Portrait beauty lighting with one light

This portrait photography class follows closely from the previous chapter, where Karl demonstrated how to achieve a bold but soft effect, ideal for fashion or catalogue shots.

In this chapter he builds on this, showing you how to modify the setup for more beauty-style images. Starting with just a simple modifier on a single light, Karl reveals the all-important accessory needed to bring this image to life and create a more flattering light.

To show the importance of this accessory, he shows clear comparisons with and without it and how it can elevate and enhance the original fashion-style image to the eye-catching beauty images that are the final results.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Beauty photography using a single light
  • Lighting setups for beauty photography
  • How to soften shadows for stunning beauty images
  • Lighting setup modifications and the effect
  • Visual comparisons between different reflectors

Note: This course is available with English subtitles.


  1. The tri-reflector… amazing results with a youthful beautiful face. Is this also a type a lighting that works wonders with older more wrinkled faces?

    1. Hi Gary, with an Octabox 150 or similar and the trireflector yes but if the top light is too small then the contrast is too high and the wrinkles show up too much.

      1. That is good to know.. I have an octobox but only a 90..perhaps a bit small.. I have a softbox around a 150×90.. I assume I could come close with the large softbox. Can hardly wait for the pandemic to ease back so portraits can become a more regular occurrence.

  2. Hi Karl, how do you get the focus sharp in the eye while she is moving her head a lot ? Do you focus and recompose or do you move the focus point in the camera?

    1. Hi Mada, I often use manual focus and then simply move my body back or forwards until my subject comes into focus. This is from many years experience working with manual only focus cameras back in the days of film. If i’m using autofocus I’ll usually select one of the focus points off to the side and then lock that onto an eye. With some of the modern Sony cameras they now have ‘eye tracking and lock’ focus which is very impressive it keeps them in focus automatically.

  3. Hi Karl,
    I am a new member and I start with this one light course. You are a very good teacher and it is the first time I hear so many details and explanations on each setup and tool. very useful to understand light…
    In this beauty lighting setup, did you see an improvement using the new eyelighter instead of triflector. I have read the shape in iris and the lighting are better.
    with the big foam you are using instead the triflector (and previous lesson to replace polyboard), is this a matte/satin foam or reflective one ? i noticed a reflection of her trouser below the foam indicating it s a reflective one.
    are you shooting in AF-S single point ? Are you shooting with AF-ON back button focus ? does your camera have an eye detection ?

    best regards

    1. Hi Marc, thanks – don’t get obsessed by details and ‘tips’ you here from many ‘experts’ out there that have little or no bearing on the final result. The focus is always on the overall lighting, mood, story, styling. When photographers get lost in overly concentrating on all these minor insignificant details they lose sight of the bigger picture and what you are trying to say with the image. Many of the worlds top portrait photographers often just have one light and white shine through umbrella and they focus on the ‘moment’ the character of the subject and the styling because they know full well that that is what matters. In answer to your questions ‘improvement’ is the wrong word, it would simply look different and softer because the new reflector is less specular and more diffused. Yes the highlight in the eye might change but the reflector isn’t being used for the highlight in the eye and this can easily be changed in post. It was white foam board which you will see me use many times it’s white, matt. I’m most often shooting in manual focus, I’ve never used the back focus button I wouldn’t even know how to set it up or care. If I’m in AF i’ve most likely selected a focus point and using AF-S single point. But again this is all minor and often irrelevant stuff, if you get overwhelmed with all of the pedantic’s of photography you will end up going down the wrong path. Focus on the craft of lighting that I teach on this platform and why lighting is used a certain way to create a certain mood or feeling. All the best Karl.

  4. Hi Karl. More great content! can I ask if you have a preference for the number of catchlights? As here you have 3 from the tri-reflector and a 4th from the Octobox. Is it just what you think looks best for the shot, or do you set out intending to capture a certain look with the catchlights? And if so, would you ever do any post work to dull them or lift them?

  5. Hi Karl,

    I have question regarding the clothes from the model. I noticed that when you where in front of the tri-reflector the reflection on your face was silver, but when Deborah stood in front of the reflector it had some gold flair due the reflection from the top she was wearing. Do you take that into account when you are shooting. I can imagine that sometimes those reflection can be a nice addition and sometimes it can be disturbing. Is there a way of dealing with unwanted reflection due to clothes or props that need to be in the shot? Or for example in this case with Deborah, could you add a gel to the light to mask the gold glow ?

    1. Hi Phil, adding a gel to the light would likely increase the problems in this case. If the bounce back of gold from the clothes to the reflector to her face were severe enough to be a big problem then the better and alternative is to consider what is the reflector doing – it’s simply bouncing fill light back into the shadows – so I’d replace it with something like a 90×120 softbox and light on a very low power into the shadows instead and then the problem of the gold bouncing off would be gone as the surface material of the softbox is too diffused to have any issues compared to a silver reflector.

  6. Hi Karl,

    Nice tutorial indeed. Lot to learn from you 🙂 I assume you must have lots of images stored while going for a photoshoot. What do you do in terms of management of those? Do you select some for post production and delete the rest? Or you keep them all for future reference?


    1. Hi, I select one or two for post production. The rest get deleted or just backed up on drives.

  7. Hi Karl,

    I’m looking to buy a Tri-reflector or Curved reflector for beauty. I like the round catchlights in the eyes from the curved reflector, but I’m wondering if this would lead to a flatter, less dimensional look on the sides of the face (there no panels to adjust on these).

    Do you see any disadvantages to the curved reflector, particularly for broader faces?

    P.s. Just joined and I’ve learned so much already. Thank you!


    1. Hi, thank you for your comments. I think the 3 separate panels are best as you can angle each one accordingly to better control the light.

  8. Hi Karl , I only have a soft box can I get the same result positioning the soft box 45 deg above the model ? I thought that to get a soft light than contour the face, jaws and get tridimensionality was mandatory the beauty dish (that I don’t have ) or to get this result the important is to get the light source 45 degrees above the model and the reflector in front of her ?

    the Other question is in the video you use an Octobox,..not a beauty dish nor beauty dish soft box…why ?

    thanks in advance for your time to answer, so I need to decide if with my zero budget should I invest or not in a beauty dish / beauty soft box


    Maria Angelica

  9. Hi,

    If we don’t have a high ceiling for the softbox, can we bounce the light off the ceiling to create a top light? Or does the ceiling bounce throw too might light around in a small, white space? Thanks, Mandy

  10. Hi Karl
    Your models are beautiful and your lighting and photography enhances it but in reality not all are like that. For example how I can show a chubby face a little in triangle shape with lighting? Is it possible?
    My second question is: Do you recommend silver reflector on darker skin?
    I am so happy to share I got verbal confirmation of position I attended for an interview. I will activate my subscription once I got my offer letter.- I just wanted to share good news 🙂
    Would you please give some tips on photographing a bit chubby faces?

  11. Hi Karl,

    Loving the content here. I’m learning a lot as I go through the courses.
    I was looking online for a Lastolite Triflector and I saw the mkII one in two options: gold/silver and white/silver.

    Which one do you recommend as the better one from your experience?
    Have a great day!

  12. Hi Karl

    Absolutely gorgeous shots…. I am wondering would you do any type of post-production work on these since these are perfect right off the bat…..


  13. hi Karl this is fabulous stuff really helpful guidance.
    I note your modern tethered approach with trial and test of light positions, angles, power, reflectors and seeing the images on large screen and then adjusting the lights and reflectors bit by bit – Im aware some photographers and trainers frown on this way of working and seem intent on promoting light meters so you can “appear more professional” to clients and models. However in my limited experience I think it takes no longer in time to work how you do.
    Im a speedlight studio anywhere fan due to space,weight, travel and budget reasons and do not use a light meter, instead I explain to the models my first shots are tests all about getting the lights right in power and placement for their face shape/skin – so far Ive not had any complaints or negative comments, though without any modelling lights its a bit more trial and error as I get more experienced – wonder if you might have any comments!

    1. Hi John, As you know I agree there is no need for a light meter, see chapter 6 in the portrait section for my full explanation.

      1. Hey Karl.
        I haven’t finished the video yet, So maybe there’s the answer inside. I’ll ask anyway: In the business portraits workshop, You explain too many photographers put their softboxes too far. As a result, I started locating the 90cm Octabox) really really close to their faces, But it requires me to find a solution for the edge of the softbox “popping out” in the photo, Not to mention the angle from above is problematic when it’s so close (The close I work, The higher I need it for 45 degrees). Is the distance shown in the video close enough in your standards? Looks a bit more convenient to work with…

        1. Hi Sharon, yes it’s always a case as close as possible without it impeding the shot which is why bigger softboxes are more versatile as you can afford for them to be a little further away.

          1. Great, Thanks Karl. I felt it was a bit too close when I started to see myself spending too much time on Photoshop trying to clone it out. And then watching your Photoshop course again to find tips on that. Something I can solve with placing the softbox a bit farther 🙂

  14. Thanks again, Karl, I feel illuminated already 🙂 Also, your tutorial was very intuitive, at one moment I was going to ask about the f/5.6 aperture, but you covered it in a couple of minutes, then I was going to ask about switching the tri-board with a single board, you covered it in a minute, then I was shouting “put a clamp on that thing”, and you also did. Love your work!

  15. Simple yet very educational, ideal one light set up for my small garage studio, I just made myself a tri reflector ..!!
    Thank’s Karl.

  16. Hi Karl,
    I found that your shooting angle is a little bit higher than model eye from video. Is that your recommended angle or just mis-understanding because the video?

    1. Hi Ryo, I often shoot eye level or just above. The only time I shoot lower is if I’m looking to create a more imposing image usually in a wide angle lens shot with a model and landscape to make the model look more imposing in the landscape. In the studio though generally eye level or above i find most flattering.

  17. Hi Karl,

    I have one more question . For doing beauty portraits does model need heavy makeup?
    With basic makeup can we get good results?

    Best Regards,

    1. Hi Pradeep, I wouldn’t say heavy make up but more good quality make up that has been applied well. A professional make up artist can make a big difference to the final result. That can be a natural look or more glamorous but it is the application standard that is important.

  18. Your models are all great( as is your whole crew) I enjoyed watching Deborah smiles enjoying herself. Thanks Karl I actually ordered this tri-reflector and forgot to ask before I did so if you offer discounts to members through your site?? Merde

    Stevie 🙂

  19. HI KARL

    1. Hi Sastri, yes that would give a similar result, but each modifier has slightly different qualities. It is always best to try them and become familiar with their capabilities. Chapter 7 of Light Source in the portrait section will help you immensely with modifiers and their affects.

  20. Can we use regular reflector instead of trireflector
    Or 3 speedlights in softbox in form of a triangle one from top and 2 inclined on both sides and model is framed inside the triangle, I mean softboxes are feathered will that work?

    1. Hi Pradeep, with a regular reflector you will only get the reflected light to go under the chin in this set up. What you can do very easily though is get some stiff pieces of card and cover with baking foil and support on lighting stands to make a DIY tri-reflector but to be honest I would just purchase one as they are much easier to use. Yes theoretically you could use speedlites in 3 small to medium softboxes below but again this is a lot of work in constantly having to change and adjust the power and position. A tri-reflector is by far the most effective and simplest solution, you only need to angle the reflector or change the height to adjust intensity of the fill light.

  21. Hey Karl, is it possible for you to give a side by side comparision of beauty light vs fashion light vs glamour light at some point? You mentioned both fashion and glamour but I don’t truly feel like I have a concrete sense of the differences. I think this might be helpful to others as well, so maybe you can address it in a vlog if you have a bit of free time. Thanks!

    1. Hi Anthony you may have noticed in our ‘New Courses Coming Soon’ section that we have scheduled a number of new fashion lighting modules, I will be covering more on this topic when those are published. Thanks Karl.

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