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Seeing and Shaping Light

Lesson 7 of 17

Study the Shadows

Lindsay Adler

Seeing and Shaping Light

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

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.

Lesson Info

Study the Shadows

We're gonna take a look at all of this stuff in action, but I wanted to go over shadows next, because my -- Basically what I do is I combine catch-light knowledge and shadow knowledge, and it tells me most of the photograph, like those two things. So the questions that we covered so far with the catch lights, ready? How many catch lights are there? Where are they placed in the eye? It will tell you where they are roughly relative to the subject's face, not the camera. Are they high up, what's the height of the light? If you can only see a little bit relative to the subject's face it's quite high or maybe it's down low, which might mean it's a reflector. Is it a fill light? If you see one light above and then another catch light below, trying to figure out if it's defined. Is it a strobe? Is it crunchy, maybe it's a silver reflector? If it's subtle, maybe it's going to be a white reflector or a V flat. And then, can I see it? Can I see what modifier it is by looking in the catch light? ...

And then, we're gonna combine this, is if I can only see one or no catch lights, I gotta check over to the shadows to give me a clue of what I'm missing. So catch lights give you all of that stuff, but you gotta combine it with shadows. So, let's take a look at shadow information. So, this first part is just a refresh of what we've already talked about. And then we'll build upon this. So we talked about paramount, loop, Rembrandt, and split, right? More shadow there is, the more dramatic it is. The more shadow means the light moved further and further off to the side relative to the subject. So you've got that same thing where we run through it. Paramount is nice and centered. Move it off to the side, you get the loop from the nose. Move it off to the side more, you get that triangle of light beneath the eye for Rembrandt. Move it off to the side more, and you've got our split light. So what that means, really, is when you're looking at the shadows, the longer the shadow is from the nose, it's telling me, the further off to the side of the face that light is. So that's why I was saying, okay, yeah, you need to know the term 'loop'. But if it's a long loop and doesn't quite meet the Rembrandt, it just means it was far enough off to the side that that shadow is really long. But not far enough off to the side that it becomes Rembrandt. But you keep moving it over, and the Rembrandt triangle gets smaller and smaller and smaller. So what the shadow is telling you is, okay, subject's face, how far to the side is that light? So let's pop on to the next secrets. Okay, here's the example of relative to the face. Paramount light ... Move the light to the side to create Rembrandt. Created Rembrandt light, but then, I move her face towards that light. Nothing moves, but she turns towards the light. It flattens it out so it's Paramount light. So shadow's directly under her nose, or I move the light back and it gives me Rembrandt light. So remember that it's relative. Okay, so, next thing. So we talked about the patterns for the length of the shadow side to side, and the distance of the light side to side. But then the height of the light is the next thing. So first thing is how long is the shadow of the nose side to side? Next one is how long is it up or down? 'Cause that's gonna tell you how high up that light goes. If you see almost no shadow under the nose, it means that it's pretty low. It's probably even like just above camera level. Of course, she raises or lowers her chin, it changes what the patterns on the light on the face look like. Taking a look at these two examples. The first one, it's a very shallow, small shadow from her nose. You can barely see it. And in the second one, it's very, very long, so it's telling me that light is much higher. As a rule of thumb, and I have examples in my portfolio that break this rule, but we learn the rules to break them, as a rule of thumb, usually when you're shooting, you don't wanna raise that light up high enough so that the nose shadow runs into the lip. Like if it goes so high that the nose shadow gets so long that it intersects with the lip, it's usually not flattering. So also know, it might be fine and have a nice shape, but then the subject moves the angle of their face, and all of the sudden, that nose shadow intersects. There was an example earlier of that and it, it tends to just almost come across, if it's a dark shadow, like a mustache centered on the face. It just doesn't communicate correctly. And it gives a bad merger between the lip and the shadow, and one of the things we think are beautiful about people are their lips, so then we lose them. So, here's the deal: the higher up you raise the light, the longer the shadow from the nose gets. So what I'm doing is in my head, I'm not gonna be able to tell you it's two feet, it's three feet, it's five feet. All I'm gonna be able to tell you is, if I go back into my studio and try to recreate that, I'm gonna watch and raise it up until it's the same length as the one in the photograph, if I'm recreating it. There's not any formula to this. The higher you raise it, the longer those shadows get. And so you can kinda see that there. So here's the secrets I've got. I know that the shadow will show up opposite the light source. So if I've got my light source over here, I know the shadow's opposite. The further it is off to the side, the longer that shadow grows. The higher up it is, the lower that shadow goes. And so sometimes in fashion stories, I'll actually see the shadow go straight across the face. It's not down at all, which means that that main light source was equal to their face. And then as it raises up, the shadow gets -- so it's actually telling me exactly where the light was placed, or if I need to recreate it, exactly what I need to do, which is why I turn off all lights so I can watch it. So here's an example. Let's take a look at these photos. Okay, so we're gonna like piece apart these two. And later on, I've got, we go through a bunch of photos, and figure out how they were lit. We're gonna do it as a group exercise, talk through it, where the highlights, the shadows, what was the light placement, I'll walk you through every step. So if I take a look at this photo, I'm lookin' at a lot of things, but look at this. The shadow from her nose just about reaches the lip. So I can tell that that main light is really, really high up. But look, I can't actually see that catch light at all. So I would've, if I just looked at the catch lights, I would've been like, "Oh, maybe there's "only a light source below," because that catch light is below her pupil, telling me it's below her face. So what I can piece apart from only studying, if I just look at the things I can see here, the shadows and the catch lights, I can tell from that long shadow that that main light is really, really high. But, I can also tell there's another light source below, because I can see a catch light. So I know there's at least two lights on her face. We can also tell that that light was above, 'cause look, there's light on top of her hair. And there's light on top of the shoulders, and a long shadow underneath her jaw. So that light had to be high to give me light from above and long shadows. Right, and then I'm lookin' at this one over here. What can I tell by the shadows? Alright, well, the main light is going to be opposite that shadow. So if the shadow is towards the left, the light must be exactly opposite it. It's to the right, not quite Rembrandt; it's Loop. So if I were doing this, okay, at what point does it give me that length of shadow? And if I had raised my light up, I'd want to raise it so that it's pointed down, but not hitting the lip. So it's high enough to cast a little bit of a shadow down, but not high enough to intersect. That's what I can tell. I can kind of see a catch light, but it's gonna be too far away for me to really be able to tell anything, and we run into that all the time. So that was the little bit of the secrets that uncovers.

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.