How to use photography lighting to convey emotion

Any effective image should evoke emotion — whether it be a sense of a bright, summer’s day or a darker sense of mystery — and it is only through careful use of light that we can achieve that.

This in-depth chapter details everything from the theory and physics of light to the human perception of color. Karl reviews a number of images from his portfolio to show how two photographs with the same model and light source can look completely different.

He then goes on to demonstrate these principles, exploring the effects of directional lighting, various lighting modifiers and the effect of the inverse square law.

This photography class is a must-watch for those wanting to understand the emotion of light and how to use it to best effect. More information on the theory of light can be found in Chapter One of our portrait photography section.

In this live photography show you’ll learn the following:

  • Human visual response to light
  • Theory of color — juxtposing & complimentary colors and their effects
  • Directional light and its impact
  • How to control shadows
  • Using negative fill to control light
  • Simulating sunlight with a single light
  • How to control light in small studio spaces
  • Using reflectors and flags
  • Lighting modifiers & their effects
  • The best modifiers for soft light
  • How to work with & balance multiple lights
  • Four different lighting setups for effective portrait photography

If you have any questions regarding this course use the comments area below.


  1. Hi Karl!
    As you are introducing additional lights, are you then adjusting your shutter speed to compensate for those lights in order to only be utilizing the flash instead of also allowing the modeling lights to alter the amount of lights.

  2. Exhaustive, but worth every minute. Had to watch it in 3 sessions. Thanks Karl for doing it with such flows of adrennaline.

  3. Excellent course! I’m looking forward to applying the lessons learned. At the 1 hour and 24 minute mark in the course Karl shows 2 portraits where he cast shadows across the models face. This technique was not included in this class. Can you suggest other classes on the platform that cover this material?

  4. At around the 1 hour point Karl moves the large 180×120 softbox very close to the model and takes a portrait. How does he avoid lens flare when he has the modifier so close to his lens?

    1. Hi Pete, a softbox close to a model will not cause flare. Flare is generally caused when a light is pointing towards the camera lens or grazing the side of a lens without a lens hood or if you have a white background that is overexposed by too greater degree.

  5. I eventually got to the end and thoroughly enjoyed watching this tutorial. I should be hopefully testing out some of these techniques in my own tiny studio in a couple of weeks’ time.

  6. Thank you Karl, very informative, question i always thought the fill light was to be in the same plane as the camera? was it because of the way you had feathered the front of the fill light towards the camera you didnt get competing shadows?

  7. Hi Karl,

    I always thought Portrait photography is one dimensional with not much creativity. But the way you have covered the topics in lighting theory and now this additional topic of using lights more effectively I have started thinking of mastering the genre of Portrait Photography. Thanks a lot for such crisp teaching methodology.

  8. Your methodical and logical way of teaching is brilliant. Everything is extremely clearly laid out and easy to understand. Thank you so much.

  9. Amazing workshop Karl, Thank you. I loved the light analysis of the Seven the movie. I am very interested in cinematography as well. If it was possible for you to do some more light design analysis from the best movies, that would be amazing. cheers,

  10. Hi Karl,
    When you explain about using a scrim to create a gradient ball of light, you often use a bare bulb which is the harshest light source to then diffuse to create the ball of light. Are there any advantages of using a modifier, reflector or grid to shine through the scrim to control this ball of light more, and why do you choose this method. Is it do with the reflective quality it gives the product in certain areas?
    I do not have the space yet to try this out so hence why I ask.
    All the best,
    Kind regards

    1. Hi James, that is covered in actual demonstrations in other episodes on this site, I think in a previous live show which you can watch on replay or in a product module. But in answer to your question I often use different modifiers behind a scrim depending on the gradient I want to achieve or the amount of spill i’m willing to accept around the studio. See the whisky live show as a good example.

  11. Hello Karl. I’m having troubles getting both eyes in focus when the subject face is tilted. is it normal? or the portrait must have both eyes in focus?


    1. Hi Oussama, they don’t have to be but if you want them both sharp it sounds like you need to increase your depth of field a little. Please refer to the introduction course in the essential section.

  12. Greetings, Karl.
    They should put in the dictionary, next to the word “teacher” your photograph 🙂
    Thank you very much.

  13. I want you to know that I learned so much from this. I can’t even begin to say how much more ahead I am now than if I have not seen this tutorial. Great lesson. It will save me years of learning the hard way.

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