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Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 35 of 39

Portrait Lighting: 1, 2, and 3 Lights


Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 35 of 39

Portrait Lighting: 1, 2, and 3 Lights


Lesson Info

Portrait Lighting: 1, 2, and 3 Lights

What this segment is all about is rapidfire studio lighting set ups, a whole bunch of them really fast and what I mean by that is I am going to cover if you shoot portrait ce beauty groups or you want something more dramatic for each one of those categories, I am going to show you one go to lighting, set up for a few of one light, two lights or three lights, and so this is going to be a lot left explanation instead, it's going to be here's what we're doing, watch this and it's going to be rapid fire for this section, and then we'll finish up today with a really short segment just about how to save money on studio lighting, some considerations that would help you save and then go to kids. So that will be kind of our last segment, so we're going to power through this and we're going to start off with portrait. All right, let me get this set up may have my lovely model out here, and I'm going to put you in the stool, please, great. And can I switch this lens and ruffin lettuce it okay, so...

we are going to start with portrait letting some this is what I want you to take away from this is however many lights you have they're going to be able to have a lighting set up so you could pick and choose and then say, oh, you know what? I like what she did with two lights, I should probably get a second. I like what she did with three and to be able to use this as a reference, and then you'll be able to see roughly where to set the lights, all of that information. So let me get this just generally ready to go, and we're gonna start with portrait, and I'm gonna pull you away from the background if you can pull that right up to the end of the seamless, and I'm going to shoot most of this on white when I need black or something darker will pull a black piece of a foam core behind her behind her behind him, and then of the the flat if we needed a full length it's easier than changing whole background. All right, so I'll be switching between keynote and light room let's, look at the first one, ok, very first go to portrait lighting setup would be a soft box in loop or paramount or even rembrandt with some still so let's get that you have the light meter, okay, great, so I'm going to test it my camera settings for this whole entire segment will always be I so one hundred one to hundreds of second and then what changes is going to my aperture I'm going to shoot the whole thing with my signal twenty four one o five and my cannon five d mark three and we're using a light meter to give me an approximation right? Perfect so let's start at six point three looks great and I'm going to show you later some considerations I might have if I were shooting a men's portrait that I would want to do more dramatic so my drug my dramatic section is drama and men because men a dramatic okay no it's for more dramatic lighting said it's ok, so we had that and we can build in a reflector if you want to fill it in that is a very, very basic portrait lighting setup ok, so the next one portrait lighting set of number one one light an octo box or soft box with or without fill the further you put the reflector, the less full it is the closer you bring the reflected, the more fill it is and lighting set up number two is going to be the same soft box but instead with a strip lay on the back light and I am going to be torturing my dear john cornyn shallow this whole time because we're going to be bouncing around so we'll let you know my thought process the next thing is since I want to use the strip box to help him stand out from the background that's what I use a second light for the highlight to separate what I want to do is I want that background to be just a bit darker so we've talked about how to do that I'm going to angle the octo box away from the backgrounds called feathering so leslie will be on the background if I wanted to I could add a piece of reflector our piece of black sill on that back side of the of the light so that no light would hit the background on dh then I can decide do I want this to be looper rembrandt I don't want it to be flat lit because I won't really see the definition there we wouldn't be a reason tohave that definition there so we're going to go toe about lupin rembrandts and we put the strip light opposite on the shadow side of the face as far as ratios I usually start with them at a similar power output and then if I want more drama I pump up that that strip light I want less I turn it down so let's take a look we have two late so far great perfect and so what you will see think this looks really nice is you're going to see some shape to his face? Who's added a little shadow a little dimension and then just a nice, subtle highlight the cars him out from the background. I can try to feather this light even more, and if I want that background to go a little darker, remember, I can bring this late in closer to him because as it comes in closer, he gets brighter, so I have to close down just a bit and that I may need to pump up my strip light to compensate. Good. I'm gonna go a little bit more dramatic, kind of move it more towards rembrandt, perfect, great and several straight perfect and should out and down a little great, so I'm able to make that back around just a little bit darker. If you didn't want to use a strict box for this definition instead, you could use barn doors depends on what you want, but it would give you the same general feel further and the light in the front, the less dramatic it is, the further off to the side would be a little bit more shadow, and then you can add some phil. So what is at a reflected to this? This would be, perhaps, if I were photographing a woman, I wanted a little bit more shadow to the face, but I don't want to be so dark perfect with reflector filled it in great you could also shoot a guy like this there's makes it a little bit less having in the shadows. So far, we've got one light for a portrait to lights for portrait, and now we're going to add in our third light, the third light that I would use in this instance would just be a grid on a back light. So whatever late we have run here and what I'm going to use that for, as I can greet, create something called checkerboard lighting and what checkerboard lading is, and I actually will probably find a way to put the black behind him. I'm going to go darker in this instance, yeah, if you want to grab that. So what is going to want me to get him going to have more of a low key set up and I'm shooting most low key and a high key set up, we're going to put the black visa behind him. We're going to have this in the exact same position I could put the soft box could be in rembrandt, I could put it in short light position, but similar we'll have highlights side of his face against the black of the background shadow of side of his face with a little bit of separation, and I can pop a grid on the background for a little bit of a highlight. So let's, take a look so far what I have that looks nice that doesn't need to move, so we're just adding one little change and let me test this out and I told you I'd be putting them to work every brutal ok, so so far, what I'm looking at is highlight highlights a the face against the background shadow side of the face with room really light and then I've got that grid above his shoulder. All right, so take a look and also for the shape of his face since I have the light off to the side and turn you a little bit to your right hand side get exactly I'm going to turn him that way, the shadows fall towards me and this is short lights will be like a short late loop or rembrandt perfect and I would have you pump up that great a little bit more just because of the surface it's on it's not quite having the same impact as it would on a black background, so I'm just making a little bit stronger good eyes here great and in the next year I'll have you pump it up a little bit next shot what you could do is if you want it to be along like oval shape that goes across the background where it is is great if you wanted to be more of a circle you have to bring it more to the front so that it doesn't stretch out over the background so can I just bring it closer to him great and people in a tiny bit lower I'm angling so it'll be over his shoulder great party great there is perfect great so this would be checkerboard because shadow highlight shadow highlight so that is the low key version of if I had three lights all right ready for me to trust you anymore. Okay so now it's going to be like this for this whole segment ok, so the next one would be a basic white portrait I'm going I'm going to basically have you here the whole time if that's okay so I'm gonna have you grab that blackface flat bring back the way background and we're going to strip off the the strip lights all right, so what I'm going to do is we're going to light the way background if I am not shooting full length I could disuse silver dishes or bare bulbs if I need more even spread like we talked about to light a white background white we would grab umbrellas and feather them across the background but I'm going to keep it to be kind of a close shot so to eliminate his face I'm going to put this shot a little bit higher king because I am on white so we don't put it in a loop position and what I want to watch out for is when we have those lights pointed out the white background I want to watch out for spill from the back lights that would be one of my main concerns and I'm going to check with john once we get to sit up, we'll check the ratios we want to see how bright that background is compared to the foreground aiken, check it in my camera to see if it's flaring over and if it's blown out but generally when you have a white background, you wanted to be one the two stops brighter than your main line, so if your main light is f eight your background light when metered you'd want it to be f eleven or thirteen or fourteen somewhere in that range to give you a pure white without it flaring out, so I'm going to have you point those back to the background and we just put the barn doors on because since we're doing a close up shot, I don't need to have the umbrellas to spread it out. It's close up it's not like I need to evenly light head to toe um it's a six three with the barn doors I'm going to use the barn or closest to him to block off light, but I'm gonna open up all the other ones and in so doing it across the background like that and I'm going to start off without my main light on just to check and see if I'm getting any spill from those back lights that I don't want, and so I'm looking at it, and you know what you'll notice is it's nearly a silhouette? That little bit of light on the left hand side of his face is from the white wall it's still a bit from him, but even just that weight wall over there is what gives him that little tiny bit of film. All right, so that looks good, and we'll check my info may history graham, and it is just barely, almost a pure white, so I could open up a little bit more to make it pure white. I could meet her it, and if you wanted tio he's being lovely, he says, showing how I could make it to our black look at me if I block off, and it's actually didn't get too much darker, so you know, there's, also the other place could be got a bit darker. The other place it could be I've had this happen for is it reflects off the front of the box. I was like forever trying to figure out what am I doing wrong? And I had this massive white reflective because it was the front of the soft box, so that looks pretty good pretty even white background so I'm going to have you take a meter reading of the background for me and then I'll be able to do my math if it's one or two stops brighter than the main light where I want my main light to be so right now I'm guessing that it's it about guessing it's eight oo we'll see okay cool that's pretty close great. So then can I test this light and figure out where we want it to be so ideally if that background is seven oh, it should be like a stop writers maybe I want it like this late at five o for four point five I want at least a stop last at minimum to be a nice white light six three ok and you can change it from here. I just don't know which one channel that haven't said on everything's on one everything's on one by six months a little bit more okay, get more test, you know, four point oh all right, so we're going to try this and notice how he told me to pop the light once I turned the power down, I've got to dump it all do they had all that water in the bucket has to empty the bucket before I refill it with a lesser amount but I did not focus correctly so into that again perfect. So what I'll be able to see when I look at this next shot is it's a nice weight background, there's, decent shadows on the side of space and not too much spill from behind. If the hair starts to pee he's a part a little bit, that means that maybe the background a little bit too bright so I could turn down the power in the background or what I can do is if I turned up the power of my main light just a little bit. I have to close down everything so the background becomes darker. It looks darker because I had to close down my app pressure in general, let me just good and five six perfect that's. Great. So this would be this. A nice, high key portrait on a white background with a soft box. All right, so that is portrait lighting with one light to lights and three lights high key and low key.

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!