Portrait Beauty Lighting With One Light

Add a touch of beauty to your portraits – no extra lights needed.

This portrait photography class follows closely from the previous chapter, where Karl demonstrated how to achieve a bold but soft effect, ideal for fashion or catalogue shots.

In this chapter, he builds on this, showing you how to modify the setup for more beauty-style images. Starting with just a simple modifier on a single light, Karl reveals the all-important accessory needed to bring this image to life and create a more flattering light.

To show the importance of this accessory, he shows clear comparisons with and without it and how it can elevate and enhance the original fashion-style image to the eye-catching beauty images that are the final results.

In this class:

  • Beauty photography using a single light
  • Lighting setups for beauty photography
  • How to soften shadows for stunning beauty images
  • Lighting setup modifications and the effect
  • Visual comparisons between different reflectors


  1. the Octabox cm150 inner diffusion layer has an added round layer of diffusion in the middle. Is the the large softbox 120 x 180cm and softbox 30 x 180 cm constructed the same way?

    1. Hi, no the others are not because the difussion material is further away from the bulb so it spreads better. In the Octabox 150 the inner diffusion is quite close to the bulb so hence the extra circle of difussion.

  2. Hi Karl, thanks for your reply yesterday. I have another quick question, I’ve been trying to source a 70cm silver beauty dish but I’ve been doing some measurements in my studio and my ceiling is really low, only 2m high! My studio is a small single garage conversion, only around 3.6m wide x 4.8m long and 2m high. With the 55cm I have already I’m unable to get the base of it above my own height so does this mean a 70cm would be unworkable or if I get one could I only use it while my subjects are sitting down? Thanks

    1. Hi Lindy, yes a low ceiling would be a problem as the correct position for a beauty dish is at 45 degrees pointing down at your subject with the photographer shooting from underneath it ( you will see this in our beauty dish classes) this means the beauty dish is used often directly above the photographer. I’ve just measured and it seems to me you would need 2.4m to use a 70cm dish properly. On that basis if your seated person is 40cm less then you should get away with it for someone seated but you may have to consider the extra bounce of light you would get from the ceiling being close and to compensate I would use a peice of black foam board velcro’d to the ceiling or a patch of ceiling that is painted black.

      1. Do you mean 40cm less from the centre of the light on a diagonal angle to the subject or 40cm directly down from the base of the light in terms of height? If it’s diagonal to the subject I might be ok but otherwise think I’d be really pushing it as it’s already just over that when I measure directly down with the 55cm one on. Thanks

        1. Hi Lindy, I’m not sure what you mean. What I was thinking is that the 70cm could work in a room 2.4m high for a standing person because the bottom of my dish would be just level with about the top of their head. You said your room was 40cm lower than this at 2m so if the person was seated then would they be 40cm lower than standing, if they were then it could work.

          1. Ok thanks, I’ll give it a go and see how I get on, cheers. I’ll let you know how I get on 😀👍

  3. Hi Karl, I’m looking to use more punchy lighting for older kids and teenagers portraits and I’m interested in using the beauty dish for these with the tri reflector. Would the silver tri reflector be too harsh for this age group or would white be better and do you need to use a smaller beauty dish for younger people? At the moment I’ve got a 42cm and 55cm white ones. Also, would a silver beauty dish be too harsh for this age group or does it not matter too much. Thanks and really enjoying your classes 🙂

    1. Hi, a find a bigger silver beauty dish is the better option. The increase size produces the softer version of light but the silver beauty dish still gives three dimensionality and sparkle. Young people can also handle harsher light much better than older people with wrinkles! A silver tri-reflector is also better because if you want it white you simply rest a large piece of white foam-board on top of it. My silver beauty dish is 70cm diameter.

    2. Do you mean 40cm less on a diagonal from the centre of the light ie where the deflector is in relation to the subject or 40cm directly down from the base of the light? I think I’ll be really pushing it as the distance directly below for a person sitting is already only just over that with the 55cm one mounted but if it’s diagonally below from the centre of the light it might be workable.

  4. hi Karl , I just tried this with almost same set up for practice, but I notice the color I have is quite different , its a bit like in this video shooting part color. but when u open the photo from LR, the bg is no longer white, its not grey, its a little soft yellow and greenish I feel? what part I did may went wrong?

  5. one of the best courses! i learned alot in the previous lessons! excited and eager to learn more and apply that in modeling and fashion photography! thanks a million Karl!

  6. Good refresher course. The Canon camera quality of portrait looks good. I have to ask if the have tri reflector in rental studio if I do headshot with Fashion Jewelry.

  7. Gary Stasiuk

    The tri-reflector… amazing results with a youthful beautiful face. Is this also a type a lighting that works wonders with older more wrinkled faces?

    1. Hi Gary, with an Octabox 150 or similar and the trireflector yes but if the top light is too small then the contrast is too high and the wrinkles show up too much.

      1. Gary Stasiuk

        That is good to know.. I have an octobox but only a 90..perhaps a bit small.. I have a softbox around a 150×90.. I assume I could come close with the large softbox. Can hardly wait for the pandemic to ease back so portraits can become a more regular occurrence.

  8. Hi Karl, how do you get the focus sharp in the eye while she is moving her head a lot ? Do you focus and recompose or do you move the focus point in the camera?

    1. Hi Mada, I often use manual focus and then simply move my body back or forwards until my subject comes into focus. This is from many years experience working with manual only focus cameras back in the days of film. If i’m using autofocus I’ll usually select one of the focus points off to the side and then lock that onto an eye. With some of the modern Sony cameras they now have ‘eye tracking and lock’ focus which is very impressive it keeps them in focus automatically.

  9. Hi Karl,
    I am a new member and I start with this one light course. You are a very good teacher and it is the first time I hear so many details and explanations on each setup and tool. very useful to understand light…
    In this beauty lighting setup, did you see an improvement using the new eyelighter instead of triflector. I have read the shape in iris and the lighting are better.
    with the big foam you are using instead the triflector (and previous lesson to replace polyboard), is this a matte/satin foam or reflective one ? i noticed a reflection of her trouser below the foam indicating it s a reflective one.
    are you shooting in AF-S single point ? Are you shooting with AF-ON back button focus ? does your camera have an eye detection ?

    best regards

    1. Hi Marc, thanks – don’t get obsessed by details and ‘tips’ you here from many ‘experts’ out there that have little or no bearing on the final result. The focus is always on the overall lighting, mood, story, styling. When photographers get lost in overly concentrating on all these minor insignificant details they lose sight of the bigger picture and what you are trying to say with the image. Many of the worlds top portrait photographers often just have one light and white shine through umbrella and they focus on the ‘moment’ the character of the subject and the styling because they know full well that that is what matters. In answer to your questions ‘improvement’ is the wrong word, it would simply look different and softer because the new reflector is less specular and more diffused. Yes the highlight in the eye might change but the reflector isn’t being used for the highlight in the eye and this can easily be changed in post. It was white foam board which you will see me use many times it’s white, matt. I’m most often shooting in manual focus, I’ve never used the back focus button I wouldn’t even know how to set it up or care. If I’m in AF i’ve most likely selected a focus point and using AF-S single point. But again this is all minor and often irrelevant stuff, if you get overwhelmed with all of the pedantic’s of photography you will end up going down the wrong path. Focus on the craft of lighting that I teach on this platform and why lighting is used a certain way to create a certain mood or feeling. All the best Karl.

  10. Hi Karl. More great content! can I ask if you have a preference for the number of catchlights? As here you have 3 from the tri-reflector and a 4th from the Octobox. Is it just what you think looks best for the shot, or do you set out intending to capture a certain look with the catchlights? And if so, would you ever do any post work to dull them or lift them?

  11. Hi Karl,

    I have question regarding the clothes from the model. I noticed that when you where in front of the tri-reflector the reflection on your face was silver, but when Deborah stood in front of the reflector it had some gold flair due the reflection from the top she was wearing. Do you take that into account when you are shooting. I can imagine that sometimes those reflection can be a nice addition and sometimes it can be disturbing. Is there a way of dealing with unwanted reflection due to clothes or props that need to be in the shot? Or for example in this case with Deborah, could you add a gel to the light to mask the gold glow ?

    1. Hi Phil, adding a gel to the light would likely increase the problems in this case. If the bounce back of gold from the clothes to the reflector to her face were severe enough to be a big problem then the better and alternative is to consider what is the reflector doing – it’s simply bouncing fill light back into the shadows – so I’d replace it with something like a 90×120 softbox and light on a very low power into the shadows instead and then the problem of the gold bouncing off would be gone as the surface material of the softbox is too diffused to have any issues compared to a silver reflector.

  12. Hi Karl,

    Nice tutorial indeed. Lot to learn from you 🙂 I assume you must have lots of images stored while going for a photoshoot. What do you do in terms of management of those? Do you select some for post production and delete the rest? Or you keep them all for future reference?


    1. Hi, I select one or two for post production. The rest get deleted or just backed up on drives.

  13. Hi Karl,

    I’m looking to buy a Tri-reflector or Curved reflector for beauty. I like the round catchlights in the eyes from the curved reflector, but I’m wondering if this would lead to a flatter, less dimensional look on the sides of the face (there no panels to adjust on these).

    Do you see any disadvantages to the curved reflector, particularly for broader faces?

    P.s. Just joined and I’ve learned so much already. Thank you!


    1. Hi, thank you for your comments. I think the 3 separate panels are best as you can angle each one accordingly to better control the light.

  14. Hi Karl , I only have a soft box can I get the same result positioning the soft box 45 deg above the model ? I thought that to get a soft light than contour the face, jaws and get tridimensionality was mandatory the beauty dish (that I don’t have ) or to get this result the important is to get the light source 45 degrees above the model and the reflector in front of her ?

    the Other question is in the video you use an Octobox,..not a beauty dish nor beauty dish soft box…why ?

    thanks in advance for your time to answer, so I need to decide if with my zero budget should I invest or not in a beauty dish / beauty soft box


    Maria Angelica

  15. Hi,

    If we don’t have a high ceiling for the softbox, can we bounce the light off the ceiling to create a top light? Or does the ceiling bounce throw too might light around in a small, white space? Thanks, Mandy

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