Simulating Sunlight With a Studio Light

All it takes is a bare bulb and some know-how.

Discover how to achieve stunning portraits like this one with just one light – even if you’re working in a small studio.

Watch Karl use a bare bulb to simulate sunlight, demonstrating how to soften a hard light source to achieve pleasing effects evoking both harsh and hazy sunlight.

In this photography class:

  • How to shoot creative portraiture using a single point light source
  • How to soften a hard light source
  • Photography in a small studio
  • How to control light in a small space
  • Controlling shadows with directional light


  1. Karl, if I would like to simulate Holden hour using this method should I try a bare flash further away with gel on, or would you advise diffusing the light somehow (diffusion material etc)Thanks!

  2. Hi Karl, what is your reason for standing on the chair? I guess something to do with height of the camera in relation to the model. Should the lens be in line with her eyes? Many thanks and look forward to hearing from you.

    1. Hi Gavin, yes that is correct I was looking for eyeline or slightly above. However in a more dynamic fashion shoot (as you will see in other classes here) I will choose to shoot from low down to make the model look more powerful.

  3. Gary Stasiuk

    I’m curious if the choice of having the model wearing white came into play to help the outcome. If introducing colours or say a black or dark top, which would emphasize the contrast of a bare bulb set up, and create a more difficult scenario? The bounce and fill of the white room was amazing, because I wouldn’t think this would normally be an acceptable approach, but having the white on white seems to make it more magical. If the subject had more built in contrast, does that become an issue?

    1. I dont think the problem is the studio size – I think the problem is that the light affects the background. We want to be able to set our background and keep the background the same when we introduce the strobe. I will try the inverse square law but I think its more the direction of the light. If your light is infront of the model – I think it will affect the background.

  4. I can only find tracing paper (diffuser) in the 36” length. Where do you get you diffuser paper from? I’d like to buy some and make a few different scrims. I am currently using homemade scrims made out of Rip-stop Nylon. The paper diffuser seems like it might be better to use.

      1. Amazing per usual. Time is never wasted watching Karl Taylor Education. I would like to try to use this method to fake sunset light. Would you advise using a bare flash far away with orange gel or would you diffuse the light somehow for a more flattering look?

        1. Hi Dill, yes barebulb lighting is still suitable for sunset but as you say you would need to warm that with an orange/yellow gel. Also remember that sunlight at sunset/sunrise is cutting through more atmosphere so often is a little diffused. You will see at 14:12 in this video how to do that. Cheers Karl.

  5. I am working in a small space in my unfinished basement and I do not have white walls to help bounce light. Is there any other way to help control the lighting? In other words, is it possible to achieve ideal lighting for portraits in a small space with unfinished walls?

    1. Hi, I’d recommend getting white walls, either painting the space or obtaining some foam board panels or polyboards, these are mainstays of portrait work. You really need to take a look at ‘Lighting Theory’ sections to appreciate the workings of light which will help you understand what you might need. If your space is small then I still recommend it to be white but as I advise in many of our courses, when working in a small space you sometimes don’t want the light bouncing off of the white walls so you also need a way to control it with black polyboards or black curtains that can be drawn over the walls. Let me know if you have further questions but please do take a look at the first few chapters of the “Lighting Theory’ section. All the best Karl.

  6. Hi Karl, this is Dara from Cambodia. Love your detail tutorial. I’ve been working as freelancer/wedding/event and this is my very first time taking your class. Due to Covid-19 is also a perfect chance to upgrade my studio skill and also lighting skill. I hope u will do tutorial with CaptureOne and mirrorless cameras pretty soon.

  7. Hi Karl, there is no college for me this year due to Covid so I am going to work my way through your tutorials.
    In this shoot it looks like there is also some ambient light involved?
    With the studio I am using, I try to block out all light and just rely on the flash output. Am I wrong to do this? I’m trying to figure out if I could get the light bright enough to simulate sunshine, if the room is completely blacked out to start with?
    Do you need to block off all natural light so that you have full control ?
    Hope this question makes sense.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Maxine, there is no ambient light in this shot, if there was any it would only be a small amount from the modelling lamp but I doubt it. I try to block all natural or ambient light when working in a controlled studio environment. I only allow ambient light in with flash when doing environmental portraits or fashion on location as these need to have that atmosphere blended in the shot.

  8. I duplicated your shots with an Alien Bee light and then a speedlight and I couldn’t believe the difference between them. The shadows in the corresponding speedlight shots were much darker. I see several several factors contributing to the difference.

    May I suggest that viewers replicate your setups with the gear that they have and will be using. In the past I have mixed my studio flashes with speedlights and thought they were interchangeable. Oops. Maybe not?

    1. Hi, the key difference is that light doesn’t come out sideways from a speedlite which of course will mean less bounce around the space you are working in and therefore darker shadows.

  9. Hi again 🙂
    I have a question…
    How do I balance the light of a modeling lamp and the light of the flash? Can I shoot without the light of the flash/just with the modeling lamp? What’s the main advantage of the flash in such a case (like the one above)?
    Thank you so much

    1. Hi HC, with flash photography using a studio light the modelling lamp has little impact on the overall exposure. There are the odd occassion if you are shooting at a wide aperture that it has an impact so I turn it off or put it on low. To check simply take a test shot without your flash trigger.

  10. Dear Karl,

    I am a passionate photographer from India, I am following you from quite a long time on youtube, and recently purchased your course, it has many things to learn & I am enjoying it too.

    I wanted to start my own Studio to earn some additional income. – need your suggestion on what all courses I should follow to become a better Product and Food Photographer?
    I purchased One Godox AD 200 light, and stand, I have Canon 600D camera and planning to buy full-frame in the coming two months. As per the budget, I will be buying Canon EOS R.

    Please share your suggestions & Guide me the flow of your course to become a product photographer

      1. Thank you Karl for the quick response, Surely I will go through your suggestion and will get back to you.

  11. Hi Karl
    I noticed/feel that you shoot slightly above eye level of the model. Do you shoot at eye level or above? Which one is recommended?
    Thx in advance

    1. Hi Jayasree, nothing is set in stone. It depends on the model, the mood, the background, the style of shot but mostly I shoot at eye level or slightly above.

  12. Hi Mr. Karl,

    I would like to thank you for the informative lighting lessons and would like to ask about if painting my home studio walls (Grey) to prevent reflections and depend only on lights and modifiers, reflectors,.. etc for better control of light direction!!!
    I was thinking in that before watching this lesson, so is it good to keep on my idea or switch my plan to pure white paint?!!

    1. Hi, As you will see later in this course you could go black/grey but personally I would prefer the versatility of having white but having curtains that I can pull over the white walls with black material.

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