Rim Lighting Photography for Stunning Portraits

Using rim lighting as a backlight is a great way to shape a subject. Used correctly, it can result in some stunning images.

For this rim light portrait photography tutorial, Karl is joined by Urs Recher for a one-light setup demonstration.  Together, they demonstrate how to create beautiful soft rim lighting using backlighting with a special twist.

Learn a surprisingly simple but clever technique to achieve what looks like a four-light setup with just a single modified light.

Stunning female portrait using rim lighting as a backlight.

Stunning female portrait using rim lighting as a backlight.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography using a single light
  • How to use backlighting for creative effect
  • How to avoid flare
  • How to modify rim light
  • Using reflectors and flags
  • How to control shadows

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Dear Kark,

    The only light source here is a large soft box behind the model , am I right??? And what size of the window mask with window dimension is suitable to the len we use?

    1. Hi, yes the only light is the large softbox. The window mask can be made in various sizes as long as it is the same ratio as your camera sensor. I usually have a couple of sizes for different uses as they are very easy to make. For example if you have a 36mm x 24mm sensor then you can start off by multiplying by 10 = 360mm x 240mm but that would be a very big window mask so then you can divide that by 2 = 180 x 120 and there you go that can be your first size to test.

      1. Dear Karl,

        So, in case we use a cropped sensor (1.5x to the full frame 35mm) the window hole of 135mmx90mm, but how big the size of the black mask is suggested????


  2. Hi, great dramatic one light set up. I was wondering if I would be able to do the same shot using the 120×180 soft box with the edge mask and having the model further away from the softbox to create the same effect.


  3. kenshi2008

    Good tips if you have one light with a big softbox. I see if I can get my camera out next week to work on a project.

  4. i have a question regarding the “window” you are shooting through. i understood that the measure is depending of the mm of the lens. how do you calculate the measures of the rectangle window ?

    1. Hi Johan, it is the same ratio as your sensor. So if you have a 36mm x 24mm sensor (full frame 35mm) then you could expect the same shape for your window – 36cm x 24cm divide by 2 = 18cm x 12cm

  5. Wonderful lesson learnt Karl. Thankyou for teaching us and creating like minded people in Industry for a big boom.

    Plz let me know which power output lights you use.

  6. Would a similar result be achievable with a large window, or is a soft box of this size essential to create this effect?

    1. Hi Sophie, a large window with some diffusion in front of it or on a cloudy/bright day would work if you follow the same technique we use here.

  7. Hi Karl, very interesting video as always! Just one quick question: I understand that the “square hole” in the window mask has to match the aspect ratio of my sensor so in my case 3:2 but is there a specific size recommended for the hole in the board? Is there a minimum size I should take in consideration for the long and short edge of the hole or even maybe a maximum size, after which, the window mask doesn’t work anymore to protect from flare?
    For example is a window mask with a hole of 30×20 cm enough?

    1. Hi Daniele, that’s a good question! You need a few sizes simply because sometimes they benefit from being at different distances based on which lens you are using and the lighting setup. I have 3, big, medium and small. The big is around the 30cm size, the small around 10cm (long edge). My guess is the medium is 20 long edge. Make them from black foam board, a good edge and stanley blade takes 5mins to make one.

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