Stunning Soft and Contoured Lighting

Learn the simple lighting techniques behind these stunning portraits.

Creating soft, flattering lighting for portrait photography couldn’t be easier. In this portrait photography class, Karl shows you how to create a beautiful contoured lighting effect using just two lights.

In this class:

  • How to use softboxes for portrait photography
  • How to create soft light using studio lights
  • Two-light setup ideas for portrait photography
  • How to use reflectors to create additional fill light and control shadows
  • How to control light in a small studio

I used two large softboxes for this shoot, knowing I wanted to create a soft, flattering lighting. Although softboxes are renowned for producing soft lighting, this only works when they’re used in the correct position.

I started by placing a softbox either side of my model, angled inwards. Placing them in such a way allowed me not only to control the contouring on the model’s face, but also the amount of light that spilled onto the background.

Lighting setups for portraiture

By changing the angle of the light, I could control how much light hit my model and background.

For this shoot we were working in a small studio, which meant there was a lot of light bouncing around. To control the light in a small studio, I recommend darkening your walls and ceiling when needed. This can be done by having dark material covering the walls (such as curtains or drapes) or by simply painting the walls (as we’d done for this shoot).

Small studio, photography

It’s important to control your light when working in a small studio.

Limited to only two lights, I decided to use a reflector to soften the shadows and add some extra light on the left side of the model’s face. I tried a white fill card and silver reflector to see which result I preferred, eventually opting for the softer white reflector.

Portrait photography with reflectors

A comparison of results from the white and silver reflectors.

This lighting setup shows just how effective a simple lighting setup with softboxes can be. By positioning the softboxes correctly and taking the time to adjust them and add a reflector, I was able to create a really striking series of images with just two lights and affordable modifiers.

The final image:

Soft and contoured final portrait image

The final portrait image, with soft and contoured lighting.

If you’re looking for more softbox lighting setup ideas, be sure to check out:

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Karl you always advocate use of Beauty Dish or Para88 for beauty portraits because of the sculpting effect so why introduce diagonally opposite “soft contour light” which clearly looks flat and lifeless?
    Deborah is stunning and it is impossible to take a less than perfect shot in any light so dont you agree that “soft contour light” does her no favours?

    1. Hi, I don’t understand as this class doesn’t have a beauty dish or para 88? This class is showing a different technique for a different style of lighting?

  2. I used to use my crop sensor camera with mid-range variable lens with a model. Great tips in other videos on using tap to mark where the model should stand. One time my photos were off due to her changing into my female fashion jewelry. Have to remember to edit my photos with models. Thanks for the tip on the last critique on the portrait.

  3. Hello Karl!
    How did Urs achieve soft, uniform lighting with a similar layout in the single light tutorial? After all, he did not have a reflector or a second source? The box was installed even closer to the model and, according to the inverse square law, the fall in illumination should be even greater.
    I tried a similar pattern. The left unlit side of the face was very much in shadow. Solved the problem with a large reflective panel. But I don’t understand how Urs did it with one source? Maybe it’s in the location of the box or model? In the sense that the face was strongly turned towards the source?

  4. Intriguing using of the two soft boxes. I had always thought that big modifiers were a challenge in my small studio. You show how much I was wrong. I pulled my 4’x6′ softbox out of my closet and will be using again soon.

  5. Karl, you are working very close and focusing on the head.

    What differences would you expect doing this set up with e.g. 2 x 80cm octabox softboxes closer to the backdrop rather than 150cm octabox and 120cm x180 softbox?

  6. Hi
    I struggle a bit to to see the ratio distances of softboxes placement from the wall to model cause the video angles does not show the relationship very well. A roughly top view of the set may add a bit more since space to shoot was small.

  7. love the set up for the soft light. great photo, I hope I get to try it out shortly , just getting my home set up soon , I also like rim lighting which I like a lot, looking at a lot of photo
    thanks frank garvan Ireland

  8. In my last question, I do mean more the tri reflector catchlight and on occasions, the photographers reflection in the eyes when doing close up portraits. etc. I appreciate the catchlights are beautiful and so to leave in!

    1. Hi James, it’s all down to personal taste. There are some modifiers that give great light but unusual catchlights some photographers choose to retouch these to a more simple catchlight. I generally leave them as they are.

  9. Hi Karl,

    You have mentioned on earlier tutorials about the catchlight in the eyes however using a tri reflector and other modifiers is is commercially acceptable to leave these catchlights in the eyes or would they be taken out or edited in post?

    Kind regards


  10. The end result here was just stunningly beautiful. Could I replicate this shoot with my 140 Cm Octobox and 1 or 2 of my 80×120 Cm softbox(es)?

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