Dramatic Single-Light Portrait With Harsh Shadows

Dynamic and dramatic, with a stunning silhouette – and all with just one light.

For this dramatic lighting setup, Karl and Urs deviate from the normal conventions of portrait photography as they set out to achieve a full-length portrait using a single light source.

Using a single, bare bulb from a low angle they show how it’s possible to execute precise control of a light with just a few simple accessories. Starting from the very beginning, the pair demonstrate each result as they tweak the shot until they reach the final, dramatic result below.

Starting in the large studio, they go on to demonstrate how the same results are perfectly achievable in a small studio too.

In this class:

  • Creative portraiture using a single light
  • How to create hard light using a single light source
  • How to control shadows
  • Shooting from a low angle and how to make it work
  • Creating soft shadows with a hard light source
  • Photographing in a small studio
  • How to control light in a small studio

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Pat Galupe

    Fantastic work with the hard light setup! I was wondering though if it’s possible to replicate the black box with a small reflector dish (4″) modifier to the light source + barn door attachment?

    1. Hi, I don’t think so as it is likely that too much light would escape from the unit that your overall illumination in the room would be too much.

  2. Micah Cox

    Class act breakdown, thank you. I am wondering if this same idea would work in open shade outside? Perhaps it would require far too much power unless it was dusk? Secondly, I wonder if it was full night time with little ambient light coming in would you struggle with too much contrast?

    1. Hi Miach, thank you, Urs did a great job on this one. In answer to your question 1. In open shade it might just be achievable as we can create a shadow from our key light but you’d probably need 3200J to acheive it so I think it would be difficult and getting towards evening would certainly help. 2. At full night time would be similar to doing the same shot in my studio but with all my walls painted black, the result would be no bounced light around the studio at all meaning all of the shadows cast my the model and the flags would be solid black. I hope this helps, all the best Karl.

  3. DBLClick

    Very Clever and something to think about in the studio. Just a quick question. Would I get a similar result with 30x30cm soft box without diffusion material ?

    1. Hi Joseph, no you wouldn’t because the softbox without the diffusion material is still a bigger (softer) light source than a bare bulb one. My first question is why don’t you just remove the softbox from your light source? The next thing would be to revisit these chapters if you haven’t seen it recently –

  4. Hi Karl,

    you mentioned about black curtains and I’ve got a question about it. We’re now preparing to build and equip a studio with 3 rectangular photo plans side by side, each around 6x10m (1 for packshots and 2 for ecommerce sessions with lively kids/models etc.), no windows on walls, only on the roof. And we want to separate each plan with curtains – what colour of the curtains do you suggest – black or white?
    We are of course working with flash lights, movable and lively models etc (you can see examples of our sessions in here https://shop.partydeco.pl/lang/en). I’m aware that with black curtains it would be easier to freeze motion and control flash, are there other things we have to think about?

    Thanks for your answer.

    1. Hi Karolina, if you use white curtains then you will need to be careful that they are solid so that the light from one area doesn’t affect or annoy the photographer in the next booth. White acts a big reflector which is sometimes useful and sometimes not depending on the lighting look. If it was me I’d’ create it with two rails so the photographers can choose black or white or have white as the base and plenty of black you can pin up when you need it.

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