Stunning two light beauty set

After the previous 10 chapters demonstrating single light setups, Karl moves on to a number of two light setups and what you can achieve with basic studio equipment.

In this portrait photography class he uses a similar setup to that in Chapter 20. But for this studio lighting setup he goes a step further, adding in an additional light to further enhance the image, resulting in a simple but effective lighting setup.

Watch as Karl walks you through his shooting process, starting with a simple background light before moving on to his key light and its positioning and power settings. Despite the apparent simplicity of this lighting setup, Karl also explains why the positioning of the photographer, model and both lights is crucial.

In this portrait photography class we cover the following:

  • Studio Lighting: How to set up multiple studio lights
  • Two light setup for beauty photography
  • Basic modifiers for studio lighting
  • How to control light in a small studio
  • Portrait photography tips

NOTE: This course is available with English subtitles


  1. Hey Karl,

    I like the content but it’s quite frustrating with all of the back and forth manually adjusting the power of the lights. Why not just setup your lights on groups (group 1 = Key, group 2 = Fill, Group 3 = BG) for example and then because you are using the standard Elinchrom transmitter that you can just adjust the power to individual lights with 1 click = 1/10th stop. Or just get a Elinchrom EL-Skyport so you can see the power of your lights on your transmitter. Much more efficient. Just a thought and it will save a LOT of time in your videos so energy can be focused on instruction vs adjustments.

  2. Karl.. I notice you almost always use a ladder to gain a 10-40 cm height over the eye line of the model. Obviously, nothing is universal, and the resulting slightly top down angle creates great results. Do you have anything more to add to this point other than it being a great angle?

    1. Hi, I find often on beauty shots (upper body to head shots) that I’m either at models eye line or above it. For me that just works, the eyes open up a bit and it just looks a bit more fresh. However that’s not always the case. On fashion shots they are usually 3/4 to full length and I’m shooting from lower to make the model look more imposing and powerful. We have a big series of new fashion and beauty shots coming over the next 12 months or so where you will see these variations.

    1. Hi Shana, in this shoot and most head shots I shoot from slightly above. In fashion shots I often shoot from below to make the model and clothes look more empowering.

    1. Hi Aaron, you know the answer because you just have to think about what is happening. The eyes are glossy so they will reflect. If you polarize then you will also affect the skin. So you are left with only three choices, remove the tri-reflector (then you have no fill). Change the angle of the tri-reflector (then you have less fill). Retouch the eyes in post.

  3. Great tutorial sir! Will I achieve the same result if I use an MDF board instead of the seamless paper backdrop?

    1. Hi you will probably achieve a better result on your background because the gradient fall off on the background will be better.

      1. Thank you for the quick response, i have all the listed equipment. I just joined this amazing family and it has been fun so far.

  4. Hi Karl,

    When using a backlight like you do in this video, would you recommend using barn doors or a lamp shade dish for controlling light?


    1. Hi Ariel, in this instance the background light is used to create a gradient ball of light on the background, if you put barn doors on it you would interupt the ball of light if the door were slightly closed. If the barn doors are almost fully open you may be OK but you wouldn’t benefit much as the P70 refelctor on the lamp is already stopping the light coming out of the sides. It’s always to do with angles, if you are ever concerned about light hitting a white side wall etc then simply go to that position and see if you can see the light source if you can then consider covering that white wall with black fabric to absorb the light.

    1. Firstly You could use bigger modifier closer to the model or secondly You could use polarising filter (rotate it to when you see the difference). Another factor is what kind of make up has been used – speak with you make up artist. Last source of dealing with it is photoshop.
      Heve fun and try it 🙂

      1. Thank you for answering!

        Can you recommend a class to learn the multiply blending tehnique?

        Keep up the good work!

        1. Hi Leonard, what would you like to know about it? And it what context do you expect or are anticipating to use it. We cover it within other post production tutorials but it might be easier for me to explain based on what you are trying to do?

    1. Hi, it can if you are shooting with a large aperture setting. This is why if the lights are very close to your model you should have your sync speed at maximum and your modelling lamps on low power.

  5. Hi Karl,

    I am using basically my lounge in my apartment for now. The area is around 8m x 3m with only a 2.4m ceiling with everything white and thinking I should black out the area. Problem is I can’t paint the walls etc so thinking of using black fabric on stands. My question is I’ve seen all sorts of ‘black out’ fabric which is quite expensive and heavy so does it matter what sort of black fabric is used? Am thinking just black cotton fabric or possibly black velvet and wondering with the price difference so wondering if that would do the trick or what sort of fabric should be used if it matters other than just being black?

    1. Hi Cameron, black velvet is the best but more expensive. Black felt is cheaper and usually adequate for this.

  6. Hi
    Why do you take the shot from higher angle and angle down your lens?
    Why don’t take it straight at eye level ? Is there a reason behind that?

    Thank you

    1. Hi, In this instance I also turned the models head down slightly and I’m from above slightly this means the models eyes have to open wide to look up. Nothing is set in stone though as I also shoot from Models eye level too, it depends on the model, the lighting and what you feel works.

  7. what if i want the backgroud darker? (ok, maybe this is a bad idea because of a greater chance of banding later on…)
    Can i move the background (and also the light) further away from the model?
    i think then the octa will spit less light on the backgroud? is that correct?

    1. Hi Mamophoto, yes you can move your set further from the background, due to the inverse square law and the fall off power of light relative to your subjects exposure then yes that would help, moving the background light further away won’t help as you will simply spread the light out over a wider area. Also you can use a darker colour background, either painted or paper.

  8. Wow..!!! That nice, next time come to Zanzibar island, its feel like heaven there…!!!

  9. Thank you so much Karl, all the way from Africa, Tanzania…!!!

    1. Thank you. I went to Tanzania once, it was great. Arusha, Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro – it was about 30 years ago though!

  10. Am learning new things everyday, thank you Karl for great course…!!! Am in fixed budget, i bought sigma lens 70-200mm f 2.8 can i achieve the same look as great as yours?? Am using Nikon d610.

  11. hi
    just a small question, you see over the nose a white line personaly i do not like this but
    is this normal for portrait? Or is it not seen 🙂


    1. Hi Harm, yes this is very common as you will see in my work here the question is how intense it should be, it shouldn’t really be a very bright highlight it should be controlled but each shot is different and it may be better less or more. It is not always possible to control it during the shoot because of the lighting effect you want to achieve elsewhere. It is usually overcome by the light being closer as you will see in this chapter or it is controlled in post.

  12. Hi Karl , love all your videos and learned tones from them. I remember in one of the previous videos (and I think was live show for business portraits), you explained that key light should be closer rather then further a way from the subjects face. Taking that in consideration just wondering should key light be closer to the model ? Your image came out fantastic even with light further a way but just trying to understand this whole light – model distance relation.

    1. Hi Iva, this all depends of the model, the contrast level you wish to acheive, the hardness of the light and the retouching you are happy to do. No two shoots are the same or need to be the same as you will discover more in the fashion sections. The live show on business portraiture taught you the basic physics for effective lighting, those were the rules but we are free to break them!

  13. Hi Karl,

    Great example of soft lighting. It’s also nice to have Deborah on set; gives me a good idea of how a professional, experienced model works during a shoot.

  14. Hi karl:
    I am experiencing banding problems in the gradient zone of the background, similar to Mark Glancy.
    I use a nikon d810 and bowens strobes.
    The problem gets worse when I export to jpg (photoshop does a better job here than Lightroom, but not perfect).
    Could you help me please?
    Best regards

    1. Hi Javier, some important tips. First ensure your light graduation is smooth. Second export your files as 16bit tiffs (expect banding in 8bit jpegs). Thirdly use a calibrated monitor, some of the banding you see may not even be there it may be your monitor. Finally if banding still exists then follow the very important tip in the Photoshop for Photographers course in the ‘Post Production’ section. All the best Karl.

  15. Great tutorial Karl, very simple yet very effective, nice way to begin and learn the art of learning how to control the light.

  16. Great lesson Karl, i do some times get strange greeny/blue lines on the grey background sometimes any tips on how to reduce this?

    1. Hi Mark, are you seeing these lines from your lights or only in the photo? Is it banding in the graduation in the file or actually on the background? It sounds very odd.

  17. Karl I saw on the video screen that you were shooting at 5.6 at 160 of a second, can you tell us what was the difference between the background light and the main front light on that shoot, in terms of exposure ??

  18. It’s fantastic watching you build your lighting. I learn so much watching you do, what to you is, everyday tasks. I have never worked with professional models, but are Debora’s skills, level of professionalism and the ability to portray almost a different person on each set the norm? I find it amazing what she can convey with her stance, facial expressions and hand movements.

    1. Hi Mark, Deborah is a good model and one who worked very hard during her week with us. But I would expect most professional models that cost a reasonable fee or from an agency to be able to accommodate a variety of poses and nuances. Working with professional models does make a huge difference on commercial shoots for obvious reasons as productivity is much higher.

    1. If you have a white background and your main lights and model are close to it then I’m afraid it will look an unpleasant dirty grey/white. If you are a long way from the white background (big studio/big background) then it will look mid grey and you can light a patch of it for a glow. Black backgrounds are obviously good if you want black and they can saturate coloured gels very well but in a defined area where the light hits. My recommendation is a mid to dark grey background in a smaller studio space.

  19. Hi Karl,

    do you retouch catchlights in the eyes?
    In this case: The catchlights of the tri-reflector are a bit “funky” for my personal taste.

  20. Hi Karl,

    At 6:19 you added a second light octabox on the model. Can we not use the Grids/ Hood to prevent light spilling from the Octabox to the background ?

    1. Hi Lightman, yes you can but grids on softboxes will increase contrast on your subject and make them less ‘soft’ so I avoid using them unless I have to.

  21. I do not have a tri-reflector as in the lesson. Can 2 smaller reflectors in an angle or a bigger one somewhat curved do an approx similar job?

    1. Yes but I definitely recommend investing in a tri-reflector if you can as they are more versatile for lighting under the chin and the sides of the face at various levels of brightness as each panel can be controlled independently.

      1. Thank you, Karl. Now I really hope Santa Claus see this. Because I have just invested in a Canon 5Ds (50Mp) and still have no ordinary studio. 🙂

    1. Hi Mohan, I know that the camera records the colours accurately so I don’t need to worry too much about the colour at the capture stage. I would only need to worry about it at the post processing or retouching stage when I wanted to change something. When I do my post process work I then move to my office where I use an Eizo color calibrated monitor.

  22. In commercial shoots do you work with model in similar way as shown in video or do you set it up with an assistant prior the model arrives?

    1. Hi, no I work in this way, you are paying the model so you take as long as you want to get the shot set right. It’s good practise to let the model know what you are doing and why and that you are just testing etc. If it was a client business portrait then I would do or the testing on an assistant.

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