One-Light Surround Lighting for Portraiture

Achieve multi-light results with just one light.

Based on the image below, you would be forgiven for mistaking this for a four-light setup. But it was achieved with just one! In this portrait photography class, Karl tries something new and demonstrates how to achieve a beautifully soft light with one light.

Photographing in a small studio he shows how we can control light and the best ways to modify a studio in order to achieve the best results.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography using one studio light
  • Photographing in a small studio
  • How to control light in a small studio
  • How to achieve soft light
  • Basic rim lighting setup
  • Camera settings for soft, angelic-style portraiture

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl,
    as always there is something new and specific in your videos. thanks a lot and I’m looking forward for new courses.

  2. Hi Karl! Always appreciate your tutorials. Now that might be a too simple a question, but I basically work only with Canon RT Speedlights…and not sure I want to put too much money into strobes…so is there a way I could get around this achieving a somewhat similar result as yours, which is beautiful, by the way…
    Thanks, and once more, KT Education is well above standards…I enjoy every minute of it and often go back to tutorials I’ve already seen and they’re always very useful.

    1. Hi, you could achieve a similar result to most of our tutorials with speedlites if you add a round dome on the end of the speedlite so that the light can escape in all directions like it does on a studio light.

    1. Hi Yes, but it would be more difficult as the light will graduate away in intensity from the source so lower down the body the light will be less if the light is in the same position as this tutorial.

  3. This can be done with natural light and sun as well, and a reflector – but doesn’t leave as much time to experiment – as the sun is moving around – especially in the evening.
    Amazing tutorials Karl, I love these. I’ve learned a ton already.

    How hard is it to find good looking models on Guernsey ?

    1. Hi Gregg, thank for your comments. There are a few models here that have worked previously with some of the big london agencies but most often we bring in models from london or elsewhere.

  4. Hi Karl, amazing shot with only 1 light. Not very clear what’s the power of the light that you use to create such effect but from your previous videos usually you use 800watt, is it possible to get the same result if the light that I have only have 200 watt max. Next question, instead of positioning the reflector close to the model, can we use a mirror or silver reflector? as they can bounce light more powerful than the white reflector?

    1. Hi Cipta, thank you. Yes you can use a lower power light, so for example a 200W is only 2 stops less than an 800 light. So if I was using it at 800 and you were using yours at 200 then you would only need to increase your ISO by 2 stops or open your aperture by two stops or one stop on the apeture and one on the ISO. Also it seems you are not quite understanding the physics of soft light, you would need to use white for this shot. Please refer to chapter 1 to understand why.

  5. Hi Karl, is it a combination of a hot light and a flash? Or is the flash also coming from the hot light unit? 🙂

    1. Hi Lance, the flash comes out of the hotlight unit, that’s how studio flashes work, jump back a few chapters for the explanation on studio flash etc.

  6. Hi Karl, I love this setup.

    I shoot with profoto B1 X lights so I don’t think it will work for me because the bulb doesn’t stick out as the flash you are using here.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Isaac, I know it is quite a while that you asked this question. Karl suggested an improvised solution. As you maybe noticed in the meanwhile, Profoto als offers a matt glas dome to replace the flat reflector glas of the B1 and D series strobes. I am also working with Profoto strobes and for some modifiers I use the glas dome instrad of the flat one. Greetings from Vienna

  7. Hello Karl,
    I have been watching the videos and taking in all of the little adjustments that you make to get just the right light to make your models look just as stunning as they do in the videos, and so I was also wondering if you shoot everything in raw and with the lowest ISO speed to get the best quality. Or do you make adjustments to the ISO speed for darker lit situations? As well, brilliant job on the instructions on the courses! I feel more adapt to be able to make the correct choices in taking my photos. So Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Jason, wherever possible I use the lowest or default ISO and always shoot in RAW. The studio lights usually have ample power to be able to shoot at low ISO.

      1. Good Day Karl,
        In regards to the ISO settings would I just start from say 100 and adjust accordingly when in studio? I’ve been going through the videos and just so happens that was on my mind when I saw this comment.

  8. well done karl great stuff as a means of education you show the different effects light has on the backgrounds from white to grey and using reflectors to bring light back on the subject well explained lenses used and distance the reflector have on bring back light

  9. I really like that look. I was surprised. Sort of an inverted beauty light look with a touch of shadow in front instead of key light. I tend to automatically think of lighting a dark environment as a starting point but not selectively darkening a bright ambient area instead. I guess it does tend to solve light diffusion cheaply to get soft low contrast lighting. Small rooms maybe can be useful. 🙂

    1. Hi Edward, half and half, if I can see the subject clearly because of plenty of modelling light or using a medium format camera then I often use manual on 35mm there are plenty of focus points to choose from for the right position in the frame so then I go AF.

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