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It’s The Shadows, Not The Light!

Working With Shadow Quality - feat. Melisa Mendini


Working with “Shadow Qualities” means to intentionally shape and sculpt a mood with shadow characteristics in order to create specific looks. This is the basis that you need for establishing your looks in order to build a rich and diversified portfolio.

White Stays White (It’s The Shadows!)

White stays white, no matter what light modifier you attach to your strobe ↓

1 - White Stays White - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

↑ Taking a look at both of these photos we note: Even though I have used two totally different light modifiers, the paper appears to have the same white color on both photos. The reason for this is that I did not create any shadows on the paper itself. This means that a white piece of paper simply stays white.

In turn this means we quite clearly shape and modulate with shadows!

Experiment: Light Modifiers Will Shape A Look

Based on this realization, let’s elaborate how different looks and moods can be created by shadow design.

2 - 3D Light Simulation - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

The experimental setup for this series is as follows:

  • I am working with one flash head always approaching from the same direction which is in an angle of about 30° to the camera position. The strobe is positioned a little bit higher with a down facing angle towards the model.
  • The only things that I will change are the light modifiers because they create different shadows and qualities of light.
  • Due to the light modifiers built (absorbing more or less light) I had to adjust the power (strength) of the light source in order to get equal final exposure results.
  • Photo results are held in B&W in order to get a “cleaner” impression about the shadow areas/qualities (= no distracting colors).

Standard Reflector

The first light modifier in use is a standard reflector. In order to limit the light beam and therefore make it more dramatic, I have attached an additional very close-meshed grid. This way the light won’t spill too much.

The modifier has a small diameter (= small light source) and that’s why we receive harsh shadows. We also notice the light fall-off on the model’s body. In the shots framed less tight, the strong light fall-off becomes definitely visible. The gradation into the darkness happens very fast. This harsh light or rather these harsh shadows definitely create in this situation the characteristic of a drama look.

3 - Using A Standard Reflector - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

Beauty Dish

A beauty dish creates a wider light beam than a standard reflector, which results in more open shadows. The edges of the shadows become softer because the light modifier emits its light from a bigger surface. We also receive a very beautiful, greater defined sparkle in the model’s eyes (catch lights) that I personally like very much.

This semi-soft light with a lower light fall-off goes into the glamour look direction. Due to a silver coating and the bowl form, light quality stays rather hard; creating the characteristic of a crisp, alluring light. The beauty dish is the modifier that represents the standard for my glamour-look creations, suitable up to a three-quarter framing.

4 - Using A Beauty Dish - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

Octabox (Octa, Octabank)

The even bigger light surface (bigger diameter) of an octabox immediately translates into a softer light. The trend clearly goes towards of a soft look – it’s where the beauty-look approach starts. The big surface and the light scattering caused by two diffusor sheets provide an appealing type of a beauty light character that flatters every model’s skin.

Yet it is not a flat look at all, it is still accentuated (soft shadow area creation). Of course this also relates to the direction of the light, meaning where you position the modifier. Coming for the side we naturally create some shadow fall.

5 - Using A Octabox - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality


When looking at all three pictures next to one another below, we see that we have achieved a change of shadow characteristics simply by choosing different light modifiers. We influenced harshness and softness – and thereby we have decisively shaped these three diverse looks. Of course, the respective posing and styling significantly supported the looks as well: From a soft to a hard style or, in turn from a harsh to a soft shadow.

I hope you now understand now better what the term “shadow quality” means and how we intentionally create specific looks. This is the basis that you need for establishing your looks when building a rich and diversified portfolio.

6 - Light Modifier Comparison - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

Behind The Scenes

And here we go with some production impressions so you get a real picture in what environment we were producing…

7 - Behind The Scenes Photo Sudio Melisa Mendini - Sexy Women Portfolio Building - Photography Light and Shadow Quality

Tutorial “Women Photography: Portfolio Blueprint”

Tutorial: ‘Women Photography – Create, Enhance & Improve Your Images The Easy Way’

9 Films. 138 Min Runtime. HD
Photographing Women: Your Comprehensive Portfolio-Building Blueprint. Starring Melisa Mendini.
Evolve your photography. Explore new styles. Enhance your portfolio. For the first time ever, Dan presents a completely revealing overview of 7 characterized looks. Each of these looks gets meticulously stripped down inside of the following three main categories: “Classic”, “Soft” and “Bold”. Based on a variation of setups, this tutorial series helps you to find the best strategy to purposefully build your imagery.


A traveler at heart, inspired by women, working along Swiss precision. Dan is a mediapreneur, photographer, author of several books and founder + Editor in Chief of Being a successful photographer for more than 15 years Dan got internationally published and featured on/in GQ Online, The India Times, FashionONE TV, FotoTV, GoodLight Mag, amongst many others. Dan is currently residing and working in Prague, CZ. Dan will talk about his projects, provide insights in shootings & concepts, produce webinars, create Academy content, explain styles, emphasize the importance of working with models and any other exciting topic he discovers along the way.

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