Simulating sun & shadow with a studio light

This section covers a variety of single light setups, showing how you can achieve a variety of looks with the most basic of studio lighting setups.

After demonstrating how to simulate sunlight using a single point light source, Karl builds on that and demonstrates how to creatively combine shadow and light to produce a stunning result. He shows you how to easily combine shadow and light in this single light set up and shares some key tips for producing controlled shadows even in the smallest of studio spaces.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Creative portraiture using one studio light
  • Working in a small studio
  • Controlling light in a small studio
  • The physics of light and how that influences shadow
  • How to create a sharp shadow from a large light source

Note: This course is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hi Karl, one thing I’m learning about studio photography is that you need so much stuff!
    I’ve been puzzling about how to change the studio surrounds- I don’t have the option to paint it or change it too much in any way.
    As an alternative to building a cave with poly board, could you use background stands either side in addition to the rear one do you think? I’m just thinking that being tight for space, they could be packed away when not in use and it would give me the opportunity to use different coloured paper for future projects.
    Just wondering what your thoughts are on this and whether it would work?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Maxine,

      A good solution for you would be some additional light stands, clamp holders/reflector clamps and some large 5 in 1 collapsible reflectors. You could of course use background stands and extra sheets of paper or material but you will need more floor space for the footprint of the stands.

      It will all depend on how large of a set you need for the framing you want to shoot along with the lighting you are trying tore create.

      If you are tight on floor space you could also suspend reflectors or additional backgrounds from hooks in your ceiling if joists allow.

    2. Hi Maxine, it sounds feasible but I’d say why not just lean big white boards against the walls you have? Maybe you have stuff in the way so in which case your idea sounds like the best solution, hopefully it leaves you with enough room.

  2. Karl, thanks again for great and easy explanation! It will be very useful, if you could put the pictures settings as well.. like the final good ones, or just 1-2 comparing ones what F, ISO and shutterspeed they have… I know it’s probably a big amount of work every time to include those settings, but whenever is possible, please include that. Cause besides understanding the basics, especially connected with light, it’s useful to understand how camera reacts in different light setups. Like in this case you had a lot of ambient light, so I was wondering what was your shutterspeed and ISO? also your image looked very sharp and in focus, so I was wondering what was the F etc. ?
    I’m used to do a lot of white background product shots only with continuous led lights, which need different settings, and now slowly switching to flash/strobe lights it’s absolutely different. So those settings will be just an additional help to the basics and theories..
    Thanks in advance,

      1. Thanks Karl. F 16 makes sense to me. Cause I often shot with 100-400 (for portraits especially) and having hard time with F 4 or 5.6
        Also I was very curious in your outdoor shots course, when you were shooting with 82mm, the F was very wide open, like 1.8 or 2, how you were still able to get sharp images?? is it about that lens difference itself from zoom lenses? cause the physics does not change right? like 70mm is the same, doesn’t matter it’s 24-70 or 70-200 lens, if you put on 70mm. Or I’m wrong?

        1. Hi Hrach, the simple rule is that the longer the focal length (or the more magnification) then the less depth of field. So by the same rule the closer you are the less depth of field. In many of my natural light portrait shots the head of the person wasn’t filling the whole frame and I would be at f2.8 or similar which would be enough DOF with an 85mm or 70mm lens to achieve about 10-15cm of DOF which is plenty to keep the eyes and face sharp. But if I’d moved very close to the model, magnification is increasing so DOF would decrease.

  3. Hi Karl, Are ‘standard’ plain black curtains sufficient or would it need to be some sort of light absorbing type of fabric? Also I’m shooting in my apartment lounge so can’t put rails up so wondering if black poly boards would be good enough and how important would it be to do something with the ceiling (is around 2.4m high) to do a shot like this with the hard shadow?

    1. Hi Cameron, any black will absorb lots of light compared to white walls. Black velvet absorbs the most out of general fabrics available but we generally only need to use that if we want to get a good black background. Yes controlling the ceiling can be important to get darker shadows, if you follow the techniques in this video you will still get hard shadows even with the white ceiling because there is a directional light source, simply the shadows will be less dense because of the bounce from the ceiling.

  4. Hi Karl

    Words cannot describe of how much impact you are making to us as new upcoming photographers.Your ways of explaining the physics is top I can relate even though I never done Physics at school.

    Your logics to arrive to the final concept makes us to be with you all the time, it look so simple. You give us more tangible and more practical experiments in an economical way at the same time.

    You have brought hope to us that it’s doable even with a small studio space.Very creative indeed.

    Everytime I have a question while watching the video you lead me into the answer straight away. I don’t know how many times it happens but I ended up taking more notes which is good for my growth.

    Through your classes I have learned so much things that I have never dreamed off. I have tried to get some mentors around but I did not get the support until I saw your clip on youtube and I said to myself let me take a chance on this one cause I was stucked on you tube with no direction at all. Everything there was making sense but I could get the guidelines I was looking for.

    I must say you are one of the best if not the best in the world.

    Thanks again

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments it is much appreciated. Please spread the word! Also if you don’t mind can you tell us which clip on Youtube led you to our platform? Many thanks.

      1. If anyone asked me, “Wow! Who taught you that?”, I can safely said, GrandMaster Karl Taylor! 😀

      2. Hi

        Actually it was one of those advert that pops up when watching you tube. I would be lying if I can point exactly one but I just loved the ideas and creativity that was presented in that 5 second.

        It did not take me much to decide to take the course.


  5. This is a wonderful course Karl, but i wonder how you were able to minimize the shadow cast by the model on the background after you introduced the negative fill card?

    1. Hi, You can see the shadow from the models head on the wall, the shadow from her body is lower down behind her body so you can’t see it. This wasn’t really a negative fill card this was more of a ‘gobo’ to create a shadow line.

  6. Superb Karl!

    Slightly off-topic but this custom made mini studio – which is an immense help for an average photographer – made me think; are you planning to create a video (or more) to demonstrate how to work with not high end technology? I can speak for others but I can assume some wanna-be professionals (like me) can’t afford a very expensive gear, especially not in the beginning. I don’t even have a full frame camera just a high end crop sensor Sony with a solid lens, my studio lights are older than my eldest kid (still work though and does the job) and my receivers / triggers are not exactly Broncolor either (Yongnuo) 🙂

    I’m wondering if technology is a real limiting factor for a wanna-be-pro photographer or it’s actually minuscule compared to the advanced physic knowledge of the light or the positioning etc?

    I wonder what could you do with a couple of years old crop sensor Canon and average flashgun.

    Sorry for the off-topic 🙂

    Take care,

    1. Hi Mark, we do have some tutorials that use less expensive gear but as we have many professionals use this website they also like to know which are the best tools for a job and they are also not happy when we go in a simplified direction. In many cases you can simulate what we are doing with less expensive tools there are just some modifiers that might be hard to replicate. However that is why we created the natural light section and the Light Source course which demonstrates from 1 light to 4 and often the most simple of solutions. Also in our product section there are many tutorials with my older elinchrom lights and showing how with lots of ‘home made’ stuff you can get results. Hope this helps.

  7. Hi Karl, you are using a bare bulb strobe to light the card and create the sharp(ish) shadow. And yes, a bare bulb will spread the light a lot, leading to the necessity to blacken the walls and ceiling. Any reason why you wouldn’t use a reflector (perhaps with a grid) instead of a bare bulb? Would the resulting light source be too large, for the purpose of defining the shadow? Would any fresnel or focusing modifier be helpful in this situation? I tried something similar very recently, with a Lupo 1000 fresnel LED light, but still needed the gobo to be quite close to the model/background for the shadow to bevwell defined. But I recall reading about some focusable modifiers where you can insert small gobos and project the image; wondering what the arey and how they could be used here. Cheers, Martin

    1. Hi Martin, any focusable light with a projection attachment with gobos is a much easier solution but also more expensive, you will see me use them a lot in other tutorials here, but for this one I wanted to show how you could work with bare bulb. The physics of doing it this way always requires the smallest point light source so yes you are right as soon as you add even a standard reflector you are basically increasing the light source size by a factor of a hundred which then makes it less effective.

    1. Thank you Giuseppe. Also don’t discount starting this course at Chapter 1 as there is a lot to learn that you may think you might not need to. Most people who do this particular course say Chapter 1 opened their eyes to some new thinking.

  8. Hi Karl i am today the first time on your education. I am from germany and try with my simple english to ask something. Why do you have no information about aperture and the flash, like f 8.0 or so? Thanks Reinhard

    1. Hi Reinhard, thank you for joining us. In many of the modules we do where we feel it is necessary but in cases like this one I may mention it during the video but the primary focus is on the technique and understanding light. The power of the light information would be of no use to anyone unless they used exactly the same light, exactly the same modifier and exactly the same distance and exactly the same size space and color walls. The aperture required should be a creative decision based on depth of field. I encourage you to watch the first 15 chapters of this section to really change your understanding of how this all comes together.

  9. Karl you really got my attention
    thanks for the extra effort at making sure we understand what you are explaining

  10. I JUST signed up for the class. very well done
    What if you don’t have a big studio, can I use 4 x 6 blackboard to block the reflection and will I get the same result?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Stanley, yes and I suggest you watch the videos on this course starting at number 1 going forwards as it will cover this concern and any other you might have. I guarantee that come the end you will no more about studio lighting than you realised possible.

  11. Some beautiful photography in this tutorial. Very inspiring ideas. Great advice using a black fabric curtain system in a studio. I’m going to definitely experiment with technique.

  12. Hi Karl,
    I noticed that you were directing the model to twist her shoulders forward. I’ve seen that a lot with fashion poses.
    Could you explain why this is?
    (Sorry, this question may not be appropriate for this lessson, I just noticed it during this lesson)

    1. Hi Kryn, more often than not there is no specific reason other than I’m looking for shapes, lines or curves that look aesthetically pleasing. There is also the element of unusualness to a pose that if controlled correctly can look interesting and arouses curiosity in the viewer. The ultimate goal of any photograph is to retain the viewers interest because without that the picture is a failure. As such myself and many photographers will utilise various techniques from subject to colour to content or whatever we can to make the image more ‘interesting’.

  13. A great lesson, indeed. I see the picture, however, with a slight rim of light running down the head, neck, right shoulder and back of the model, somehow separating the figure from the dark background. What do you think?

  14. Great video! Would it be possible to achieve the same contrast in her face, only using black flags (or black foam boards) isolating the model from bounce lights, instead of darkening all walls in the studio with fabric?

    1. It would work to an extent but I’d put black fabric on the foam boards as I find even black ones bounce light back in. You will still get light coming in from front though because this area won’t be shielded so a black studio would be more effective.

    1. Hi Doris and thick black card would work. I was using a type of card called black ‘foam board’, if you are trying to source some it is commonly used by picture framers and sign makers.

      1. Hi Stephen, I would have explained that during the shooting, however this is not really a question that is important and often one that actually adds confusion. To understand why make sure you are fully up to speed with the first 15 chapters of this particular course and if there are any questions thereafter then comeback to me. Cheers Karl.

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