So in a second I'm going to talk a little, because apparently I'm good at just talking about stuff. (laughing) All right, so I would go through. Catch light, I see it on the left. So I know my light source is to the left. But the other reason I know is the shadows are opposite that light source. But the other thing I'm noticing is that light source looks relatively low, or just not high, it's at least roughly equal with the subject's face, the center of the light. Because look, the shadows are just going across. They're not going down. They're not going up. They're going straight across. So it's a light far off to the left. It's off to the left. It's a loop light with a light off to the right, a shadow off to the right. So okay, I've got that. When I look at the catch light, it's huge. So I'm going to guess it's either a small soft box really close, or a really big soft box, but probably, if you look at the transitions there, it's a really slow transition, so I'm going to guess it's just a big light source. So I've got that. Check and look at the shadows. We have some guesses. I'm ready. Give me some guesses, because I saved my tricky part. PhotoMaker says natural light to her right, rim light to her left. Okay. Jessica says two light setup, bouncing light into a V flat with a strip box as the rim light. A one light setup. Soft box off to her right, creating Rembrandt lighting with a reflector to her back left. Yeah, those are all good answers, though. Light into a V flat. That's also a really cool setup. So what you would do is you would have a V flat, you point the light into it, then when the light bounces off that V flat, the V flat becomes the light source, which means it's big, and therefore the light source is big relative to the subject, which gives you the soft light. So it could do something quite similar. It could be that. In this case, it is not. But that back room light thing. I wanted to drive one more point home. This is why I had this here. To drive the point home that it doesn't matter what it is as long as it looks like that. Like if this is what you're trying to go for. You could have probably done this with a reflector or something similar. You could have done this with a strip soft box turned down low, getting something similar. But, can I show what I actually did? What I actually did here was I took a three by four, and the three by four, the way that I have it angled, it's getting a little bit of kick on her. So it's just the angle of it, it's giving me a little bit of light on the background. So see how there's a gradient? Just a little bit of gradient on the background. So I was trying to go for kind of a little bit of checkerboard, right? Got a little bit of dark on the left, a little bit lighter. So this is a dual purpose light. It is a background light and a kicker light. I used to only have two lights. So I learned to do this because I had to. I wanted a background light and a kicker light, but I only had two. So it's based on how you angle it. You can actually dual purpose it. So bringing it all together, as long as you're getting it close to what you're doing, if you're decoding, making sure the subject is separated from the background, that's the idea. And if you look closely, you do see that it's a little bit lighter, but if I took this main light, and angled it that way, it would have been lighter on that opposite side, because that's the side it's illuminating. So there's like three ways I could have done this exact light. And that's why whatever you chose is fine.

Class Description


  • Recreate the light from any image you see
  • Work with traditional studio lighting patterns
  • Design your own creative, complex multi-light setups
  • Understand how to use a studio lighting kit
  • Work with several different lighting modifiers


Decipher the complexities of light. From working with studio lights to using modifiers, Lindsay Adler helps photographers develop the ability to see and shape light. By the end of this class, you'll be able to look at any image and determine how to recreate the lighting in your own work.

Using clues like catchlights and shadows, Lindsay demystifies photography lighting setups. Learn how to create classic lighting setups, from a single light to multi-light setups. Build the skills to be able to recreate the light from any shot you see -- and the ability to design your own creative lighting system. Work with studio strobes, light modifiers, window light, and natural light outdoors.

Stop fearing studio lighting and start using your light kit to design create powerful portraits.


  • Any photographer ready to learn light
  • Beginners ready to learn essentials like hard and soft light
  • Intermediate photographers eager to learn to create their own lighting setups
  • Advanced photographers ready to learn the clues to recreate light from any photo


Fashion photographer Lindsay Adler is one of the most respected photographers of the genre, known for a clean yet bold style. The New-York-City-based photographer has work in some of the most prestigious magazines, including Marie Claire, Elle, InStyle, Noise, Essence and more. The Canon Explorer of Light shares her knowledge on digital cameras, posing, light and more with other photographers through speaking engagements, books, classes, and workshops.


Kaltham Ali

Wow wow wow- I finished the entire class in a day! I feel like owning and buy right away all her trainings... this is what a real trainer is al about.. I went from zero in light understanding to really looking to lights/shadows etc.. awesome thanks Lindsay .. the best purchase ever

Warren Gedye

Lindsay, you're an absolute genius!! Such a terrific teacher. You are so talented- not only as an out-of-this-world exceptional photographer, but also as a person who clearly is so passionate about her craft and has that very rare ability to teach your art in such a unique and structured manner! I have learned so much from you previous courses too, Lighting Bootcamp 101, I think was one of them. I look forward to more of your tutorials. On a side note- John in the background is such a stand-up guy! I love the rapport you have with him. I've seen him in on a few Creative Live courses now and he's a kind of guy I just want sit down and have a coffee with, and pick his very informative brain! Such a cool fella!

a Creativelive Student

Lindsay is a talented teacher. She is very knowledgable of what she teaches, but also can teach it well (which is not something all talented people are gifted with, whatever the field). She is humble, dynamic and her courses are interesting to study. The one small improvement I would have liked would have been a little more emphasis and theory on the shaping part. However, this not being the most important, it is better that more emphasis was put on seeing (if you can't see it, you can't make it). Finally, I will say that to study and understand this course, or Lindsay's methodology, you are then equipped with an understanding—you could even say partly knowing the language—of light, which gives you a huge set of tools and advantage, allowing you to progress quite substantially with your studio or out-of-studio photography.