V-Flat Full-Length

You’ll be amazed what you can do with the simplest kit.

Using three studio lights, Karl demonstrates a number of creative lighting setups using basic equipment.

This photography class shows you a clever way to use poly-boards and bare-bulb lights as Karl demonstrates a V-flat lighting setup that can be used to create stunning, soft lighting, ideal for flattering three-quarter and full-length shots.

In this class:

  • Portrait photography: How to take three-quarter-length portrait photos
  • How to balance multiple studio lights
  • Broad soft light for three quarter and full length images
  • How to create your own ‘softbox’
  • Studio lighting power ratios

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Gary Stasiuk

    Hey Karl, I have a gig in a few days photographing a music awards show, on location. There will be a space set up where the winners will come down to get some portraits done. The only difference from this shoot is the background, which will be a pattern, busy, with the event name, repeated and somewhat colourful. It is what it is. I was thinking of using a version of this set up.. one or two lights on the background depending on what that looks like, plus likely two scrim rolls, one left and right, kind of imitating a key and fill such as you have used here. I’ll need to shoot a mix of waist up and full length or 3/4 shots. The one wild card is the shots could be groups of people.. likely 80% will be 1 or 2 people, but the potential of 4-5 people might happen.. depends who wins. I would like to create a setup where there is directional light (key and fill) plus no casting shadows on the background (they set me a past example with that happening). I thought about using umbrellas or a big softbox, but this setup seems to offer control and isolation of subject, yet full length directional softness. What would you suggest for the situation? The people could also be a myriad of ages.. likely few with perfect skin. I was thinking slight hard edginess, yet big softness so no one looks too harsh. Could some hard light be added to the key side to add a little focus to head? Like an addition gridded light. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Gary, If you’re likely to have group shots and they don’t want shadows on the background then the physics say you need a large light high up above/behind you pointing 45 degrees down at them. That would then mean the shadow would be lower down and if the light was far enough away then inverse square law would mean that exposure across a group would be manageable, however the problem is this would require a very big light or several medium lights from above like in this set up: https://visualeducation.com/class/studio-lighting-setups-portraits-four-light-49/ A scrim either side would give you side lighting and a fill light but they would have to be more or less even on a group of 4 or 5 and they would probably look a bit flat. You can still make it work with 2 scrims but I think the light should be more from above for this type of shot and 3 or 4 large silver umbrellas as in the example above would be a better solution in terms of shadow direction, even balance across a group and a more punchy light.

      1. Gary Stasiuk

        I think I can manage with the two 1M silver umbrellas I have.. which are not focus.. lower grade stuff.. plus I have several white umbrellas, which I can use for the top back hair light. Can I use a mix of silver and white umbrellas across the top front.. to create a trio? I would imagine that would give me a mix of soft and hard light. I will need to push the lights as high as I can go.. luckily the room has 10ft ceilings and rely on that top down lighting to create some sculpting. I noticed in the other video that you didn’t add anything extra on the background.. the lights and person distance are the control features to lighting the background. You are using the inverse square law to light the person and let the fall off light the background enough, but more subdued. I suppose I could add extra light for the background. I have the lights and power.. overkill?

        1. Hi Gary, mixing your umbrellas is fine as long as you get a good even spread of light for your groups so you’ll need to test each one individually as the output level from a white will be different to a silver. A hair light from behind could work if it’s wide enough for your groups and a background light is up to you depending on the background.

          1. Gary Stasiuk

            Thanks Karl.. I swung into town and found a third silver umbrella.. found a used one for $25.. thought I would make my life a little easier. I decided to try a horizontal strip softbox on the rear hair highlight to cover any width issue for a group. I was worried I might get lens flair if I used a white umbrella pointed back at the camera. I’ll post some results in the Facebook forum afterwards. Hoping to get some interesting portraits.

  2. Thanks Karl for your reply and the link to this video.. I might do some portraits for some TV presenters, there will be males and females but I know I shouldn’t make them look like models.. They must come out as they look on TV
    Thanks again

  3. Hello karl

    is V-flat’s angle and how much open it is important to shaping light?
    and how to judge it?

  4. Hello Karl. I must first say I admire your work and the way you are solving the problems we face in photography. Hopefully you have a solution for mine.
    I am a real estate photographer and of my clients asked me kindly to do a portrait session for their staff. All women and mostly all with glasses 🤓. This doesn’t end here. They want the background color a light purple as the company color and logo. And they have all black t-shirts. It must be done on location. For me this is a little bit challenging because I don’t photograph people. Anyway my biggest concern is the background. I am thinking at two possibilities. 1. shoot them on a grey background and do the rest in post. 2. Gel the background light and see if there is any spill on the subject. They are limited with the space. I would much appreciate if you would answer my question. Thank you for your time. Stay healthy.. we need you 😉

    1. Hi Radu, I’ve copied your comment below to make it easier to answer them properly, you will find my answer below each part:

      ‘ am a real estate photographer and of my clients asked me kindly to do a portrait session for their staff. All women and mostly all with glasses 🤓.’
      OK the first thing you should be asking yourself is if you are going to do a good job on this for them or are you going to giving them work they are not satisfied with? If you’re not sure then it’s better to be honest and either wait until you’ve had practise in this area with people and through using our training to upskill yourself. If they think you’re going to do a good job it’s because they just assume you can, but if you deliver a bad job on this could it cost you your real estate photography with them?

      ‘They want the background color a light purple as the company color and logo. And they have all black t-shirts. It must be done on location. For me this is a little bit challenging because I don’t photograph people.’
      Yes there are some challenges with that.

      ‘my biggest concern is the background. I am thinking at two possibilities. 1. shoot them on a grey background and do the rest in post.’
      Why grey and not a green screen or white? As they’d have to be cut out anyway? Or why not just order a roll of the correct colour purple which would be my choice?

      ‘Gel the background light and see if there is any spill on the subject. They are limited with the space.’
      Gelling the background light requires the right colour gel and more than one background light for that to work and if you are in a small space you are already up against it.

      ‘They are limited with the space. I would much appreciate if you would answer my question. Thank you for your time. Stay healthy.. we need you’
      Thank you for your comments but I’m going to be honest here: If this were a client of mine requesting the same shoot I would be the one laying down the rules and requirements of the shoot, for example you say ‘limited space’? If the space was too limited for me I’d simply say to the client that if you want the job done properly then this is how it needs to be done and this is where it needs to be done and that’s the end of it. The client will thank you for it based on the better results that they are going to receive. It is wrong to approach the project always from what the client wants, it’s like saying to your dentist I want you to replace my teeth but I need you to do it with a spoon in my kitchen because I’m not leaving the house. Professional jobs need a professional approach or it won’t be a professional job. Based on everything you’ve told me I can see that the outcome of this is going to be stress for you, not a high rate of pay (if it were they would be happy to shoot elsewhere) and likely going to be a substandard result, as such you may loose out on future work. This may be tough to hear but my advise is you have to be confident that you can do it to be able to actually do it. When a client proposes a project to me I would know based on the parameters of the project if it was going to be successful or not and then I would advise accordingly, if they were to say we don’t want to do it that way or we don’t have the budget for that but we still want to go ahead then I would politely decline the project so they knew I was serious that it couldn’t be done well under such constraints. I hope this helps even if it’s not what you wanted to hear.

      1. Hi Karl, first let me thank you for the explicit solution to the problem. Yout took some time for me. it counts. I always apreciate honesty, especially from someone who has something to say and has a vast knowledge in this domain. This is exactly what I wanted to hear.
        After reading your opinion, I ve contacted my client and suggested that they should hire someone else for the job but they refused, implying that all photographers they ve contacted are booked for the 13 th November. The truth is it s a very small Town. They also said i have 3 hours to do this. I am thinking they don`t want to pay, in full, another portrait photographer because i will be anyway there photographing the entire building for two days . It doesn t matter i will take on this project. I ll take a white background which i already have, two big 150 cm white umbrellas (not shoot through) two 7“reflectors and 4 monolights. I don t own any softboxes, stripboxes because they have no place in my work. I ve already informed them that this is not my niche and they understood. They need the photos for their website and to hang them on the wall in the hallway.
        Ps: or they thought i ve charged them too much for the arhitecture shoot 🙂 and now they want a little more for me. I ll let you now once I have their feedback after the result. Thanks again for everything. I remain open to any suggestion or advice.

      2. Hi Karl. I was just scrolling through the courses, and I came across this comment. I wanted to let you know that I did a good job on the Portraits session. I took two 180 cm umbrellas ,with diffusion on top with me and I photographed all of them on a white background as you suggested. It turned out great, the client was happy. As for the light purple color I outsourced the cut outs overseas and then I just did a background color replacement in Photoshop. I m still a big fan of your way of explaining light. I hope you are all well. Cheers, Radu.

  5. Hello Karl, First let me say i cant stop watching and learning. Thank you. My question is this. On the final image, the background light at the lower leg seems to be a spill from the scrim i believe. is this intentional? To me it looks like 2 balls of light instead of the soft fade of the main background light. Keep up the great work My head is exploding with knowledge that i am gaining. Brian

    1. Hi Brian and thank you. Yes that is light from the scrim, it could possibly have been reduced by placing a black ‘flag’ in the lower area but I didn’t concern me at the time and I thought it looked OK.

  6. Charliestephens

    Hi Karl, would a120 DEGREE REFLECTOR on the main light better control/eliminate spill from the main light (currently bare bulb) to the back ground, I would think you would not see the bulb from the background, in addition create a more even spread on the reflector board for the main light?
    (BY THE WAY loving your stuff!)

  7. Karl. For shooting full-length shots, similar to this, what F-stop would you recommend shooting at to assure that not only the eyes are pin sharp, but also the dress too for shooting wedding/ball gown dresses for ‘stock’ image shots where you need all the detail in the dress to also be pin sharp?

    Would be using a 24-70 Canon L series F2.8 lens at the 70mm end.

    1. Hi Nigel, I always start with f11 as it’s a good sweetspot in most lenses and then zoom in on the file take a look around and go from there. The focal length of the lens also has a bearing as wider angle lenses naturally have a greater depth of field, also your shooting distance and angle of view. For example if you are shooting mid height of your model from further away with a short telephoto and your camera is perfectly parallel to the vertical (model) then she/he will be on the same plane as the focus runs.

        1. Thank you for the detailed answer, that all makes sense and that’s how I’m going to try and work my shoots from now on.

      1. Karl. I’d like to pick your brains just a tad more on this.

        Fairly straight forward question but I’m having a tad of trouble with exposure on this one. I’m using two silver-lined umbrellas at the front for key and fill, both set to same power, I don’t have v-flat pollyboards.

        I know you don’t use flash meters, but bear with me here.

        In a studio environment with a key and fill light (both 500 watt monoblocks) I have key light set at f5.6 after taking a flash meter reading for given shutter speed of 1/160th second.

        I put in fill light and, in this instance, I want the ratio to be the same i.e. f5.6 also. So both heads are set to half power and are at the same 45 degree axis either side of camera and the same distance from the model and both giving a reading (when taken individually while the other is turned off) of f5.6.

        So, individually, they both give a flash meter reading of f5.6, but when they are both turned on at the same time and I take another flash meter reading from the centre of the subjects face just below the chin I get f8, which stands to reason as some of the light from each will be spilling onto the other side of the face also.

        So, what f-stop should I be setting my camera to? If, I were to have the fill light set to take a flash reading of f2.8 i.e. two stops lower than the key light at f5.6, I’d be setting my camera to f5.6, right, ignoring the lesser power of the fill light? So that would suggest that both heads set to f5.6, individually, would also suggest that I set the camera to f5.6 also, correct?

        I’m asking because if I set my camera to f8, the reading I get when both flashes fire into the flash meter, the images seem about a stop or so under exposed. At F5.6 they seem about half a stop over exposed. My computer monitor is calibrated and I’ve checked them on two different Mac computers.

        What’s the school of thought on this, with two lights set at the same distance at the same power and both, individually, give a flash meter reading of f5.6, but both together give f8, which of these two f-stops do I set camera to?

        1. Hi Nigel, this one is a bit of a head spinner as it is very far removed from the way I work. First of all if you are saying your monitor is calibrated then you have to go with what you see and what the histogram says rather than any specificaitons of the light or the readings on the light meter. Some lights claim X power output only to find the same spec light doesn’t put out the same etc etc but. There are so many variables here with light spill light bouncing off the floor, a closer wall, etc etc that you’d have to scientifically rule out any such variables too. You also have to consider additional modelling lights (especially if they are bright ones). In theory if you have one light and you add another at the same power then you’d have to close the aperture by one stop as you would have doubled the amount of light. If you have two lights and you added two more you would also have doubled the amount of light so you would have to close the aperture by one stop. But of course this all varies with the direction of the light, the modifier on the light and the earlier variables I mentioned. I think it’s very important for you to stop thinking about ratios, measurements and instead pre-visualise the result you want to achieve. Even if you are looking at another photographers image as an example simply study it and determine what you are seeing. Add your first light or set of lights and determine if they visually match what you want based on the aperture that you want to shoot at. For example you may have pre-determined that you want F8 because of the DOF creative look. So stick with that and bring the lights to match that, then add your next lights and adjust just the lights to suit, adding new lights will of course increase exposure in a new area and they can even add exposure to the other lights because they can bounce off the modifiers of the first lights. But ultimately just look at what’s happening by adding one light at a time and even turning the first lights off while you look at the second or third light so you can totally determine what they are doing independently from the first ones. If for example the lights are too bright for f8 then you’d have to look at lowering ISO or moving lights further away or applying ND filters to the lens. 95% of the time I’ve determined my aperture before I start and then everything is adjusted to match that and not the other way around. It’s all done visually and as you will experience in many of my live show replays and courses that’s how I create the images I create.

  8. Karl at around the 9:30 min make you were dealing with bare bulb spilling onto the back ground. You had brought in a poly board to flag the light from spilling. Would it still work if a smaller flag was attached at the light source? Basically if you do not see the bare bulb from the back ground that should solve the light spill problem correct?

    1. Hi Geoff, yes that would work to. As long as the same amount of light was reaching the V-flat then I can’t see why not.

    1. Hi Michael, all of the equipment that I use for each shoot is listed on the lower right of each page below the video. Cheers Karl.

  9. Good video to understand, step by step, the meaning of balancing the light, as you gradually choose the main one you want.

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