Creating gradient backgrounds

After explaining how to overcome the challenge of creating a clean white background for your photography, Karl explains how to achieve another popular look β€” a graduated background light. This technique is perfect for separating the subject from the background in an aesthetically pleasing way that doesn’t cause any distractions.

This too can be a difficult look to achieve, but Karl explains each step and outlines a few important things to consider when looking to create a smooth, graduated background.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • How to achieve a graduated background light
  • Common mistakes and how to avoid them
  • Illuminating different background surfaces
  • Adjusting a graduated background light
  • Diffusing light to achieve a soft, graduated look

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Stiffany! Love it… My gal is “Manique” and it was using the mannequin that I learned how to create the Rembrandt triangle! Really appreciate this tutorial. I mostly have speedlights (slowly building up strobes) and trying to create a similar look as been challenging. After watching the stands/grips tutorial, I now see the value in getting the floor and low stands! Thanks again!

  2. As always, great valuable tutorial! This whole lighting course is amazing! Thanks again Karl!
    2 quick questions. How do you achieve the circle gradient behind the subject’s head? just putting the light on higher stand and that’s it?
    Also in one of the shots I saw it’s high enough but light source was not seen? clipped out in post-production?
    Thanks in advance.

  3. I’m like a kid these days, since I’ve subscribed to your site – so excited )))

    Watching the videos; trying to test it on my own.
    Spent 3 hours yesterday to get this beautiful gradient background. Just the background!!! But when I see the results, it’s so worth it!

    My full time job is definitely in the way now ))))

    Karl, thanks a lot for what you are doing! Helps a ton!


  4. I’m getting a slight shadow of the grid pattern on my background. I’m using a standard 7″ reflector with a grid spaced at about 1-1.5 meters from the background. I’m very pleased with the gradient background glow but do not know how to eliminate the grid shadow except by using inserting some diffusion paper. The diffusion paper works great but was wondering how you did it without the grid shadows?

    I’m primarily a landscape and travel photographer but have been loving your studio videos and have been experimenting in the studio during these Covid times. Thank you Karl for your inspiration!

  5. Still haven’t seen a reason to regret my subscription………… Karl you’ve just opened a whole new world of experience about lighting.

    Thanks, this course is invaluable to me.

  6. This was worth the cost to renew my membership. One area I have been trying to figure out is creating the gradient in the background without the wavy look. This answered all my questions and explained it perfectly. Glad I decided to come back and renew my membership πŸ™‚

  7. So, Karl, how many people have actually caught the name of your model? That is absolute genius and makes me laugh every time (including the previous video).

  8. Another superb video. Wondering how one can create the ball of light when you need to photograph a whole body without needing to photoshop the stand in between the model’s legs. Do I just use two lights on the side and focus them in the middle?

  9. Karl,

    Your teaching is second to none. I’ve been photographing since 2013 and nearly all of my work has been outdoors. Studio lighting has been a foreign concept for me because it wasn’t incorporated into my workflow. I did a corporate headshot session today and was able to troubleshoot to find the correct exposure smoothly without the use of a light meter because of these tutorials. Also, that exposure was achieved without the use of any modifiers. The hardest part was managing my gradient background. But, overall, thank you for this site.

    – T. Young

  10. Really like the result of doing this! I’ve been trying to replicate it but haven’t quite been able to and now after watching it several times see you have the siros at power 2? I’ve rented the siros 800 which only seems to go down to power 4 so is it the 400 that you’re using? Do you have any tips for using the siros 800 or is it just too powerful to do this with?

    1. Hi Cameron, it should be fine to use the 800, try decreasing your ISO or using a darker grey background, alternatively you could put an ND gel over the background light.

  11. Hi Karl,
    I LOVE this effect! I’m shooting in my double garage which I have painted all white, but I’m now considering dedicating one wall to this style of lighting and painting it grey so that I have a permanent ripple free surface. Would you recommend a neutral grey as close to 18% that I can find? How pedantic should I be about the colour? Can I also use gels directly onto this surface to get the most out of the wall? Many thanks is advance… this is by far the best educational investment I have made. I am learning SO much, now I just need to get doing πŸ™‚ Thankyou for the wonderful resource!!

    1. Hi Belinda, thank you for your kind comments and I’m glad you are enjoying it. Yes deifinitely needs to be a neutral grey, I’d go darker than an 18% go for something similar to ‘charcoal’ in the colorama paper range especially if you are working in a smaller studio space as the light falling from your main lights on to your background will also lighten it.

  12. Hi Karl,
    I’m learning a lot from these awesome videos. Thank you πŸ™‚

    I have no experience with studio flash lights and I have a question with regard to using them… had this from the previous videos also.
    Does the halogen light switch off when you take the picture, thus having the subject or the background illuminated only by the flash, or does the halogen light stay on and contribute to the total lighting when the pic is taken?

      1. Hi Karl,

        That’s what I thought but wanted to be sure. It also explains why you switched off the halogen lamp for the flash experiment with the fan.
        I’ve watched number 2, but I will definitely watch it again. Yes, will cover all 15 before moving to the actual shoots.

        Thank you, Karl! Loving these videos πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Karl

    I’m working with a white solid, painted infinite curve. I do not have a grey background. I would like to use the gradient technique. Can I still achieve a grey background by moving my other 2 studio lights much further forward and achieve a similar result ?

    1. Hi Ezetna, yes you can still achieve a good gradient on a white infinite curve. See our recent live shows page on Business Portraits and see that in action.

      1. do i need flash bracket to attach a round diffuser ? sorry but i am newbie and so interesting with this course

  14. great stuff – did wonder about why you might stand on stool on this lesson as camera so high – is that just a creative choice so can shoot down on model and see more of the background gradient?

  15. Hi Karl, this whole lighting course has been invaluable and very well scripted. When I originally thought about subscribing I thought it would be another one of those courses that promised all and delivered very little. I can honestly say that in every video I learn a tremendous amount, and my photography is already reaching new heights. Thank you.

    1. Hi Richard, if you haven’t understood that then I have to ask that you start at chapter one and watch all the way through as this is very important to how you will absorb the knowledge and what you will take away from it. I design and script these courses to teach the right information in the right order. Thanks Karl.

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