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Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 15 of 17

Studio & Natural Light Set-ups


Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 15 of 17

Studio & Natural Light Set-ups


Lesson Info

Studio & Natural Light Set-ups

So what I wanted to prove with this space, or what I wanted to show, is, I've been in this space a bunch of times, and you'll be able to see what it looks like, but within a couple of steps, I'm talking a couple of steps, hold on. Okay, I didn't want you to hear my secret. Within a couple of steps, whether I'm this direction, or I take two steps and face another, the light changes completely. So that's part of why it really helps to learn to kind of decode and see the light, because I can approach a room and I can get totally different moods of light just because I can look around me and analyze it. So, let me get set up with this. I have to switch all my settings because I'm not going to be shooting studio lighting anymore. And I'm shooting with a Canon 5DS and I'm shooting with a 7200, so I personally wanna shoot at 2.8, get a nice soft background. So, if I went through and was analyzing this photo, the first thing I would do is look at those catchlights. And they look cool and funky...

and unusual. I see many of them. But they key is going to be the placement. I see one set of catchlights higher and one set of catchlights lower. So I know that there's a main light and a fill light, and kind of a clamshell setup. So let's zoom in, don't judge my out-of-focus. Okay, good. So you can see windows. And then you see something irregular down here, and typically, I know that if it's an irregular catchlight, that it's probably a silver reflector. Other things that I would go through is I see, let's talk about the shadows. I see almost no shadows, which would make me think that she's almost flat on to a light source. It's in front of her. 'Cause if she was turned away from it, you might see a little bit of shadowing. Looking under the jawline, very, very minimal shadows, so I'd guess there's also fill, or light bouncing around from the environment. And then rim light, the background is white, but it's not casting, I don't really see any highlight on her. There isn't really a highlight on the jaw or on on the neck. So I would guess no rim light. Since it looks like natural light to me, because I see windows in the eyes, I would guess that there's also no background light. I would guess that it's just a white background. So this is kind of how I would go through this here. So okay, so let's reveal this. Okay, over here, I've got directly behind me, gigantic windows, so tons of windows directly behind me. And then we've got this reflector catching the light. But the key here is look at the weird angle of this reflector. That is not normally how I would place a reflector. But, if we do this, it's actually blocking the window light. In order to pick it up, we've gotta actually gather it from above, 'cause those windows are so tall, and kick it back that direction. So in other words, you really gotta move the reflector around, so you can actually see what it's doing. So right behind me are those windows. You can see the shadow of me actually in her eye, and then you've got the two sets of catchlights, because it's the windows, and then the reflector below. 30-inch silver reflector. So that is setup number one, okay? All right, so, let's take a look at this picture. See if you can guess roughly what it is. Kind of piece apart. Take a look at where the catchlights are in the eyes. The direction of the shadows, you're gonna take a look at that. Take a look at if there's any rim lights or background lights in the room. How about the position of her head? Can we see any details about the catchlights in the eyes? So that's the process that I'm going through here. So, let me walk you through what I'm looking at. First of all, as I see, see the catchlights are in the left-hand side of the eyes. So that's telling me that main light is probably over on the left-hand side. Also, they look irregular, so my guess would be natural light. Of course, you just roughly saw where I was, so you know that there are big windows here. So the windows have gotta be off to the left, and they're creating Rembrandt light. We've got that triangle of light underneath her eyes. So off to the left is our main light source, and it's large, because you can see very subtle transition from shadow to highlight. If it were hard, like direct sunlight on her face through the window, it would be very abrupt. The next thing, I'm going, all right, got my catchlights, so I'm gonna guess windows, I see the shadows, the direction of shadows. The shadows are quite filled in. So it could be maybe a fill card, or it could be a white wall off to the right-hand side, catching a little bit of that window light and bouncing it back in. Then I see little highlights on her ears, and a little bit of a highlight on the side of her neck and on her face. So there's something doing that. It could be a reflector from behind, but I think that it is, it's very, very, very soft, so because of that softness, and the fact that it's not defined, I would guess another window. So, here's what I wanted to show you. If you wanna basically reveal everything. What I wanted you all to notice is in one second, I was shooting with the windows behind me, shooting this direction with the reflector underneath. And so what that says, is it gives me beautiful flat light, bright catchlights in the eyes. But all I do, is turn here. I move my subject. She was over there, I'm turning her back here and now, she's got the big windows coming in from the side, giving me a little bit more drama and shadow, 'cause now there's shadow to the right-hand side of the face, and another window from behind is giving her that rim light. So my point is, when I walk into a space, I can do that. I can say, okay, this way with the reflector, she'll be flat onto the windows, and I can give her more catchlight, so nice and even flat light. Oh, but here, it's basically like moving the soft box. In this example, the soft box is flat onto her-- - shell reflector, whereas in this situation, I moved that giant soft box off to the left, into Rembrandt position. So it's more, I'm changing where she is relative to that light source, and it completely changes the light. So that's how I analyze natural light.

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.


  1. Class Introduction

    In the first lesson, Lindsay shares how she learned how to light. Once you learn how to see and shape light, she says, you'll be able to imitate any lighting effect that you see. Take a glimpse at the lighting checklist that you'll master by the end of the class.

  2. Keywords and Terminology of Lighting

    Learning the terms doesn't mean you know how to use them -- but it gives you the tools to be able to determine what you are seeing. Master essential terms in this lesson, like key light, fill light, rim light, background light, catchlight, and more. Learn how to recognize hard light and soft light.

  3. Lighting Patterns

    Light has shape, created by lighting positions. Learn the main photography lighting patterns, including Paramount (or Butterfly Lighting), Loop, Rembrandt, and Split. Go through each lighting pattern -- see how the lights are positioned and the feel each option creates.

  4. The Science of Light

    Lindsay calls this lesson "the science of light -- without getting science-y." Learn what photographers need to know about light, without getting into crazy scientific terms. Grasp how size and position affect the look of the light. Change the look of the light using modifiers like a diffuser to change the relative size of the light and amount of light falling on the subject.

  5. Lighting Pattern Demos

    Put those lighting keywords and patterns into practice with a live demonstration of different lighting setups. See several different lighting patterns and types of studio lighting in action. See how light is created and shaped using lighting equipment like strobe lighting and reflectors. Work with different light modifiers, like grids and beauty dishes.

  6. Study the Catchlights

    Catchlights offer several clues as to how that image was lit, including where the lights are placed and what type of light modifiers were used. Learn how to reconstruct portrait light by using the clues that you can find in catchlights, whether there's one catchlight, multiple catchlights or none at all. These clues offer insight into the light source and position of the light.

  7. Study the Shadows

    Catchlights are the first half of the puzzle to recreating a lighting look -- the shadows are the second half. By examining the position and length of the shadows, you can figure out what lighting setup was used to re-create that look. In this lesson, learn to decipher the shadows.

  8. Soft & Hard Shadows

    Work with different light modifiers to see which ones create hard light and which ones create soft light. From umbrellas and beauty dishes to barn doors and snoots, study the subtle differences between each kind of modifier. Then, learn how to determine if a fill light was used and how. Work with fill light and negative fill in this lesson.

  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.

  10. Rim Lights Demos

    Continue building a light setup by working with rim light. Create additional separation between the subject and the backdrop with this type of photography lighting, from the position of the light to the modifiers.

  11. Background Light

    Finish building a lighting setup with multiple lights by working with background lights. Adding a background light will lighten up the background and create more separation between the subject and the background. Watch a live demonstration adding a background light to the studio lighting setup.

  12. Considerations for Outdoors & Natural Light

    Studio lighting is easy to control -- but what about working with natural light? Move from studio photography to natural light photography and learn to see and shape natural light and work outdoors. Adapt what you've discovered about studio lighting to working outdoors and determine what's the same and what's different. Learn to create different types of lighting outdoors.

  13. Complications

    Work with advanced lighting options in this lesson, like using a softbox as a background. Work with wrapping the backdrop light using distance, create different looks with the key light. Learn how to decipher more complex lighting patterns that you may see. Finally, work with gels to create a mood using color temperature.

  14. Lighting Set Ups

    Work through the full process of recreating a lighting set-up in this lesson. Work with the modeling mode on the studio strobe (or continuous lighting) to see how the lighting changes, then troubleshoot with the position and height of the light stand to recreate the look. See multiple lighting setups in the live demo.

  15. Studio & Natural Light Set-ups

    Mix natural lighting with studio lighting in this live demonstration. Decipher mixed lighting, then re-create it. Work through different lighting setups that use natural lights and a reflector for simple, flattering light.

  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.

  17. Creative Lighting Set-up

    Deciphering the light becomes more complex with elaborate wardrobes, drops, and poses. Master the ability to see light by working with complex, creative lighting setups and special effects, then work to make them your own.


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.