Stunning Soft and Contoured Lighting

Creating soft, flattering lighting for portrait photography couldn’t be easier. In this portrait photography class Karl uses a two light setup to create a beautiful contoured lighting effect.

Course Objectives:

  • How to use softboxes for portrait photography
  • Learn how to create soft light using studio lights
  • Two light setup ideas for portrait photography
  • How to use reflectors to create additional fill light and control shadows
  • Learn to control light in a small studio

I used two large softboxes for this shoot, knowing I wanted to create a soft, flattering lighting. Although softboxes are renowned for producing soft lighting, this only works when they’re used in the correct position.

I started by placing a softbox either side of my model, angled inwards. Placing them in such a way allowed me not only to control the contouring on the model’s face, but also the amount of light that spilled onto the background.

Lighting setups for portraiture

By changing the angle of the light, I could control how much light hit my model and background.

For this shoot we were working in a small studio, which meant there was a lot of light bouncing around. To control the light in a small studio, I recommend darkening your walls and ceiling when needed. This can be done by having dark material covering the walls (such as curtains or drapes) or by simply painting the walls (as we’d done for this shoot).

Small studio, photography

It’s important to control your light when working in a small studio.

Limited to only two lights, I decided to use a reflector to soften the shadows and add some extra light on the left side of the model’s face. I tried a white fill card and silver reflector to see which result I preferred, eventually opting for the softer white reflector.

Portrait photography with reflectors

A comparison of results from the white and silver reflectors.

This lighting setup shows just how effective a simple lighting setup with softboxes can be. By positioning the softboxes correctly and taking the time to adjust them and add a reflector, I was able to create a really striking series of images with just two lights and affordable modifiers.

The final image:

Soft and contoured final portrait image

The final portrait image, with soft and contoured lighting.

If you’re looking for more softbox lighting setup ideas, I’ve put together a collection of our most viewed classes:

If you have any questions about the class, please post in the comment section below.

Note: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Intriguing using of the two soft boxes. I had always thought that big modifiers were a challenge in my small studio. You show how much I was wrong. I pulled my 4’x6′ softbox out of my closet and will be using again soon.

  2. Karl, you are working very close and focusing on the head.

    What differences would you expect doing this set up with e.g. 2 x 80cm octabox softboxes closer to the backdrop rather than 150cm octabox and 120cm x180 softbox?

  3. Hi
    I struggle a bit to to see the ratio distances of softboxes placement from the wall to model cause the video angles does not show the relationship very well. A roughly top view of the set may add a bit more since space to shoot was small.

  4. love the set up for the soft light. great photo, I hope I get to try it out shortly , just getting my home set up soon , I also like rim lighting which I like a lot, looking at a lot of photo
    thanks frank garvan Ireland

  5. In my last question, I do mean more the tri reflector catchlight and on occasions, the photographers reflection in the eyes when doing close up portraits. etc. I appreciate the catchlights are beautiful and so to leave in!

    1. Hi James, it’s all down to personal taste. There are some modifiers that give great light but unusual catchlights some photographers choose to retouch these to a more simple catchlight. I generally leave them as they are.

  6. Hi Karl,

    You have mentioned on earlier tutorials about the catchlight in the eyes however using a tri reflector and other modifiers is is commercially acceptable to leave these catchlights in the eyes or would they be taken out or edited in post?

    Kind regards


  7. The end result here was just stunningly beautiful. Could I replicate this shoot with my 140 Cm Octobox and 1 or 2 of my 80×120 Cm softbox(es)?

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