Simulating Sun and Shadow With a Studio Light

Bring your creativity out of the shadows with this simple tutorial.

After demonstrating how to simulate sunlight using a single point light source, Karl builds on that and demonstrates how to creatively combine shadow and light to produce a stunning result. He shows you how to easily combine shadow and light in this single-light setup and shares some key tips for producing controlled shadows even in the smallest of studio spaces.

In this class:

  • Creative portraiture using one studio light
  • Working in a small studio
  • Controlling light in a small studio
  • The physics of light and how that influences shadow
  • How to create a sharp shadow from a large light source

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl

    I am very much enjoying the training.

    Two questions for you:
    1. Instead of using the curtains, could you have used two black v-flats or your two black poly boards to create a darker environment, or would you still have need a dark/black cover across the top.
    2. if you are in a darker studio space, would you have needed brighten the space or just need the white background. Our basement has gray walls so it can be darker, and I thought it would work, but would need the white backdrop to get the desired effect


    1. Hi Stephen, great to hear thanks.

      1. Yes anything that would have blocked light from bouncing off the studio walls would help but the problem would be that if they were too close then they might also case a shadow on your subject or background. The more black blockers you can get around and on top of your lighting set or on walls/ceilings then the more you will kill global illumination from stray light.
      2. In a grey studio where you wanted to simulate my first shot with white walls then you would have needed a second bare bulb light pointing away from you model so that it hit your walls and ceiling only but did not directly light your model, you then control the power of that light separately up and down until your whites/shadow fill look about right.

  2. Good tips working with a white room and you want to create shadows. If I rent a studio next year, I see if I can use the tips suggested in the video. Many thanks to you and your team.

  3. Hi Karl, great explanation. If I have not the possibility to add black panels, a grid could make the shadow stronger?

    1. Hi Luis, anything that stops light spilling and bouncing around your studios will make the shadows darker but a grid may cause you problems when trying to make the shadow across the body with the card because of diffraction at the point where the shadow is cast. You would have to test it and see.

  4. Hi Karl, one thing I’m learning about studio photography is that you need so much stuff!
    I’ve been puzzling about how to change the studio surrounds- I don’t have the option to paint it or change it too much in any way.
    As an alternative to building a cave with poly board, could you use background stands either side in addition to the rear one do you think? I’m just thinking that being tight for space, they could be packed away when not in use and it would give me the opportunity to use different coloured paper for future projects.
    Just wondering what your thoughts are on this and whether it would work?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Maxine, it sounds feasible but I’d say why not just lean big white boards against the walls you have? Maybe you have stuff in the way so in which case your idea sounds like the best solution, hopefully it leaves you with enough room.

    2. Hi Maxine,

      A good solution for you would be some additional light stands, clamp holders/reflector clamps and some large 5 in 1 collapsible reflectors. You could of course use background stands and extra sheets of paper or material but you will need more floor space for the footprint of the stands.

      It will all depend on how large of a set you need for the framing you want to shoot along with the lighting you are trying tore create.

      If you are tight on floor space you could also suspend reflectors or additional backgrounds from hooks in your ceiling if joists allow.

  5. hrachess

    Karl, thanks again for great and easy explanation! It will be very useful, if you could put the pictures settings as well.. like the final good ones, or just 1-2 comparing ones what F, ISO and shutterspeed they have… I know it’s probably a big amount of work every time to include those settings, but whenever is possible, please include that. Cause besides understanding the basics, especially connected with light, it’s useful to understand how camera reacts in different light setups. Like in this case you had a lot of ambient light, so I was wondering what was your shutterspeed and ISO? also your image looked very sharp and in focus, so I was wondering what was the F etc. ?
    I’m used to do a lot of white background product shots only with continuous led lights, which need different settings, and now slowly switching to flash/strobe lights it’s absolutely different. So those settings will be just an additional help to the basics and theories..
    Thanks in advance,

      1. hrachess

        Thanks Karl. F 16 makes sense to me. Cause I often shot with 100-400 (for portraits especially) and having hard time with F 4 or 5.6
        Also I was very curious in your outdoor shots course, when you were shooting with 82mm, the F was very wide open, like 1.8 or 2, how you were still able to get sharp images?? is it about that lens difference itself from zoom lenses? cause the physics does not change right? like 70mm is the same, doesn’t matter it’s 24-70 or 70-200 lens, if you put on 70mm. Or I’m wrong?

        1. Hi Hrach, the simple rule is that the longer the focal length (or the more magnification) then the less depth of field. So by the same rule the closer you are the less depth of field. In many of my natural light portrait shots the head of the person wasn’t filling the whole frame and I would be at f2.8 or similar which would be enough DOF with an 85mm or 70mm lens to achieve about 10-15cm of DOF which is plenty to keep the eyes and face sharp. But if I’d moved very close to the model, magnification is increasing so DOF would decrease.

  6. Hi Karl, Are ‘standard’ plain black curtains sufficient or would it need to be some sort of light absorbing type of fabric? Also I’m shooting in my apartment lounge so can’t put rails up so wondering if black poly boards would be good enough and how important would it be to do something with the ceiling (is around 2.4m high) to do a shot like this with the hard shadow?

    1. Hi Cameron, any black will absorb lots of light compared to white walls. Black velvet absorbs the most out of general fabrics available but we generally only need to use that if we want to get a good black background. Yes controlling the ceiling can be important to get darker shadows, if you follow the techniques in this video you will still get hard shadows even with the white ceiling because there is a directional light source, simply the shadows will be less dense because of the bounce from the ceiling.

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