Dramatic Portraits

In this two-light portrait photography class, Karl uses two different modifiers as his key light, demonstrating how they can be combined with a simple accessory to achieve this punchy, dramatic fashion-style image. He also reviews the results of each, providing clear comparisons of the various modifiers.

In this class:

  • Studio Lighting: How to set up multiple studio lights
  • Two light setup for fashion photography
  • How to use a beauty dish
  • Lighting modifiers and their effects
  • Beauty Dish vs Beauty Box

For more in-depth tutorials on how to use a beauty dish, make sure to watch our live show “Mastering the Beauty Dish” and read our blog post “Lighting Modifiers: The Beauty Dish“.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hello Karl,

    First, I would like to give a big thank you. I have learned so much from your site.

    I have a question about when to give my subject a ‘hair-cut’. I noticed on this shot, and the class before this one (one large softbox plus background light), that your subject has a ‘hair-cut’. The top portion of their head is cut off.

    When is it okay to cut part of the head off?

    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Harold, thank you. Yes this question comes up a lot among photographers and it’s really a question of what’s most important in the shot, for example is it the body, the face, the clothes or the hair and we have to determine our crops based on where we want the attention of the viewer to go. If you check out some of the work of some of the best portrait and fashion photographers on my link below you will see that they all use and don’t use the ‘hair cut’ when they feel attention should be more drawn to the face. Have a look through some of their work and see if you can get a feel for when and why they used it – https://karltayloreducation.com/list-of-inspirational-photographers/

  2. kenshi2008

    Another good course. I had a really old 70 to 200mm Tamron for Canon. Wish I kept it. The photos from your shoot look good. Just bought some more umbrellas since it takes up less room. Hope to take pictures with my strobes next week of myself or some practice products at home. Thanks for having these courses.

  3. Hi Karl,

    what DOF do you prefer when shooting portraiture? Some only like to have the eyes sharp as others would like to have sharpness from eyes till ears etc. Are there any rules or guidelines to take in consider? (I’m talking about portraitures with plain backgrounds)

    Thank you

    1. Hi Remziye, there are no rules but in fashion/beauty it’s generally greater depth of field (f16) and in portraits it’s usually softer but can be anywhere between wide open and f11 depending on the look you’re going for. It’s always about the mood, emotion and feeling you want to convey.

  4. Hi Karl,
    I don’t have a 150cm octabox but I have a Glow EZ beautydish 66cm, a westcott rapidbox 66cm with a reflector plate and a magmod magbox with the new diffuser. also two ad200 pro+maggrip for magbox and S2 godox bracket for bowens.
    looking the end part of your video, do you think one of these softbox 66cm could do the job for all beauty portraits with triflector… ?
    I also intend to buy a ad400pro and ads085 85cm octabox. could be used too ?

    best regards

  5. Hi Karl,

    I’m not sure if this has been answered previously, but would a beauty dish that isn’t made of metal yield similar results to a standard metal one? An example of such is the Glow EZ Lock Collapsible Silver Beauty Dish, which has an umbrella-build but with the metal disc and two removable layers of diffusion material.


    1. Hi Ariel, would a hammer work in the same way as an axe? I’m afraid not, or at least not exactly because they are not the same thing or the same size, the same surface the same smoothness and reflectivity. Yes it will give you a harder light than a small softbox but will it be exactly the same as a beauty dish, no it won’t it will be more similar to a silver umbrella.

    1. Hi, I don’t use a diffuser on a beauty dish or it wouldn’t be a beauty dish anymore it would be a round softbox.

  6. johnleigh

    Hi Karl, these tutorials are fantastic resources as well as inspiration.

    I have a question regards creating dramatic or side lighting on female models with mature or non smooth skin – Using double diffused large softbox close in and with a reflector or light below this to reduce some shadowing, yet try to retain some drama, this still means I find myself doing rather a lot of retouching as the models unhappy with seeing all the imperfections.
    If there a technique you use to be able to get dramatic lighting for such skin types and yet minimise texture or is it a case of drama lighting leads to retouch work or have to avoid altogether and go for soft lighting only on such skin types?

    1. Hi John, I’m afraid the physics of light says NO. Essentially when you are describing ‘drama’ I think you are leaning towards higher contrast and more dramatic shadows but in doing so this reveals texture (wrinkles) The only way to avoid texture is by using extremely large soft lighting very close to the model, or use directional light from directly behind you such as a large Para 222 (expensive).

  7. Hello again Karl. Great video, as always. I was wondering, besides the differences the beauty dish vs. the beauty box obvious does in the overall lighthing how does this affect the catchlight that your clients request. Have you ever been in a situation when among others you were required a specific catchlight?

    1. Hi Bogdan, no although sometimes if a catchlight is unsightly (for example some people don’t like the catchlights from the Para 222) then we can retouch the eyes to create a new catchlight. This is commonly undertaken in advertising images but catchlights from the Beauty box or a beauty dish are easy to transform into a solid circle in photoshop.

  8. Thank you! This is easily the best photography education for the money and I consider myself a fairly experienced shooter. Lots of inspiration as well as information here.

  9. Great info as always. The beauty dish seems to produce more pronounced shadows under the eyes. Do you lighten this area in post? The beauty box doesn’t seem to make the shadows quite as noticeable.

    1. Hi Martin, yes if necessary but a lot of it will be to do with the exact angle of the light, distance and of course the model. I find the 70cm beauty dish to be more sparkly and 3dimensional but my preferred modifier is the para 133 but as we limited ourselves to the more inexpensive modifiers for this course I didn’t use it in this course. You can see the 133 para in action in other modules.

  10. HI KARL,

    1. Hi Sastri, please watch chapter 1 and 6 of Light Source in the portrait section for a full and complete answer to this.

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