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Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 9 of 17

Shadow Demos

Lindsay Adler

Seeing and Shaping Light

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

9. Shadow Demos
Put those catchlight and shadow details into practice with a live lighting demonstration. Watch how the position of the light changes the image. Then, move into multi-light set-up by adding a fill light. Work with different types of lighting modifiers for studio strobes, along with different colors of reflectors.

Lesson Info

Shadow Demos

All right, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna talk about some catch lights real quick, talk about some shadows real quick. You can take a seat right there. And I am going to move this out for just a second. Okay, let's get this turned back on. And I'm using the beauty dish, again, because it just gives me a little bit more control. That's the idea. So I'm gonna face you straight on to me. Perfect. Great. I have a million, million classes on, I have a Studio 101 class, and I talk about lighting in a creative studio lighting class. I've got a bunch of different things. I will note, for those of you who, like, "okay, I figured out that it's a beauty dish, "and I'm trying to recreate it, "and it doesn't look the same," for a beauty dish, you have to have the center of the light pointed at your subject's face. If it's even a little bit off, what ends up happening, so, ready, from there to here, it's drastically different light, because it's actually the bare bulb. It's actually the bare bulb...

hitting her face. So you might have what looks like a, if I look at her right now, I still see a beauty dish catch light. But I'm not getting beauty dish light. So if you're trying this, and it's not looking right to you, get that center pointed right at the center of her face. Completely different light. All right, so let me put this back on. And I'm gonna switch to Lightroom to shoot this. And John, I will put you on reflector duty shortly. Okay. All right, so let me just get a quick test to get our establishing shot and make sure all my, perfect, okay. Okay, let's see. Okay, so did my establishing shot here. Couple things that you wanna keep in mind when we're talking about catch lights and shadows, as well, is there's not a right or wrong answer for how high a light source should be. The higher up you raise a light, the more dimension it gives to a face. So that could be a really good thing, because it can carve out cheekbones and jawlines. And if somebody has a double chin, you raise that light up, and it casts a shadow underneath, so no long look. However, at some point, when you raise that light up too high, they get shadows in their eyes. So it's the question of, okay, do you lower it a little bit to keep the light in the eyes, or do you say, nope, doesn't even matter, I'm gonna add a reflector. And we're going to use the reflector as the catch light. I was told in the beginning of portraits, like when I first learned, that the catch lights are what give life to your subject and makes them look alive. But we don't care if it's a catch light from above or below, as long as there is one. So you could use it to create drama. Let me just raise this up bit by bit. So when I raise this up, I've gotta reposition it just a little bit, cause when I do so, now I was getting that raw edge of the light. Let me double click on this. So here was that first shot. I raised the light up a little bit. Okay. So what you'll see is her cheek will become a little bit more defined. The shadows will get a little bit longer. But she starts to get shadows in her eyes there. But what I wanted you guys to pay attention to is this, look right here. Watch this cheek, as well as her lips. See how that cheek starts to have more shape? And her lips start to look fuller. So especially if somebody has, and I say this loosely, like a flatter face, less dimension. It's a little round, maybe a little filled out, raising that light up can start to carve out features. So it can be a good thing. So let me do one more raise up. And at this point, what'll happen is I'm going to lose those catch lights. And I might need to reposition just a little. Great, and I have no problem just saying, okay, is that lined up? Okay, looks good. Do one more. Okay. So now I've got tons of drama, very, very dimensional face. But it's kinda dark and lifeless in her eyes. So I'm gonna bring in that reflector. And what I want you to do is, can you wiggle around the silver in different ways? I'm just gonna take a couple shots. So if you put it underneath and do one where there's minimal fill. Right there, good. Okay. Great, and now give me as much as possible, yeah. All right, perfect. So I don't know if you guys could all see, but he basically just went from here to here, and it made a drastic difference. So the first shot, it's off to the side. You can see that catch light. But there's almost no fill underneath her chin. So the catch light would make you go, okay, there's gotta be a fill light here. But then you look at the shadows, and you go, no, they're dark. So there's enough to get a catch light, but it was angled not to pick up any light. And so you would have to figure out if you can do that with how you angle your reflector. And so then here's when he changes the angle. And now look at the texture you see underneath the chin. You're getting all that texture and fills in the shadows and bright catch lights. Let's try the different, with white, just so you can see. Great, nice and close, perfect. So white is just gonna be a little bit softer. It's actually a lot softer. But you won't have that brightness to the eyes. So you might say, okay, I got catch lights, but they're not specular. I might need to lower that light. So there's not, you know, not right or wrong. It kinda just depends. Next thing that I want to do, just gonna lower this down just a little bit. Okay, right about here. So if in my head, I'm saying I want bright, high-key, flat, my head would go, fewer shadows. Fewer shadows means centered light, lowered light. And fewer shadows means adding a reflector. Can you add the white reflector really close? Great. And chin straight on to me just a little bit more. Right there, perfect. And then I would add in a white background at some point. So this would be my brain for flatter. Super bright, right? It gives you that mood. But then if I wanna go the exact opposite, I'd say, okay, more shadows. I'm gonna go this way. This will create longer shadows. Beauty dish is not pointed the right position anymore. And can I have you do silver rim? And this would be for, yeah, right there's perfect, for going much darker and more dramatic. Okay, and watch how bright we can get this rim light from a reflector. And this is why it's tricky. Right? I think that if I saw this, I'd probably think that it was from another light. That's just because of the angle of reflection here. He's got it so it's picking up that light. And this is a strong silver reflector. They also make ones that are soft white or silver-white speckled. It wouldn't be as hard. But you could change the angle and soften it up, as well. Okay, so next thing, watching this all in action here. Can I put the softbox back on briefly? Which size? Octabox. Octa. Three foot. Okay. I'm gonna take a look at, I won't hit you. I'll try not to hit you, at least. Okay, great. We'll take a look at catch lights again. Let me move some stuff out of the way so I have a little bit more mobility. Okay, great. And I can hold it. Not hitting her, are we? Nope, so far good. I told her we would try not to. Perfect. Great. Perfect. Okay. Something's loose. Okay. All right, so let's take a look at this. All right, so two things. Next, I'm going to need a flag and a grid, both that fit onto the light. That'll be my next thing, the D1 grid. D1 grid? Yeah, okay, so let me just show you this real quick. I have to move stuff. If I bring this light super, super close, this is making it relative to her face like I had a four by six, or like a five-foot octabank. It's super soft, and it fills in all the way around the face. So let me just take one quick test, and then I'm gonna back it up, show you those rules in action. So, I'm gonna do it vertical here. All right, now, okay, this light, because it's close to her, it's relatively large, what I see is I can zoom into those catch lights. And so when I looked at this, I would know one of two things. Either it's, it's an octabox. I would know it's off to the left. I zoom out, and I go, okay, it's gotta be off to the left-hand side, cause the shadows are cast opposite, all right. It's not really that high up, cause I can see quite a bit of it in the eye. So it's probably lowish to the face, which is true. What else would I be able to tell from this? I'd also look at it, and I can see it's an octabox. But it's either the three foot really close, or it's a five foot and a little bit further away. Now, let's see what else I can look at these shadows. I look at the shadows here, and they're dark. They're pretty solid. So I'm going to assume there's no fill, and I can look back at the catch lights, and I don't see any fill. But I can also tell that by the fact that the shadows are dark. So it's telling me where those are. Now let me just go completely opposite direction. If I back this up, I'm moving stuff around here, if I back this up, it's gonna be a lot harder of a light, and it will look completely different. Now, the other thing is because I backed it up, the exposure will totally change. So it's the bucket of water, like I said on you, that same amount of water that I'm throwing from back here, not much of that water will hit you, whereas I'm really close, a lot of it will. So I'm going to have to compensate for that. And I can either bump up my ISO or I can open up my aperture. Probably gonna do both. Quick test. There's one other reason why I'm doing this. Okay, I'm really good at guessing. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. The shadow gets a little bit harder, but it's a very different picture. But what you'll notice, this also has a lot faster falloff of light. What that means is most of that water, here, okay, most of that water was blocked and absorbed by her, and it's not reaching the background. When I backed up, the inverse square law, this is a whole other class, these are all relatively the same distance, and everything gets wet. So the background gets a little lighter. All right, the reason I wanted to show you this, as well, is to talk about height of light. That makes a little bit of a difference. If I've got my light high up, right here, there'll be no catch lights in her eyes. And the shadows will be really long. But if I take that same light back, it changes the shadows. Because from further back, she's gonna pick up some of those catch lights. And the shadows aren't going to be so long. And you can see that in this example a little bit. See how the shadow of the nose is going down here. When I backed it up, watch how it goes a little bit more to the side. You see that? So that's one other consideration that you may have, is that, okay, I've decided that I need my catch light to be really big. So I bring it in super, super close. But when I bring it in super close, even if I raise my light up a little bit, it starts to cast those shadows really far down. So it's like that little dance of just knowing maybe you gotta back it up a little bit. The catch light won't be as big, the light won't be as soft. But then you have a little bit more flexibility to raise the light up. Sometimes if you're right here, as soon as you raise the light up, there's no catch lights. But when it's not raised, you're in your own shot, which I was. So you gotta kinda dance around those things, as well. Okay. Okay, grids. So this last thing before we wrap up this section is I wanted you to see other ways to make shadows more dramatic besides just, we talked about raise it up, move it to the side, you can fill in, you can add another light source. So I'm gonna add a grid onto this. Let's do five in this instance, just so people can see this drama. Here, why don't you take the grid, I'll take this. Okay, cool. I'll hold onto this. Thank you. Great, okay, so we used a grid before on the background. And we saw kind of the glow that it gave. But you can use it on a subject's face. And so this is one other thing of shadows where it's just a totally different way it works, is I, I'm gonna, like, blind her with this. Ready? Here we go. Not really blind you, but kind of. I want that light focused. I can bring it in so, so, so close and just have it light, gonna back this up just a little bit, just have it light her face. So right now, ready, there's no light on my hand. Okay, it hits my hand. It's gone. It is literally just on the center of her face. So if you're looking at shadows and you're going, okay, as I examine this right now, it's pretty high up. If I don't know this is here. It's pretty high up, because the shadow's going down towards the lip. Notice since it's close to her, that high up is exaggerated. All right. The shadows are pretty solidly dark. They're very crisp. I can see in her eyes that it's a point source. I don't know if it's a zoom reflector or which one it is. But when I step back and I see the fact that there's zero light on her hair, zero light on her chest, that tells me it's a grid. That's your other giveaway. Look at those shadows, how focused is that beam of light? The more focused it is, it's either really close or a really small number. I also know I'm gonna have to completely adjust my exposure, because I just focused all that light and brought I close. So let's adjust this. I'll test this first. I'm so good at guessing. Okay. All right, so let's look at this example. So that's what a grid will give you, so just to be able to identify that. But one other thing to be able to identify is that, can I have a piece of Cinefoil instead? I think that flag's a little big. Is flagging on the face. So I already showed you you can flag on the background, and you can cast light away from the background, block it off, cast a shadow. But you can do the same thing on a face. And so if you go look at both Chris and Dan's photos that I mentioned before, you'll see this all the time, where you'll see really crisp shadows on the face, but they're not cast at all by the modifier. And you're, "what is," let me show you what it means. That's perfect. So here's what I'm talking about. I can cast a shadow across just one eye and make it really crisp. And if you see that shadow, if you don't know this exists, you'd be like, "what kind of modifier does that?" How it works is you need to have a high-contrast modifier because you need to have a sharp transition from highlight to shadow. If it's subtle, it won't cast a line. It has to be high contrast. And if I bring this back, if I bring the, this is called a flag. If I bring it back towards the light, it's too diffused. You wanna bring it really close to your subject. So close, with a high-contrast modifier is what's going to give you that line. So let me just demo that real quick so you guys can have an idea. And bring it real close to her, right there, perfect. Okay. Great, ooh, that's dramatic. I like it. So I can actually make it so just part of her face is illuminated. So the key here, what I kinda want your takeaway to be, is if you're seeing shadows, where you're looking at, you can analyze, okay, the light's off to the left. And it's pretty tall, pretty high up, because it's casting the shadow down. It's making kind of loop, high up, there's no fill cause it's dark. But then what the heck is that shadow? It could be something called a flag. And all of that focus could be created by something called a grid. So grids and flags are something else that can kind of trick you as you're analyzing a photograph. So that looks to me like what a snoot would do. Can you show the difference of what the snoot would look like? Is that possible? Yeah, so a snoot, as far as the focus- Thank you. Will do quite similar. But usually, so exactly what he's saying is it tends to give an even sharper edge. It looks a little bit more defined. And that's part of this, too. This is, it kinda has a little room to spread out. Yeah, they get hot, cause they hold in all the light. So, sorry. Yeah, I'll pop this over here. All right, sorry, I usually turn down the modeling light. I just wanna make sure they can see. So, sorry, so if you actually look at the shadows, the shadows are even more defined. Right now, because I'm a little further back, I'm not even that far back, the light spreads out. But you can add grids to snoots. So you can have focused light and have those sharper edges. These things all exist. It's just a little bit more advanced. But I can get in, so that even makes the light soft. But usually you add it back here, so it's like on the zoom reflector and then the snoot in front. So I am gonna, this one I will not be able to guess the exposure, because I don't use this modifier very often. Okay, let's try this. (laughs) (audience laughing) I'm good. So as far as the way that it's focused there, and the falloff, it's similar. And you could make it even more so bringing it even closer. Okay. Cool. Great. We have a question for you about using shadows to reduce the reflection on people's skin. Can you use shadows to do that? Yeah, totally. So there's a couple things you can do. Let's say that you've got a light above, because you wanted to sculpt someone's face. But it's giving a big highlight on their forehead. You can feather the light so you can actually get the edge instead of the hotspot right on their forehead. So changing the angle so that the center of the light is not pointed at the forehead will make a difference. And, just now, I brought that flag really close to cast a harsh shadow. You don't have to do that at all. You can have it farther away. It just gives a little bit of toning down on the forehead, as well. You can also even take Cinefoil and put it in front of your modifier, just to darken down at the top. That'll do the same thing. Yeah? So on the topic of feathering, can you feather a beauty dish at all? I mean, like if you put a sock on it, or is it just like? Yeah, I mean, if you, the way that you feather it is by the placement of the light more. So let me just grab this real quick. So for example, I'm gonna have you face straight towards me. If I were feathering this beauty dish, and the reason would be maybe it's hitting the background and I don't like it. I could kind of move it to the side and just keep that center pointed at her. And I might have to just vary my angle. But if I just go like this, can't do it, cause it'll get the raw edge. It ends up changing the direction of light a little bit more. But there's ways you can finagle it to do it. If you add a grid or a sock, your problems go away, cause you're not worried about that sweet spot anymore. Grid or a sock, you can do a lot of feathering.

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.