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Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 28 of 39

10 Common Lighting Mistakes


Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 28 of 39

10 Common Lighting Mistakes


Lesson Info

10 Common Lighting Mistakes

We're going to talk about ten things to look for in your photos that if you see them it's wrong, I will tell you I hate that word like saying something's wrong but it's generally either not that flattering or it's distracting in your photograph if you're doing it on purpose that's one thing but this is something to learn to notice in your photos that is perhaps not helping you achieve your lighting goals so let's just jump right into them. All right, so first one your main light is too low and I put you know, you guys can't really see it that well, but thea x is for the bad side on the left check mark is for the improved side when you are looking at your image, if you see shadows from the nose cast like you see on the left hand side slightly upward or across your mainly is too low. A lot of times you will experience this. If you have a large soft box and a very in a very short room, what would you call it? Low ceilings so you have your subjects standing and a little bit of the soft box...

above them, but most of it is below them and it will fill from below in this case this is an octo box about even with the shoulder instead of nine inches above eye level as we have on this side, so notice here, look how I think her face looks more slender in this image, and she has a little bit of a shadow underneath her lips that makes her lip look a little bit fuller and notice she's has a little bit more of cheekbones and jawline, so this is what you look for for your main light being a bit too low. Can I did want to say there was a I think it was a givenchy ad in the most recent version addition of vogue where like the lights way down here? Okay, like granted there's times to break this rule, but if you're not intending to watch out for the shape of the shadow of the nose should go to the side or slightly down next one your main light to high like the picture on the left. One thing that you want to see is you do want to see catch lights in the eyes of some kind of sparkle, some kind of indication of what that main lettuce I do know I can like barely kind to see when may be in this eye, but not really, and this will definitely happen if you have subjects, which is deeper, sunken eyes a lot of times, even if you're like isn't that high and it's the same places you always keep it well, your subject comes in and they have a different type of face, and it might not be the light right the right light for them anymore, so you might have to lower it a little bit. Another rule that I learned, which I think is kind of true, is you don't usually want the shadow from the nose to hit the lip that usually means the light is a little bit high, it could be just above it, but when it starts crossing over, they kind of just blend together so you might want to watch for that as well. The one on the right is improved heights just lower, so there's catch lights in the eyes. The shadows are so long a problem number three, and it doesn't mean it ruins a photo always but highlights on the nose created by your back room lights. And this is what I was looking for when I kept saying, ok, so I'm watching when I'm paid placing my barn doors or the strip banks and watching for the highlights in the face. I'm looking for these right here on the left in photo, the highlight on either side of her nose when those are really bright, or sometimes will this be like a really why they catch on this part of the face? Your eye goes to whatever's, lightest in the picture and sure, you go to the highlights, but I'm definitely drawn to her nose over and over again. This photo isn't a terrible illustration of it, but I've seen many times worse. So watch out for when those highlights are drawing attention to things you don't want them to be drawing a ten okay number four over exposed from lights. I'm totally fine with having really bright run lights to separate the subject from the background I don't I don't even require certain racial, it can be very, very bright can make it look like the subject is almost cut out from the background, but when they're so overexposed that there's zero detail, you can't see any skin texture, it just looks like you painted white on either side of their face or on their shoulder, for example, that becomes distracting and doesn't usually enhance your photograph. So if you see something like this, you know that is over exposed, you just need to dial it down a little bit. Turn now in the power of those room lights a tad bit so that you bring back detail hey number five lens flare from back room lights and will probably play with this a little bit tomorrow where I'll show you a demo of when it works and when it doesn't when you're photographing your subjects and you have a shooting toward your subject and you have to strip banks or you have to learn doors depending on the size of your space, a lot of times you get lens slur because especially if it's a really tight space, you end up with those room lights right behind your subject, which is pointing straight back at camera, which gives you lend slur. So you want to watch out for in in these two frames? I didn't do anything with my camera. What I did is one of two things in between. I mean, pretend this is the barn doors and I grab this and between my back room light and my subjects, you don't want to put a piece of foam core here because then the light doesn't hit your subject anymore. You lose your room like what you could put it here, just that a frame so that that spill of light doesn't hit the camera anymore. So you're using these things called flags or go booger going between your blocking off the light? So if you're in a tiny space and you're trying to matter what you do, you're moving the lights back, you're angling them and your england lesson, right, you can't get rid of that lens flare, try just pieces of foam court and if you don't want them so they're blocking the light off the subject but even just a little bit further up out of frame will help you out. The other thing to keep in mind is if you have the subject here if you have your barn doors or you're like on the model right now ok you have your like the right like right behind your subject pointed back at camera it's the angle at the camera that creates lens flare because it's pointed point of light right back towards your lens if you khun finagle an angle that pulls it off to the side a little bit feathers it in a little bit just a little bit so it's not straight back at the lens that usually helps reduce some of the lens flare and I'll show you a live demonstration of that tomorrow so just know that part is coming as well and that's what you're looking for on the right you don't want to have any decrease contrast notice the shadows aren't black on the left anymore and the background has a hayes to it unless that was your intention you want to watch out for that the next one as we will also demonstrate tomorrow you want to watch out for over exposed backgrounds that aren't on purpose there sometimes where it looks good but most the time it doesn't look what happened that background was so overexposed it was so bright that it started wrapping around the subject and there's no blacks at all. Look at the black of her pants in this photo, there is no black, it created lens flirt washed out the photo and it made it look dull. And you see this a lot in portrait's when someone's shooting on a white background that just to make sure that it was really white, they made it to white and it started to flatten out the photograph. So we'll talk about tomorrow what you're looking for, how you might meet her to try to even out the background, but you definitely want to avoid flare like that. That gives you this kind of decrease. Contrast everywhere, all right. Number seven when you're shooting clamshell light and the bottom light is too bright, the picture on the left is the problem. Photograph on what you notice is this chin neck area is brighter than even her foreheads greater than any other place on her face. It is definitely overpowering. I didn't move the life I didn't do, and it didn't change the modifiers. All I did for the right photo is I just turn down the power of that bottom light, which was a silver dish, and it is it's much more flattering on the right in the photograph over here. Hey, it brings out the bags under her eyes. The bottom light actually draws attention to that. And then also, if you really look at her face looks much wider on the photo on the left because it's illuminating underneath of cheeks it's making her cheeks look fuller is making her jaw line disappears, making her entire face look wider. Do you really want to be careful of too much bottom line? And in this case, it is clamshell light with two lights. But you can also do this with the reflector. You can actually incorrectly filled with a reflector that reflectors catching too much light and it's too low. You can get a similar bottom filled effect. So watch out for too strong of a bottom light or fill light when you are doing clamshell lighting number eight cross light. Okay, so this is the before. All right, so let's say, I'm setting up a portrait and I have one light on my subjects and I want to fill in the shadow area. This is pretty much all of my original lighting looks like and it's. Not that it looks terrible, but it's not exactly flattering. What I would do is it set up one umbrella on one sign for main light. And then another on the other side for phil and it would cancel each other out and in some instances you actually get double shadows you have a shadow on her nose on the right and then shadow cast over oh here intends to make a person's face look wider and it makes it look really really flat and there's better ways to flat like them than this and look where it has means drawing attention to the highlights and her cheeks and the shadows underneath her eyes it's not really doing anything for her so you if you're going to flat light don't have two opposing lights that are crossing in the middle and said you should have a light more to the front that's flatter with a phil where a broader light not to opposing light sources and here is an example of a better way to do it instead of adding a completely other light source like we did here like two umbrellas that would be a white phil card so it's not actually another light sources just kind of softening out the shadows instead of giving you another direction of light okay number nine would be the wrong beauty dish angle so you heard me keep asking or saying ok I need to change this angle I want that center dish the center circle reflector to be pointed right at her face if you miss the face this is what the light looks like and that's what I mean in my opinion, it's pretty awful it's really harsh, too bright on her nose and her cheeks it's a long shadow it's it's not really flattering comparatively to the right now that this is terrible light but this is significantly better. The shadows and highlights are as contrast e and the shadow on her nose isn't dramatic. So this is just from and I went when I was done going that's no shooting it two inches of angle could make that big of a difference. You've got to kind of watch that if you have a subject who's posing for you and there's full length of the dish and they move now, they could be in a totally different light and they could actually be hitting the bad lights he's got to kind of watch out for it and number ten, I put this in his number ten to end out the day because this is the question I've gotten eight hundred billion times, and so I want to make sure I answered it. When do you use a gold reflector in the studio? And the answer is I never dio I never used pure gold in the studio ever! Um what ends up happening is your main light all of these lights are daylight balance when you're using studio strobes, so they're white light and if you add a gold reflector whether it's underneath the chin whether it's to the side all of a sudden there's like a warmer tone that doesn't make sense to your mind so in this instance this is when I put a gold reflector underneath her chin and actually it wasn't even a gold this was a silver gold so this halfway gold this is not even the full shiny gold reflector and so you get this like just kind of yellowish hue underneath her chin that doesn't make sense if you look at the photo on the right and you think it's not warm enough, it just looks a little bit cool don't fix it by adding a gold reflector because all that does is add like mixed light sources how you fix that is by improving your white balance and we had our little color checker that we're looking at and this was on day one they had that you had different swatches you could choose for your neutral point and if you choose a difference watch you actually warm up the photo you would want to do that to warm up the photo rather than well let me add a gold reflector one warms up the whole photo one gives you kind of mixed cross color of light all right, so those are my ten common lighting mistakes that you want to watch out for I would definitely go through those and I sure many of you can look at some of the photos in your portfolio and go oh, but don't worry doesn't mean throw them out just as you go forward keep an eye out for that all right? Lindsay I love the concept of looking at your own work to find out what your common mistakes are where some other places that you are constantly looking tio see what mistakes are see what works ok, so here's a good one if you go to blogged about lindsay out there photography dot com board slash creative fifty two okay, I wrote a book my fourth book was created fifty two it was one project a week to push your creative balance help you figure out who you are the creative photographer improve your portfolio on that link ford slash created fifty two I list like thirty or fifty or sixty different photographers that I look at for inspiration and the people I've studied there lighting or I studied there posing it's that's a good place to look and then another place that I look for the head relating. Okay, this is a game that I play with. My friend is on the subways in new york city. We go up to the photos and we decide if it's bad light or not I'll put it this way keep in mind just because it's in vogue it's in an ad on the subway it's it's in a magazine or reading does not mean it's good, like it just means it made it into the publication. Ok, so you have to kind of start to find out for yourself what you think is pleasing, like, awesome. I love that tip when in new york city call up this woman, lindsay adler, and go ask her to go on this way with you. I was going to take photos of all the really bad ads and, like, say why? And then I figured I'd make cem quick enemy, so I decided against that. All right, well, I wanted to see if we could show people at home as we wrap up this second day, hold the different said on lighting set ups that we learned how to shoot just today, so that was ten to light set ups and ten three light set ups, so I'm hoping that nico can pull those up on the monitor for people because this is from the beginning of the day, and so these are the ten different to light set ups that you now we'll know how to create. And how about the three lights and go, I think, if I get thing. And some of these are more appropriate for men versus women. But maybe there's. A reason. You'd want a dramatic shot like this tends to be photographed men. More like that. But doesn't mean you have to. Okay, thirteen, fifteen, fifteen different school.

Class Description


  • Expertly light a portrait using just one light and one modifier
  • Work with more complex two and three light set-ups
  • Create light for portraits, beauty, or drama
  • Light a group photograph
  • Learn to troubleshoot the most common lighting questions
  • Confidently purchase the right lighting equipment for your work


Intimidated by studio lights? In Studio Lighting 101, fashion photographer Lindsay Adler deciphers the complexities of studio light, breaking it down into simple concepts for beginners. In this class, you'll learn everything from basic lighting terminology to creating multiple light set-ups. Start with the basics like how to adjust your digital camera settings for studio strobes and layer in the details you'll need to light your first photo studio portrait.

Photographers on a budget will learn how to light a portrait using a single light, modifier, and photography light stand. Then, learn to work with two and three light kits to create drama, background separation, and more. You'll see dozens of studio lighting set-ups, from start-to-finish, behind the scenes in this live recorded class. Develop the skills to troubleshoot several common photography studio lighting problems, like lighting large groups and correcting reflections on glasses.

By the end of this class, you'll know how to buy your first studio lighting kit and how to shoot that first in-studio portrait. This class is ideal both for beginning photographers that don't understand much beyond the exposure triangle and experienced natural light photographers ready to try a studio setting.


  • Beginners with a grasp of the exposure triangle
  • Intermediate and advanced natural light photographers new to studio lighting


Fashion photographer Lindsay Adler is one of the most well-known in her field, noted for her style, posing and mastery of the studio lighting system. Along with working as a photographer, she's also a respected educator, a Canon Explorer of Light, and author of three instructional photography books. Her work has appeared in publications such as Marie Claire, Elle, InStyle, Noise, Essence, Zink Magazine, Rangefinder, Professional Photographer and dozens more. Lindsay is a sought after speaker for her experience and straightforward, easy-to-follow teaching style.


  1. Studio Essentials: Shutter Speed

    In the first lesson, gain an overview of the course. Dispel some of the most common lighting myths. Learn how camera settings change when working with studio lighting instead of natural lighting. Figure out your sync speed limitations and how shutter speed affects the ambient (or existing) light.

  2. Studio Essentials: Flash Exposure

    While shutter speed won't change the look of your studio light, aperture and ISO will affect the exposure, or the amount of light, from the flash. Learn how aperture affects the way that burst of light from your strobe or speedlight looks. Then, factor in ISO and the strobe output, or how much light the strobe lighting creates. Work with a light meter to take out some of that guesswork.

  3. Studio Essentials: White Balance

    Where should you set the white balance when working with studio lighting? In this lesson, learn where to set the white balance on the camera, and why those settings are different for different types of light and even different brands. Work with additional factors that can also affect color temperature.

  4. Light Principles: Inverse Square Law

    Dive into the three things that affect the look of the light. Consider factors like the intensity of the light, lighting ratios, and the quality of the light. Take the complexities out of the Inverse Square Law and learn how bringing the light closer or farther away makes a difference in the image.

  5. Lighting Patterns

    Learn the lighting lingo to establish a basic foundation in light -- and the ability to learn and talk about light. Pick up terms like broad light, short light, flat light, highlights, and shadows. Then, dive into common lighting patterns like paramount, loop, Rembrandt, and split.

  6. Shoot: Demo Lighting Patterns

    Watch the lighting patterns from the previous lesson in action. Learn how to set up each type of pattern. Then, add variety to the lighting set-ups through simple changes, such as understanding how height affects dimension.

  7. Quality of Light and Modifiers

    Control the quality of light from hard to soft adding modifiers to your lighting kit. Learn why size and distance matters for modifiers. Look at the different types of lighting accessories available and see how several types of modifiers affect the light.

  8. Shoot: Choosing a Modifier - Diffusion and Grid

    See those lighting accessories in action. In this live shoot, see how adjusting the different available diffusers and grids change the look of the image. Determine how to pick a modifier that matches the look you want.

  9. Shoot: Choosing a Modifier - Umbrellas

    Umbrellas are a large, inexpensive, and easy-to-use light modifier. Work with the different types of collapsible umbrellas, including silver, white and shoot through. Discover how to place the umbrella and work with umbrellas in a portrait shoot.

  10. Shoot: Choosing a Modifier - Softboxes

    Softboxes are similar to umbrellas in that they create soft light, but they can be a bit easier to control. See the pros and cons of different shapes and sizes. In the live shoot, learn how to control the light spill by feathering a softbox.

  11. Shoot: Choosing a Modifier - Extra Stuff

    Work with strip boxes, barn doors, grids, and snoots -- modifiers that are often used for rim light, backlight or hair lights. Explore how each type works, then see the different options in action. Learn about Lindsay's favorite modifier, the beauty dish.

  12. 10 One Light Set-ups: 1 and 2

    Launch into ten different lighting setups that you can achieve with just one light -- this lesson covers the first two. Create paramount and loop lighting with a softbox in this live shoot using a single light, a light stand, a boom arm, and an octabox.

  13. 10 One Light Set-ups: 3 to 5

    Moving through the ten lighting set-ups with a single light, work with a Paramount octabox and two fill cards for a lighting setup called the beauty box. Create a Rembrandt light with an octabox and watch the behind-the-scenes fine-tuning using a modeling light, or continuous lighting, to see how small adjustments affect the light. Then, add a silver reflector to the Rembrandt for another option.

  14. 10 One Light Set-ups: 6 to 10

    Continue building variety with a single light using a Rembrandt set-up with a white reflector. Create a short light loop with an octabox, a short light Rembrandt with a reflector, an octabox rim light, and an octabox behind.

  15. One Light Set-ups: Pop Quiz

    Review what the class has done so far. Look over the ten images from the one-light set-ups, recap the qualities of that light and how it was created.

  1. FAQ for Purchasing Studio Light Part 1

    Which is better, strobe light kits or a continuous lighting kit likes the ones often used with video cameras? Discuss the pros and cons of each type to help determine what type of lighting gear works best for you. Dive into the most frequently asked questions about buying photography lighting, like what wattage to look for.

  2. FAQ for Purchasing Studio Light Part 2

    This class allows you to shoot multiple set-ups with a single light -- but ideally, how many lights should you have in your light kit? Continue working with purchasing questions on lighting in this lesson, including name brands, DIY alternatives, and the difference between the pricey strobes and the less expensive strobes.

  3. FAQ for Purchasing Studio Light Part 3

    If you can only afford one modifier, which one should you start with? Finish the round of purchasing questions in this lesson, including questions posed by students like you. Learn how strobes differ from flash heads or speedlights, and why strobes are often better for a studio space than an off camera flash.

  4. 10 Two Light Set-Ups: 1 and 2

    Move from simple single light set-ups to lighting with two light sources. Start with a basic portrait with a softbox loop and a stripbox hair or rim light. Then, learn to shoot a basic clamshell with a softbox, a reflector and a strip box for added highlight.

  5. 10 Two Light Set-Ups: 3 to 6

    Continuing the two-light set-ups, move into more dramatic lighting with a Rembrandt using a softbox key light and a strip box rim light. Next, tackle a Rembrandt portrait lightened with a fill card and a clamshell with a softbox and stripbox.

  6. 10 Two Light Set-Ups: 7 to 10

    Go behind the scenes for a short light Rembrandt with a second light behind the subject 45-degrees with a barn door modifier. Create a "checkerboard" style light using a Rembrandt key light and a grid on the background. Finally, create a dramatic Rembrandt with a silver dish and stripbox or barndoors.

  7. 5 Two Light Set-Ups: 1 & 2

    Two light set-ups aren't limited to just ten possibilities. In the second set of two-light scenarios, Lindsay walks through some less common photographic lighting techniques. Start with using two rim lights, then jump into a sideways clamshell.

  8. 5 Two Light Set-Ups: 3 to 5

    Create a wrap around beauty light with a softbox behind, a beauty dish in the front and a silver reflector. Or, build a more dramatic wrap-around light without a reflector. Learn how to shoot with a dramatic grid light and a barn door modified light towards the back.

  9. 5 Basic Three Light Set-Ups: 1 & 2

    A three light kit will open up even more possibilities. In this lesson, Lindsay discusses why you may want three lights, then jumps into the first of five different basic three light set-ups. Start with a high key portrait, followed by a high key clamshell.

  10. 5 Basic Three Light Set-Ups: 3 to 5

    Learn to light groups using a three light set-up. Anticipate the likely problems with lighting groups before they happen and watch a live demonstration of a group lighting set-up. Then, create a three-point light set up with a softbox and two stripboxes, then a checkerboard with a key, rim, and background light.

  11. 5 Intermediate Three Light Set-Ups: 1 to 3

    Move into the more advanced three light set-ups in this lesson. Start with a Rembrandt with a gridded beauty dish and two rim lights with barn doors. Then work with film noir studio lighting and a high key drama shot.

  12. 5 Intermediate Three Light Set-Ups: 4 & 5

    Learn to use your lights to create a high key spill light. Finally, create a high key clamshell lighting in the final intermediate three-light set-up.

  13. 10 Common Lighting Mistakes

    Now that you know how to light, learn how NOT to light. Work with some common lighting mistakes that beginners make, and learn how to fix each one.

  1. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 1

    In the final day of the class, work through twelve common problems that are common in studio lighting. Learn how to problem solve lighting in the studio. Work with issues like getting a white background with one light or multiple lights.

  2. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 2 to 6

    Continue troubleshooting in the studio and dive into creating full-length shots with an all-white background. Work with stacking light, dealing with ambient light, and more.

  3. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 7

    How can you prevent the subject from casting a shadow on the background? In this lesson, Lindsay explains how to tackle this tricky challenge.

  4. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 8

    How far away you place the light plays a role in the image -- so what about working inside a small studio? In this lesson, Lindsay tackles the challenges of working inside a small space with studio lights.

  5. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 9

    How do you avoid reflections on the subject's glasses? Learn how to avoid reflections on glasses when using studio lights.

  6. Solving 12 Common Problems of Studio Lighting: 10 to 12

    Finish the list of the most common problems that come up with studio lighting. Work with separating the subject from a dark background, lighting groups evenly, and using wide apertures with strobe lights.

  7. Portrait Lighting: 1, 2, and 3 Lights

    In this set of rapid-fire studio set-ups, learn how to light a traditional portrait using, one, two or three lights. Watch behind the scenes for these "go-to" portrait set-ups.

  8. Beauty Lighting: 1, 2, and 3 Lights

    Beauty shots are a bit different from a traditional portrait. Walk through ideal lighting set-ups for beauty light using one, two and three lights.

  9. Lighting Groups: 1, 2, and 3 Lights

    Build these go-to group lighting set-ups into your repertoire. Learn easy lighting set-ups for using a single light, or one or two.

  10. Lighting for Drama: 1, 2, and 3 Lights

    Work with three go-to lighting set-ups for drama (which also work well for men). Learn dramatic light with one light, two or three.

  11. Your First Studio Lighting

    In the final lesson, gain insight into what to consider when building your studio lighting kit. Lindsay shares tips on what to buy and how to save cash for photographers on a budget.



If you're on the fence about this class I can easily answer your concerns. BUY IT. Lindsay provides top notch professional education while keeping things interesting. Her words are precise and direct. I actually felt GOOD just watching and learning. I mean, like someone surprised me with a cupcake kinda GOOD. After the class I could immediately see improvements in my photography. The best part is that I learned enough to see the wrong in my setups. Knowing what's wrong is just as important as knowing what's right. She is funny, easy going, energetic and filled with knowledge. I would also highly recommend her Posing 101 class as a must have addition to this course. I feel like I have learned more than I could possibly use. I will be going through this course over and over again just to make sure it all sinks in. There's THAT MUCH she offers that you will always learn more with each time you watch. I hope this helps someone make the decision to up their game. That is exactly what it did for me.

Beatrice Palma

Hi, I am Beatrice from Italy. I think this class is superb. I finally understood what are the guide lines to follow, I tried for years but never found such a good explanation. Lindsay is a wonderful teacher, she explains in a simple way, she shares a lot of knowledge and she shows in practice what are the results of every single choice. Thank you so much, it was really amazing and super interesting!!!!

Penny Foster

I have been shooting families and pets in my living room space for two years now and I thought I was doing a good job but certain skills had eluded me, like lighting a white background to perfection and shooting people with glasses without the reflections in my shots. Then I watched this course and had so many 'aha' moments that I HAD to buy it; not just for Lindsay's teaching style (which is pretty awesome( but also for all the lighting diagrams that I can refer to whenever I feel like 'stepping my lighting up to the next level'. Lindsay shows you what you can do with minimal gear, so you can get started right away; no need for expensive triggers (I have a set that just fires when I press the shutter), and no need for expensive branded modifiers (she shows you what you can do with one umbrella). Lindsay is so enthusiastic, it is obvious that she loves light, and it is hard not to get 'fired up' to try all of her lighting setups. Brilliant course once again!