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Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 7 of 39

Quality of Light and Modifiers


Studio Lighting 101

Lesson 7 of 39

Quality of Light and Modifiers


Lesson Info

Quality of Light and Modifiers

This is something that I did not in any way shape or form understand until maybe three years ago I didn't get it and so I hope that I help you get it ok here's the deal the larger the light sources relative to your subject the softer that it appears the smaller that light sources relative to the subject the harsher appears and the key word here is that relative thing relatives your subject so for example this son is huge but relative to us it is tiny in the sky so it looked harsh on our skin let's say that you have a small umbrella and you bring that umbrella really closed her relative to her it's pretty close it's going to be pretty soft but take that same umbrella and back it up fifteen seats relative to her it's pretty small and it's not going to be soft light anymore so this is when it becomes important to realize where you place your modifier is important even if you get a decent size soft box let's say a three size three foot doctor box but you put it ten feet away it's not big a...

nymore you would have to have to make it equivalent to being here you'd have to have a five or six foot doctor box that far away so relative size makes a big difference but this is why I did not understand this when you bring a light closer it looks brighter right? We talked about the closer you bring your light to the subject the brighter at ihs and in my head bright didn't look soft but they're not the same thing one is intensity of light we brought it in so it looks more intense it's brighter but it's still softer it wraps around more it's not a point source of light when you bring it in so when you're practicing this and you're try bringing your light source in and you're trying to look to see if it's softer you have to try to divorce your brain from the intensity it'll look brighter which for some reason to me I thought was harsher but no the shadows still have that soft ingredient so over and over again these are the things that you want to repeat the larger the light source is relative to the subject the softer the light and then the smaller that that light sources to the subject the harsher the light so if you want soft light get a bigger light source and bring it closer if you want a harsher like a smaller light source and bring it further back so here's an illustration of this and I will illustrate it with her as well cases that girl raquel again she's she's an assistant of minds I've got a small lockbox and you can see the distance all right so look at the shadows very, very closely so she's got it's not soft, it's. Not harsh. Okay, it's like kind of an in between. All I do is a double the distance away from her for that for that small octo box and it gets more chris with light gets more contrast e so the shadow it kind of fades off in the first one. It's got a little bit of grady into it, and in the second it gets much more contracting. All I did is double that distance. So this will make a huge difference over what modifiers you choose could. What are you trying to achieve with your photographs? So remember, closer is brighter, but it's also also softer, bigger. The light source is relative. The subjects after the light. All right, there are about a jillion different types of modifiers of all sorts, and it really depends. You know the tool for the job. What are you trying to do? And so I'll recommend to you later the most commonly used like modifiers for portrait's, for example, and so there's kind of a hard medium in soft light sources. Keeping in mind that size is varying for all of these will make a difference because I could take an umbrella that's really small, and it makes it a little bit harsher. And I have taken a bill it's really big, and I'll make it softer as long as it's close. All right? So taking a look here left inside these type of light modifiers are more contrast and what they have in common is there small and their silver, the more contrast you want, pick modifiers that air, silver and smaller, which would be the general silver reflector that comes with a lot of lights. That is very, very contrast e the ones that I have here you don't need this is not like you don't need to know this future starting I'm just going to tell you this is the silver reflector. This is a long throw. This is a magnum reflector all of these small silver contrast e ok, then they on the other extreme you have soft boxes. Soft boxes tend to be one of the softer sources of light. We'll also talk about shoot through umbrellas being a soft option as well on dh for these they have something called diffusion it's basically trans lucien material. When the light hits it, the light spreads out and softened. It makes the light source larger that's basically, what a soft box does. You've got the head of the light, which is this big it's, maybe the size of your fist but as soon as it hits that diffusion panel in the front that light sources now the size of the diffusion panel so as I said the larger light source becomes softer a smaller soft box like an octo box in order to make it really soft got to bring it closer I have a four by six soft box you have a little bit further back a large that life sources it's going to be softer so you've got those two extremes and then you've got the ones that are like medium kind in the between I've got my beauty this year beauty dish would not be my first light modifier to tell a portrait photographer to get I'm still going to go more in the realm of a soft boxer umbrella but I will tell you it's a light modifier I use most often for fashion photography so when I break this down on day three I'll go in order of if you do portrait's what to get if you do groups what to get but a beauty dishes not up there but it's one of my like because it is in between it's got some of the soft qualities of light that are more flattering to the skin like a soft box because you saw in the beginning when I grab a contrast the light source the highlights get brighter in the shadows get darker what does that do to wrinkles shadows get darker, so wrinkle show up more or blemishes show up more or highlights get brighter somebody with an oily head now those highlights or that much brighter so generally for a portrait a soft blocks is the most forgiving because it is the softest it has. The less contrast is the less difference between shadow and highly so he looks best on the skin downside of the soft box or an umbrella and umbrella in particular is a little harder to control or tow have the type of shadows he want because there's a radiant so it's a little bit harder to get chris rembrandt, for example, of the soft box because it's a general gradual change between highlight in shadow, you can get an amazingly crisp, cool shadow from for rembrandt light from one of the more contrast the modifiers, but it looks like crap on the skin so it's back to that like decision making that we'll have the whole time so I want contrast to do I want soft do I want more dimension but it? Or is it too much to mention like it's, that constant balance? So that's why I use a bb dish a lot and this is something called a parabolic umbrella you don't need to know why I just put it on the screen kind of the range of what you might want so let's talk about some other things all right so what I want you to take a watch or what you want you to watch out for is to look at the shadows on her face the highlights on her face the grady in't of the shadows and overall contrast like how does this light look so I put through and I shot the's there's nine here different light modifiers and I have on my store on top of my law there's a link I just did a lighting guide that has sixty lighting set ups and one of the things that has in it are these images each one has its own page listing the modifier and then compares them side by side we're going to do that now but it also is a good reference to see all right so that is a small white umbrella kind of softer softer shadows there speedy dish still has a little bit of glow to the skin but you notice that shadow got a little bit harsher and we're going to bring some of these modifiers out for you to look at you got the beauty dish next one is an octo box it's softer it wraps but isn't wrapped too far shadows air still defined but still kind of a greedy in't there we'll talk about an octo box or a larger soft box the lights wrapping around more the grading of the shadows is a little softer on this isn't called a parabolic umbrella. This is getting fancy, but I'm showing some different ones that exists. Your small silver dish member, small and faraway. Look how contrast t that is, there's. Bigger silver dish contrast is a little less defined on the nose. Got a long throw that just more contrast and it's new. So if you look at all these when these all have something, a totally different effects to them, to the highlights, to the shadows, the shape of the face. But it just kind of depends on what you're going for.

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!