Studio Business Portrait

Business portraits are a common job for many photographers and it’s always useful to have a few key lighting setups that you can refer to time and time again. In this series of business portrait photography courses, Karl shares his standard lighting setups that he frequently uses.

This first business portrait photography class utilises four lights and yields great results that are easy to repeat, even in a small studio.

Karl runs through each of the lights and explains the purpose of each. Starting with his background light, creating a gradient background (which you can learn more about here), he works his way forward until satisfied. He also explains how the setup could be adjusted for both male and female subjects and even adapted to a three light setup.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography: Business portraits
  • How to take business portraits using studio lights
  • Lighting setups for male and female business portraits
  • Lighting modifiers for business portraits
  • How to use multiple studio lights
  • How to photograph in a small studio
  • Camera settings for business portrait photography

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Peter

    Hello Karl,

    Love the class, very easily to follow and learn from. I was wondering what you would think if instead of using a large rectangular softbox on the side for the key light, I instead use a beauty dish(weather softbox or metal) up top to accentuate the shadows a little bit more and give a little bit more detail and sparkle in the photo. Would it look good for a business portrait or would you consider that a bit much and out of place? Is there a standard requirement for how business portraits are expected to be lit, or is it all personal preference?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi, it depends on the subject and age. A big broad softlight is more flattering on older people as it doesn’t reveal wrinkles as strongly. I’ve often used a beauty dish or a para 88 in conjunction with big broad soft lighting to add a bit of punch at the top on the face, so no problem using the two combined.

    1. Hi, in this class I’m using one big octa and a big rectangular but you could use two big octas instead.

    1. Hi, those were sheets of polished metal available from Metal workshops, also plastic suppliers do acrylic mirrors but these would be heavy. You can also buy polyboards with silver on them from Hardware/builders stores, they are used for insulating floors and walls.

      1. Thanks Karl. Will a 5 in 1 80x120cm Light Reflector Photography Diffuser Collapsible Oval with Handle Lighting work? Which has a silver side and I can clamp to a polyboard as an alternative.

  2. Hi Karl:

    Outstanding as always can you please tell me the name to the lesser tool you are using to measure to distance of the lights?

    1. Hi, thank you. There are many Laser measuring tools available from DIY/hardware stores, the brand I use is a Bosch one.

  3. Hi, the rim light is at the same power of key light if the model has her hair pulled up, and one more stop lower of key light if her hair is down. it’s correct?

    1. Hi, I have no idea because it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to assess it visually. For example if you set your rim light one stop higher but placed it further away than in my shoot then it would not be the same anyway as the distance of the light has a huge impact on the power. The only thing that should be checked is the ‘look’ of the light; is it doing what you want it to do visually and then make a decision whether you need to turn it up, turn it down or move it. This class is a great example of visual control with rim lighting too:

  4. Hi Karl

    I Just got done watching the video on Studio Business Portraits. As always it was very informative and engaging. I have two question. Frist, I notice that the background light is about 9ft away from the subject. As I have limited space, I may have about 3ft or so to play with. How would it effect the shot? Second I have a 5ft Oct, along with a 16×48 strip box, but my biggest sox box is 41×37. However I do have a 51in shoot though umbrella, and a 65in sliver with diffusion sock. My question is then could I use one of these in place of the 120×180? As always GREAT classes.

    Greg K.

    1. Hi Gregk, I will do my best to answer each of your points below:
      1. Less distance to background means that your main subject lights will also illuminate your background more so you won’t be able to get as good vignette.
      2. Yes you could use one of these (or two) to replace the 120×180. If the physical size and softness is similar then the results will be similar. Also remember that the size of the light source is from the subject perspective, so if the light is closer to the subject it will be bigger, it will also then have less affect on the background because of the inverse square law.

  5. HI Karl thanks for your great video.
    I’m photographing portrait for the first time.
    Thanks to your great video i got the understanding from lighting perspective.
    However i still confuse about camera angle.

    On your video, i found out you’re shooting on eye level and a lil bit above eye level for medium close up/close up shot and you tilt down a bit.

    my question is if i’m shooting medium full shot/full shot body, where should i place the camera? some people suggest the camera is on the waist level and postion flat (no tilt up/down) to avoid some part of body pop out? How is your opinion on this?

    Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Ryan, thank you. Yes on full length portraits I drop down to about chest height as the shooting height otherwise you can make your subjects look too short. In fashion we often drop lower to waist height to make the model look more powerful and imposing but that isn’t really suited to business portraits. One key factor though is your shooting distance and your background and whether you need to shoot full length at all. Often cutting off at the knees or shins is perfectly enough for a ‘full length’ portrait and you will find shooting from your subjects chest height will work well.

      1. HI Karl Thx for the super fast reply i appreciate it a lot 🙂
        one more thing i need to make sure when i drop my camera level to chest height do i keep my camera flat or should i tilt up toward the face?
        assuming the other factor such as focal length is following your suggestion at 85mm

        1. Hi Ryans, it is best to keep it relatively flat if you can but this will depend on your shooting distance and lens choice.

  6. I have been taught that a fill light should go on the lens access and that placing a fill light on the side could cause cross shadows. I was wondering what your opinion of this is?

    Is there a technical reason for the placements or just different lighting preferences?

    Thank you for any input.

    Watching your classes I find my thought patterns expanding, as to why we do things the way we do.

    1. Hi Kevin, a fill light can go where ever it needs to go, the size of the fill light and the power of it will dictate if it casts and shadows. As you will see in many of my fashion classes I have multiple lights or various types of global fill and none of them create additional shadows they simply control how much light is in the main shadow.

  7. I am glad you have a huge selection of courses I can study for my social media. Maybe next year in the studio I will ask the studio owner to set up a light in the back for my practice fashion jewelry photography with a model and do some light video in the cyclorama (White Background space) also. Presently, interested in more advanced photography which I can use with the various entry-level cameras I have.

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