Contoured single soft light portrait

For this portrait photography class Karl and Urs use a simple lighting modifier in an unusual position to create a beautiful, contoured soft light.

Working in a small, confined space they show how this single light setup is ideal for those working in a small studio, but, with minor adjustments, you can greatly change the outcome.

During this tutorial Urs talks you through his lighting setup, power settings and the reflectors he uses, explaining the impact of each.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Creative portrait photography using a single light
  • How to create soft, contoured light
  • Photographing in small studio space
  • How to use reflectors
  • How to convey emotion in an image

Note: This course is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hi Karl, this is truly remarkable that this 120×180 softbox can be so versatile! I am new to studio photography and I really want to know how to build the background stand using the c stand. I would really appreciate your help.

    Many thanks


    1. Thanks Shan, please see our clamps stands grips class in the Lighting Theory section. This was just a pole held between two c-stands with clamps that you will see in that class.

  2. I enjoyed this video. Out of curiosity, is there much you do in post using Lightroom? Naturally, I have many more videos to look at but are there photo shoots that show how you bring it into post for retouching?

    Thank You

    P.S. I bet kids would like the idea of a tiny studio setting.

    1. Hi Mark, some of the shoots you see on our platform have no retouching and the results are as they were in the tethered software where only minor contrast adjustments are made. In other classes such as our fashion and beauty series then there is post production and often the post production is show in our post section. For example we have recently completed a new series of beauty and fashion shots and I also recorded the post production for each one, these will be published later in the year. For general post production on beauty (and other subject) images then please visit our post production section.

    1. Hi, The aperture would have been mentioned during the shoot and the ISO would have been the default 100ISO. The shutter speed isn’t really relevant as it is flash so you should be using the highest sync speed to cut out the modelling lights. We often put the exif data at the end but we are going to add the exif data to the ‘equipment list’ which you can find on the lower right.

      1. I noticed that too. When you show a close-up on the Lightroom page when you show the model you can see the settings in the upper right hand corner. I must get Lightroom!

  3. Impressive to see how much can be accomplished with a creative use of a single strobe. Curious about whether you typically color correct your images (e.g., in LR with a Color Card in an initial shot, etc.). In most of these single light source portrait videos, there seems to be a slight color cast depending on the setup.

    1. Hi, for fashion, product and any colour critical work every new setup or outfit is first shot with a colour checker and adjusted in the raw file or post on an Eizo. These sort of shots are just graded by eye on screen to whatever we feel looks good.

      1. hello Karl, do you have a tutorial on how you adjust color with a color checker in the raw file on a eizo?

  4. Hi Karl,

    Iā€™m still not a 100% clear on how you use the histogram to evaluate your shot. I understand that the right side of the histogram is light and the left side is darker. But what do you look for in a histogram? Do you look for peaks, slopes, curves or a nice spread in the middle?



  5. Hey I am just wondering if the shots are a combination of the modeling light and the flash or just the flash?

      1. Thank you for answering that sir!! I also watched the new YouTube video where you explain the question and more. GOD bless!!

  6. I’ve just subscribe, and already amazed with the plethora of contents.

    Is there a flash too? (+ softbox)
    Where is it positioned?

    Portrait => One Light Setups => 25. Contoured single soft light => timecode 6:25

    1. Hi, thank you. I don’t know the percentage but you can see exactly which Colorama background paper it is in the equipment list on the lower right of the video page.

      1. Hi Karl

        Can you explain the angled background on the 1st creation of light grey background.Is it opened more from the the softbox side and little bit closer to the model on the shadow side?


        1. Hi, no as far as I remember the background remained fairly parallel to the camera behind the model and there was a reflector on the right side of the model (from camera perspective) I think we did discuss or show moving the background further away or closer to change the intensity of grey. I’d have to watch it again to remember exactly, is there a particular time in the video you’d like me to check something?

  7. it is really nice setup , but if i don’t have very huge soft box , can I use one big diffuser in front of the light source , but I think i have to put black boards in tow side of the light source to stop the lighting to spread to all directions.

    1. Hi Yes but I’d put black and silver boards so that the silver side can bounce the light more evenly across your bigger diffusor.

  8. Just started a new studio and thought Karl can mentor me to get the best out of my gear i purchased. Looking forward to leanring.

  9. Will this work with a rectangular soft box of the same exact size but just a little deeper? I noticed the soft box used in the shoot is fairly shallow.

    1. Hi David, the depth of a softbox is irrelevant, there is a big misconception that deep softboxes somehow give a better quality of light. The physics of this makes no sense, as long as the light is sufficiently bounced and diffused internally so that when it comes through the front diffuser that it is homogenous. If the front panel is homogenous then there will be no difference between it and any other softbox the same dimensions with equal homogenous levels. Lighting equipment marketing always makes me laugh, we only need to look at the physics of how light works to figure out anything. Check chapter 1 of this course.

      1. Thanks so much Karl, your comments are very enlightening. I skipped ahead to this particular video, but I’ve already gone back to start at the beginning and benefited already. The pace, level, and information of these videos, for me, who’s been in this a while are very comprehensive. Thanks for the quick response.

  10. Hi
    is there a special section for comments on photos or where photos of others are discussed?
    thank you, closer will not be a problem, further away, given the 3 meter width of my space
    I find the site very moi good and clear, learn an astonishing amount


  11. Hi
    i know ( i think) it is not posible to ask you how a photo is, but in my big studio 3 by 4 meter i wanted to show you my result on 1 softbox broncolor 120*180
    i have the big studio šŸ™‚ now 1 week and juse for the first time my own lamps

    i just a polyboard on the right 1 by 2 meter whit in frond to bounce light
    th eproblem i have maybe she is sitting to close to softbox that i get on the left in face to mutch light i think or what is your opinion or how can i make it better?


  12. Just a quick question Karl,do you use different Lightroom Catalogues for your teaching projects,as per a catalogue for this series and a different catalogue for a new teaching project

    1. Hi Robert, no i’m really lazy in that respect I only process the files in LR and that’s it, I’ve never created new catalouges.

  13. Man this is amazing, nice stuff here, congrats for this educational work,.
    I have a comment, maybe the camera man can use a cheap stabilizer, I’m not kidding, I got dizzy watching just 2 videos, just saying..

  14. That final close up was awesome, and the model is absolutely stunning. really enjoying the course thanks guys. That studio by the way is a dream for most photographers would be in my element with a studio like that.

    1. Hi James, thank you, this studio is my 5th one and they’ve grown bigger each time over the last 25 years. My first studio was small! šŸ™‚

  15. If you are passing this deal up, shame on you! So much knowledge here. Thank you Karl for giving photographers what we need!!!

  16. I’m really enjoying the course I have a question do interfit and bowens accessories have the same s type fitting ?

    1. Hi Michael, they are both S mount but I’m not sure if they are exactly the same but interfit usually make their accessories or adaptors to fit major brands.

    1. Yes I guess she does a little but she’s not. I always thought she looked a little like a young Sophie Loren too.

  17. I am enjoying the vidoes. Is there any other alternative softbox I can use no budged for this large softbox?

    South Africa

    1. Hi Simon, as you would have hopefully gathered from Chapter 1 and Chapter 7 of this course to achieve this effect does require a large light source, there are other ways of creating this but essentially it has to be a large light from the models perspective.

      1. thank you Karl I will save up for one.

        But would a large octa softbox give similar results. I do have 170cm octo

        1. Hi Simon, the octa 170 is about 2/3rds of the size so it would be about 2/3rds as effective so the closer you can get it the better. You could also consider making yourself a large scrim and firing your ocatabox through that.

          1. This answered my question also. Glad I bought some diffusion material too.

  18. I now have a new use for my 137 x 183 soft box. At $14 a month, these videos are awesome.

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