Rim lighting photography for stunning portraits

Using rim lighting as a backlight is an ideal way to shape a subject and, if used correctly, can result in some stunning images.

For this rim light portrait photography tutorial Karl is joined by Urs Recher for a single light setup demonstration.Ā  Together, they demonstrate how to create beautiful soft rim lighting using backlighting with a special twist.

Learn a surprisingly simple but clever technique to achieve what looks like a four-light setup but is, in actual fact, just a single, modified light.

Stunning female portrait using rim lighting as a backlight.

Stunning female portrait using rim lighting as a backlight.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Portrait photography using a single light
  • How to use backlighting for creative effect
  • How to avoid flare
  • How to modify rim light
  • Using reflectors and flags
  • How to control shadows

Note: This course is available with English subtitles.


    1. Hi Carl, the maximum power of this light is 800J which would be power 10, power 9 would be 400J (one stop less) power 8 would be 200J and so on etc. Given that most of the light was blocked it would have likely been on power 8, 9 or 10 but I would imagine that I mention that in the video.

  1. Hi Karl, like this setup and the results. My questions: Broncolor supply this softbox with an optional black mask that leaves just the edges translucent. Is there any reason you prefer this makeshift black card to the ready-made Broncolor solution? Also, would using a somewhat longer lens (say 135mm) help reduce flare and provide a bit more room for the model, without hitting the edges of the central black card? Cheers, Martin

    1. Hi Martin, because I can move the black card further to either side to then change the amount of light wrapping around. Although the mask is good it is fixed and therefore the options of light spill are fixed. Yes to a longer lens but at the expense of the perspective on the model too.

  2. Hi Karl!
    I joined the food photography lessons, but Iā€™m going to take all your classes!
    Great work!
    2 Questions:
    1. My biggest soft boxes at the moment are the octabox 150 or 120/80 cm.
    Will this setup works for me too?
    2. How do I make the lens flare window? Just cutting the size of the sensor out? And what
    should be the size of the frame?
    Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Gil, your softboxes should be good. You can also use diffusiong material as demonstrated to make them ‘bigger’. Yes just cut the same ratio shape as the sensor at a reasonable size and then position it at the right distance from a given lens once you’ve composed your shot and the camera is fixed. There is no set size necessary just what ever works for you, they are easy to make so you can make more than one size, sometimes different sizes are better for different lenses in terms of the distance they can be away from the lens hood.

  3. Extremely useful setup, and very creative!Thank you so much!
    What was the ISO, shutter speed and aperture set to on these pictures?

    1. Hi Latesh this is basically like three strip lights: one at the top (horizontal) and one either side, giving light all the way around the model.

  4. Love the look of setup, cannot wait to try it. Seems simple ( well in theory anyway) but stunning. Brilliant lesson , hopefully helped me a lot .

  5. Thoroughly enjoying the videos, Karl, you and Urs make a good team.

    Should the velvet-covered board behind the model also be in the same ratio as the camera sensor?

  6. Hi Karl, I wish I had joined your site long ago. Could you please tell me the size of the soft box you used and the black card? Are they relevant to this set up or any size would work? Many thanks for your ideas

    1. Hi Abdelfatah, thanks for joining. For this technique then a larger softbox makes it easier as the light can wrap around more easily, this softbox was 120x180cm.

  7. This was excellent Karl, thank you. Did you measure the square you shot through or is the size irrelevant? I may have to make my own.

    1. Hi Tianna, yes you measure the rectangle to match the format shape of the format you are shooting, so for example if shooting on a full frame 35mm camera then we know that the format of that camera is 36mm x 24mm, so if you times that 10 then you’d need a hole 360mm x 240mm, if that was too big then multiply by a lower number and measure it out on black foam board and cut.

  8. Thanks karl. Just signed up. Amazing site. It’s almost midnight here, looks like I’m going to be up all night!

  9. simple and yet very effective lighting set up and it shows how you can turn a single light can do as main and fill in light and of course by using a reflector. this shows how you should understand the positioning of light and inverse square of law. Thanks Mr.Karl for your superb teaching and simple explanation.

  10. best money I’ve ever spent on photography… this stuff is outstanding. You guys articulating the thought process is extremely helpful, too. The “what if I were to do this” stuff…

  11. Really brilliant stuff Karl, thank you guys for doing this! Cant wait to apply all that ive learned to my repertoire!

  12. I’m definitely getting what I’m paying for!!! I love this setup and and look. I can’t wait to experiment. Very inspiring!!

  13. …next week I ‘ll try a similar scheme for a pregnant friend of mine.
    In this days I make the preparations, like cut the olyboard , the window mask ,stands and finally some tests before!…

    I m so motivated!
    I hope I’ ll be able to show you some decent results

    thank you Karl!

    1. Hi Andy, glad you feel that way. We believe it too and want to make it even better which we can only do as we grow our membership so please tell the world your thoughts! šŸ™‚

  14. Wow .. am also extremely pleased I have signed up for these lessons. Really great teaching Karl. Concise, clear and simple .. keep up the superb job!

  15. Simply wonderful, like always. I’m very glad to take the right decision, sign up this education photography program.

    1. Hi Anthony between us we have 40 years of studio lighting experience from training other pros to working on big brand advertising campaigns. As always for me it’s about finding a solution and that starts with understanding what is possible through a knowledge of lighting and the principles of light itself, such as in chapeter 1 of this particular course. I’m glad you are discovering new things to try, that’s always our aim as educators.

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