Lighting On White - Imitating The Sun In The Studio

Lighting On White - Imitating The Sun In The Studio

Creative clients and photographers love shooting on white. Whether it be seamless paper, foam core board or a cyclorama wall. I’m not sure if it’s the simplicity and absence of color or it just creates such clear contrast for eye popping subject matter. Yes, it's versatile and can go dark with less fall off but frankly, I've always found white somewhat boring. It goes without saying that you'll always have those clients that are adamant about shooting on pure white for catalogs, advertising and compositing. I've found several lighting scenarios that work for me but the one setup that I find the most intriguing requires only one single light.

Flipping through a Vogue or V Magazine, I tend to see fashion images using only a bright 10:00 sun and under exposing for a hard dramatic portrait with deep shadows. Hard light is powerful and can radiate a mood that a big soft light source can't. Using that hard sunlight ideology in studio, I simply mimic the scenario.


Set a powerful strobe with no modifier, on half power, in my case a Profoto D1. Move the light 45 degrees camera left or right and 8-10 feet away from the subject. Then, raise the light stand approximately 10-12 feet high. The strobe should be tilted down toward the subject's face and the shadow created on the background should appear about 2-4 feet to the left or right. Use the strobe's modeling light to find a good starting point on both the subject's face and the hard shadow on the background.



A hard light can look awful if you’re not within the measurements I lined out above. There are a few "sweet spots" where the light will fall perfectly on the subject's face and with this type of lighting, it's important that you provide your subject the proper direction.  Keeping the subject's chin up and around towards the light source will help eliminate the extreme shadows. But, don't limit yourself and box the subject to just one expression or pose. It's always good to break the rules and explore foreign territory, especially when posing models and offering direction. Let's review...

  • One strobe, half power
  • 45 degrees camera left or right
  • 8-10 feet from subject
  • 10-12 feet high
  • Tilt strobe downward

Once the light is set and the subject is framed, close your aperture to allow proper exposure on the subjects face and set a fast shutter to eliminate all natural ambient light. You're imitating the sun; keep that in mind while you snap the shutter and give direction. This setup is quick, easy and just one efficient light scenario to give the high fashion dramatic look on a white seamless or wall. It may not be in your style or taste, but give it shot. You might just surprise yourself.


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Portrait and Editorial Photographer, Clay Cook has learned the importance of going the extra mile, after a long, arduous run in the music business. Clay has shaped creative projects with History, Lifetime, Comcast and Papa John's Pizza. In addition, he has photographed assignments for Time, Forbes, The Guardian, W Magazine, USA Today, ESPN and Inc.

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This is one of my favourite looks to shoot, and I do it a lot. I don't find it boring at all. If you speak to Bailey, he would tell you this is the best way to shoot. If you are selling a dress, or more importantly a person, then remove all distraction so its only them you see. Speak to Newton however (if we still could) and as much as he shot this style too,he didn't like it so much. He would say that a girl lives in the real world, not on seamless paper.

So I guess it is completely a taste thing.

I agree on the sunlight thing though. We are always trying to replicate the sun. in all situations.


Absolutely a taste and style! Thanks for the feedback and checking it out Dani! Cheers!

Great post. Love the shot!

Thank you!

I would like to see the same picture in colour and not B&W only I would like to see if you create harsh highlights as you are not using any modifier and I wouldn't like to fix much on post. After all it sounds interesting and definitely I will give it a go. thanks for sharing :)

Sure thing Sergio and thanks for reading! Here is the RAW SOOC image as you requested, all the highlights remain intact.

How about a guide for smaller studios with lower ceilings and not as much depth? Is there a sweet spot to be found? Thanks.

Okay but what's with the Photek on the side? And also there is certainly some fill on the model, perhaps from the walls or ceiling?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that the light being used comes with 77 degree reflector already built in? This means that this look can't be achieved with a bare bulb strobe as implied in the article and does in fact need a reflector to emulate the same results.

From what I'm seeing in your setup, it appears you're having some softening of your light not only bouncing off the ceiling (quite a spread too), but reflecting off the backdrop, softbox, and relatively light colored wall to the model's left. It appears you've compensated somewhat in post for that, but I think unless your camera has good dynamic range, trying this out with full hard lighting is going to create serious and potentially problematic shadows. Sometimes that's a good look as well however.

Flawless light! Thanks for that. B&W impacts more. Great Photo Clay. :)

Something that suprises me with all these tutorials is that there is no one mentioning things as depth of light or how to controll the edges of the shadows.

Of course you can use modifiers. The point of making a "sunligt" look in the studio is to Make the lightsource as small as the sun. If you look up to the sun and leasure it with your Fingers you will notice its tiny.

One other thing with sun light is how it behaves. The sun is extremely far away, the effect of that is that you get an extremely long depth of light. That is difficult to achieve in a small studio.

And for what i can se in the images you have more than one lightsource. That alone will create two shadows. And i assume thats not what you want.

Hey Hans! Thanks for the feedback. You're right, but at the end of the day, you do you best with what you have to get there. This is just one example. Also, there is just one light source in the studio, you might be seeing the Softlighter on the left side of the frame, that light isn't actually on! Thanks again!