Soft single light portrait

For this informative photography class Karl is joined by broncolor’s Urs Recher as he continues to demonstrate how creative you can be using just a single light setup.

In this portrait photography class Urs explains how to create the softest light possible. Using one of the most commonly used modifiers, he goes into detail about the importance of positioning and how to position your light for maximum effect. Together Karl and Urs demonstrate common mistakes photographers make using softboxes and how to correct these mistakes.

Photographing in a large studio, the pair also discuss how this setup would work in a smaller studio before creating their own to demonstrate exactly how this setup would work and how simple changes to your studio can make a big difference.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Portrait photography using a single light
  • How to achieve soft light using a large light source
  • Common mistakes when using a softbox
  • Camera lenses for portraiture photography
  • The inverse square law
  • How to photograph in a small studio

For more information on softboxes, read our blog post here.

Note: This course is available with English subtitles


  1. hey karl
    i am little bit confused about this course
    first due to inverse squire law the light should be more contrast when the soft box is nearer to the object but that was not what happened here
    second thing
    the more we go far from the subject the light spread away and become more softer but that was not what happened also
    third and last thing why the light emitting her eyes was less brighter when the soft box is nearer

    1. Hi Amr,
      1. Yes but because we are using a softbox and not a point lightsource the light becomes significantly bigger to the subject which decreases contrast because more light can reach around her face but you will notice the background would have become darker because of the inverse square law.
      2. The light doesn’t become softer when you move away the light source becomes smaller relative to the subject and therefore it can appear harder. However the level of contrast or exposure between near and far objects will reduce so for example the background will become more similar in exposure to the subject because the power of the light is now more similar in both areas. You must remember that for the true inverse square law effects only to apply then it would need to be a point light source in a black empty space. When we are dealing with softboxes or larger modifiers the size of the light source relative to the subject has a big impact and therefore if a large modifier is close or far effects it’s apparent size.
      3. These concepts may seem a little confusing to begin with but please go to our Lighting Theory section and watch ‘Introduction and Understanding Light’ please as this gives some further inverse square law examples but with softboxes.

  2. It’s more the direction of the light not the inverse square law that is resulting in that black background.

    1. Hi Alice, on this class we used a dark grey background a couple of meters behind the model, when your softbox is this close to the model then the dark grey will become black.

  3. Hi Karl, would using a 70-200 lens achieve the same result ? as it would avoid getting too close to the model as some would be shy.

    1. Hi, We were using an 85mm lens here so yes you have 85mm in your 70-200mm range. I don’t know what the maximum aperture setting of your lens is though, see if it matches or can match what this shot was taken at and then you’l be fine.

  4. beautiful portrait.
    I often see portrait with natural light coming from a window.
    i don’t have window in my studio. should such 180×120 or 150cm rotalux simulate a window or do we need extra layers of transparency (1 or 2 girafe with translucent fabrics,…) to do the job ?

    should people notice it is fake or only professional ?

    best regards

  5. hi Karl, did you use a 2x extender i.e. 85mm becomes 170mm or did you mean a macro extension ring to allow you to get much closer at the same focal length of 85mm?

      1. yes Karl but in the side notes to the video re gear it says 2 x extender i.e with glass therefore were you shooting at 170mm focal length?

        1. Hi Charles, that’s an error in the side notes, thanks for pointing that out we will update it. In the video at 2:20 I say it’s an extension tube because we are shooting close. So the focal length remains 85mm.

          1. thx Karl, really enjoying all your vids.

  6. Hi Karl, very instructive lesson…I already knew some of the technical parts, but had not been aware of the difference it makes when getting closer in terms of the consequences on the background and…thanks to Urs, the shiny skin problem, which is a recurring problem for a non professional portrait photographer…
    And so this lesson inspired me into doing a similar portrait session with one of my granddaughter who is ten years old, very beautiful and of course, as most children at that age, with no need of much make-up…but her hair is dark…contrary to your model…does this require an important change in lighting strategy? Thanks again…I’ve been through many sites like yours…but yours is exceptionally worth the price…hope you are fine and please keep safe, these are hard times…

    1. Hi, thank you, if the hair is very black and the skin is light then of course there is a greater disparity in the value of the tones. You may have to accept slight over exposure on the skin planning to pull it back from the RAW file and lift the shadow detail in the hair. Or you might have to consider precise snooted, grided or projection lights to lift very specific areas of the hair but this is difficult if the model is moving pose.

  7. Hello sir., this course is truly amazing. Just a small request, can we get the lighting diagrams for these images?? that will be very useful for future reference.

    1. Hi, No I’m afraid we can’t, we believe it’s actually clearer to see in the video than a lighting diagram.

  8. Hi! Great tutorial! How do I know when to angle the light a bit down as opposed to parallel like it is here ?

    1. The direction and position of the light influences where the shadows will be so you always consider the subject, the mood and the emotion you want to convey. Generally on people slightly down means the light looks more natural but here the light is so close it is coming from down and the side.

  9. Oh my God, this video is brilliant. I’ve learnt so much in 19 minutes. I’d have never dared to bring the softbox this close. Thanks Karl!

  10. Hi Karl , this tutorial is very helpful for me, But I am still confuse with the softbox that you using on that video , did you using HSS with triger combine with monolight? because the softbox is so bright while strobes blinking . Sorry for this question, best regards yato

  11. A Canon 2x Extender is used. Two questions. Is an extender the same as a Canon Teleconverter? And why would you not just use a longer lens? Not sure about this.



    1. Hi David,

      1. Yes it is the same
      2. I don’t have a longer lens as the very good ones cost a lot of money to obtain the necessary quality and only really worth it if you do a lot of long lens photography such as sports or wildlife.
      Cheers Karl.

  12. Hi Karl,

    These tutorial are as good as it gets, really! Wonderful stuff.

    A quick question: when using the Siros 800 L, I noticed there’s a huge lag with the shutter i.e. I press, and it will take the photo a full second later (if not more). Is this normal? I shoot Nikon D810.

    Seems excessive to me…


  13. Hi Karl, thank you very much for your lessons! Very interesting! I have a little question. I only have 60×60 sorft boxes with my Broncolor kit. Is it possible to have the same result with a softbox 60×60 + a diffuser? For now I can’t buy a Big Broncolor Softbox… or maybe I can make something by myself?

    1. Hi Anastasia, If you use a large diffuser panel in front of your 60×60 then yes. It’s all about creating the biggest light panel or softbox as close as possible to the subject. You will also see variations on this in the other chapters.

  14. Hello Karl!
    I did the following portraits on the basis of your valuable advice:

    [images no longer available]

    I’m learning from you so you can show me how you work.

  15. Hi Karl. If you have time, I was wondering if you could tell me what the photographer is doing when focusing on the model, around 9:20 in the vid? It looks like he aims a little higher and then moves the camera down a smidge before taking the shot. Why is he doing that?

    1. Hi Susan, he’s locking the focus on the models eyes with the central focusing point and then recomposing the shot so her eyes are not in the centre of the picture.

  16. Karl,
    I’ve noticed you seem to enjoy shooting with your flash on manual, however, do you ever use TTL for portraits? Quick business headshots possibly?

  17. Hello Karl , thanks for all the great classes .

    Do you have any idea if the flash damage the eyes ?
    And if putting the flash closer to the model is damaging more her eyes ?
    Thanks , I am modeling since 22 years and it is always a question i had in mind when the photographer was putting the light so close.

    1. Hi Camille, if you have a very powerful flash (1600J or 3200J) and it is almost bare or with the standard reflector and you looked at it when it flashed then yes this could temporarily damage your eyes. Generally speaking when they have softboxes or umbrellas on the light is diffused so the intensity in the eyes is not as strong and i’ve not know any model who has had a problem.

  18. Hey Karl. I am wondering what the other photographer (Ors?) was talking about after the set of close-in shots at around the 9:00 minute mark. He says something about the cropping of the frame and the model’s forehead. Does he want to lower the amount of forehead in the shots, or increase the amount of forehead in the frame? I just couldn’t quite hear what he was saying.

    Is there a preferred amount of the forehead to include or a specific way to frame the face on extreme close-up shots like this ?

    Really enjoying the lessons. I have taken pages of notes.

    Take care.


  19. Karl,

    Such a valuable lesson on the size and distance of light. I still see some many photographers placing the softbox and other large lighting sources so far away.

  20. This is invaluable stuff Karl, thank you! Do you think there is a way to shoot full length shots with a simple light setup in a small studio?

  21. Another excellent video. I had a few aha moments there!

    I’ve got a slightly larger 180×136 softbox, so going to have to give this a try as it’s a fantastic soft look.

  22. Karl, please do tell if your final shots are straight out of camera or a little retouched. Your lovely model has an awesome make-up and skin. But with my 100mm macro Tokina I always bring up the model’s face look like the surface of the Moon. I’m not talking here about the lights, I used them in the softest manner I could.

    1. Hi Bogdan, apart from the removal of a couple of small pimples with is what it looked like straight out of the camera. Soft light used like this is usually quite flattering to models with good skin and make-up, harsh point lighting on close up on models would require more retouching though.

  23. At last Karl I now know how to use a soft box correctly, and I am able to get beautiful soft light thank’s to understanding the inverse square law, thank’s Karl great tutorial.
    Tony Leurs.

  24. The information in these course videos is priceless.
    It’s like getting the final piece of the jigsaw and then everything just suddenly clicks into place.

    Thank you Karl and the team.

  25. Love this light. Looks gorgeous.
    I always had quite distinct highlights in the eyes. Now I understand, I need to bring the soft box even closer! Thanks! Nice to see Urs participate too.

  26. Excellent tutorial again. I’ve made the mistake of soft box distance. And this explains the shiny skin and catch light difference between distances of the light. It’s amazing after you learn something and review your past work how glaring the mistakes are. I will definitely be producing better work from this tutorial alone.

  27. I am so glad that this courses cover small studio comparisons as well, as I have the smallest studio in the world )) ..
    Really helpful tips to consider..

  28. Hi Karl,
    I just want to ask a simply question.

    I saw your video, when you shot portrait or beauty, you often shot as horizontal frame.

    Can you give me some advice for when to shot horizontal or when to shot vertical more often?


    1. Hi Ryo, I’m afraid this comes down to personal preference. Study lots of photographs you like from lots of different photographers and make a note of when they are vertical or horizontal and see if you can start to build a ‘feeling’ for why and when they work. I’m afraid I can’t tell you why I go for one over the other it’s just a feeling of what will work and often I shoot both anyway.

  29. Hi Karl, I have invested in few speedlights already, would it work as well as the lights you using in those excellent tutorials?

    1. Hi Jonathan as long as you can diffuse the speedlite into a large light source then yes. For example putting a speedlite into this particular type softbox would work well.

  30. The large soft source is my favorite as close as possible giving the wonderful wrap around soft feel

  31. Outstanding. Very detailed and informative. Light distance ratios of the inverse square law as it applies to brightness of eye highlights or glossy skin is something I would never have thought of. It makes perfect sense to apply to specular reflections as well. Thanks. Great courses.

  32. Excellent lesson and very useful with the examples in the smaller studio. I guess I will be able to replicate the settings from the shoot with my 150 Cm Octobox softbox?

  33. This is an excellent lesson. I have that same 85mm lens but would have never thought to incorporate an extension tube along with it and frame so closely. I’m very pleased with this course.

  34. This has been the most benifical single light video for me so far so thanks but could I ask what difference would it have, if any to use a 100 x 100 or 60 x80 soft box with out anything else changing?

Leave a Comment