01. Introduction and understanding light

To truly understand working with studio lighting you first have to understand light. This opening chapter of our “Lighting Theory and Equipment” course covers the fundaments of light, equipping you with the knowledge you need to confidently work with studio light.

Through a number of visual demonstrations Karl demonstrates the practicalities of light, exploring the effect hard and soft light has on shadows, texture and three dimensionality and shows you how to achieve exact control over reflections, shadows and highlights.

Karl also provides a complete explanation, along with further practical demonstrations, of the inverse square law and color spectrum of light.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Different light sources and their effects
  • Hard light vs soft light
  • Careful control of light and shadows
  • Using reflectors and negative fill
  • Revealing texture
  • Inverse square law
  • Color spectrum of light

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hi Karl
    Great Video. I have been looking for classes like this on lighting. I just started watching lessons on lighting and hoping you have lessons on lighting based on the shape of the face.
    Thx for sharing your immense knowledge.

    1. Thank you, and there are of course plenty more lighting lessons in our platform that is our speciality!

  2. Hi Karl, Karl here, my girlfriend and I are photographers in Northern Arizona. I am in Flagstaff and she is in Jerome. We do fashion workshops every month and just wanted to get our skill level back up.

    Thank you for this course, great refresher for me and a wealth of knowledge for her.

    Looking forward to what is coming our way.

  3. Dear Karl,
    It’s been approximately 4.5 yrs that I have been learning photography in bits & pieces and tried almost all platforms (online & offline). But the fundamentals of real photography had been evading me and the it was to me as if the jigsaw puzzle was missing the chips. I can’t thank you enough for such a wonderful explanation of fundamentals of light and feel that my search for a true mentor ends at you. I am sure all my doubts & queries will get sorted with your course.

  4. I’m confused. I get the inverse square law and I understand the concept behind it. However, in his video on the law, Joe Edelman says “light CLOSE for sharper shadows bigger catchlights and darker backgrounds”. I know Joe is a great photographer but this contradicts with what is said here – so I must be misunderstanding something ‘cos I know both he and you are correct. I thought with the light closer its size relative to the subject increased which makes shadows SOFTER because of light wrap around”.
    I don’t understand how for a GIVEN fixed size light source the shadows get sharper as you move the light closer. Please help :/

    1. Hi Matthew, please watch this again. A closer light is a bigger light and therefore softer (softer shadows). But the closer light to the subject then it also has a quicker fall off in intensity which means contrast will increase and background will be darker as demonstrated in this video.

  5. Hi Karl, I just joined and love your videos. Yes, clarity is certainly your mantra, which I really appreciate. At around 16 minutes you described negative fill and the way the black reflector was blocking the reflected light from the wall background and from the table; thereby darkening the shadows on the chair. Do you think the black reflector was also bouncing a “black” light onto the shadows that helped to increase the density of the shadows on the chair…much like a gold reflector would bounce gold light as you mentioned later? If so, it would be interesting to devise a test that would demonstrate how much of the shadow’s darkening was caused by the blocked light and how much was caused by the bounced black light. A regression analysis of sorts. I look forward to watching more videos. I loved the paint splashes on the basketball, very creative indeed.

    1. Hi Gregg, thank you for your kind comments. Based on the physics of light there can’t be black light, essentially what is happening is that the black flag is doing two things, 1. it is blocking light from the white wall and 2. it is absorbing light and not allowing it to escape from the black card. A good example of this is the same black card held in sunlight on a cold winters day, it would become hotter than a white card as it is absorbing the energy of the light especially in the infrared wavelengths. A black card is not however truly black and it will reflect some light but this will be minimal and simply is a reflection of light but not black light. There is a nano material that absorbs 99.9% of all light that hits it and to look at it is very bizzare as it is the blackest thing you’ve seen. The only other blacker object would be a black hole and in such cases no light can be reflected or escape as the gravitational field is so strong that it holds light in.

    1. Hi you can calibrate most monitors with a calibrator and the right software. Check on X-rites website for compatibility.

  6. hi Karl, I have a sony a 6000 with a strobe wistro AD600BM no modifier, when I shoot a RAW image and configure the camera to DAYLIGTH and a grey card in the image as reference, in capture one, when I put the pick white balance tool over the grey card in the image it show like 80 87 109 RGB with kelvin 5,528 , the when I click over the grey card to have let say 87 87 88 RGB but the kelvin goes to 7,667 , why is that ? , I would expect to have a grey card measure same values of RGB when it is shooting as DAYLIGHT…. because it is supposed the strobe is output around 5600 kelvin color temperature

    1. Hi, then your strobe is not putting out pure daylight at 5600K, or you have your shutter speed set too low and you have light pollution from elsewhere in the picture.

  7. Omg! Your education is the best I’ve ever seen so far. So much information in one place and everything is so organized. Thank you, Karl for sharing your knowledge with us 🙂

  8. Explained the complex subject with such an ease and really helpful to all the amateur photographers like me. Thanks a lot Karl.

  9. I wasn’t sure what’s the difference between soft and diffused light…
    Didn’t understand light at all.
    I’m a chef, not long ago started to photograph food.
    This course is just what I’ve been dreaming of!
    Now I’m starting to understand light!

  10. Hello Taylor;

    Juan, thx for this movie.. Question I work at night; & I used flashlights when I light painting. As up today I am a try and error person, but sound like I can used this and make more used of the time.

    I assume that is I think as my flashlights as a small hard light, and moon as a big source. Am I correct in this.

  11. Hi Karl, Im from Jordan, I’m a hasselblad user, to be honest after this video i found out how wrong i was with colors and light. OMG this helped me to understand what is light… thank you so much

    1. Thank you Omar, this is also one of my favourite tutorials on our platform as it brings a new understanding to many people that is very very important before you can move forward with photography.

      1. I’m pretty sure that my photography skills will increase through your professional videos, I’m so glad to be under the name of Karl’s student, I’ve been watching your videos on youtube since 2012 when i bought my first hasselblad camera, It was H1.

  12. I’ve started studio photography as a hobby a bit more than 2 years ago, don’t get me wrong, I had some brilliant pictures but I just realised I knew nothing about lighting. You are an excellent teacher Karl (if I can understand it, you are!) and this was the best spent money for 2018 for me. Thank you!

  13. This was so informative and easy to follow! As a beginner in photography, the visual demonstrations definitely helped put things into perspective.