Banish shadows: how to eliminate shadows with lighting

How to eliminate shadows with lighting? So you want to take stunning portraits that make your subjects look like they’re glowing from within. The secret is controlling the lighting. Mastering light means learning how to manipulate it to eliminate shadows, highlight your subject’s best features, and create a flawless, airbrushed effect without heavy editing.

In this article, we discuss indoor photography tips to help you sculpt the perfect portrait shot using lighting equipment you already own.

With a few tweaks to your normal setup and camera settings, you can achieve a shadowless style that makes your photos look like they were taken in a high-end studio. Read on to become a master of light and take your portrait photography to the next level.

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Choosing the right lighting equipment

The key to shadowless portraits is using the right camera and lighting equipment. For beginners, a simple three-point lighting setup is perfect.

You want a key light, a fill light, and a backlight. A common mistake that new photographers make is to use the on-camera flash without paying attention to what’s behind the subject. The built-in camera flash is a very small light source, so it produces hard light and therefore hard shadows. Avoid hard light at all costs.

The key light is your main light source, it eliminates harsh shadows on your subject. A soft lighting or umbrella diffuser placed at a 45-degree angle to your subject works well.

Soft light leads to soft shadows.

A fill light, placed on the opposite side of the key light at a lower intensity, fills in background shadows and any remaining shadows for a softer look.

Finally, a backlight, placed behind and above your subject, creates a subtle rim of light to separate your subject from multiple shadows in the background. Use a lower-intensity light, like an LED panel.

For the best results, use daylight-balanced bulbs for all your lights. Please keep in mind a light meter to get the right light ratios for your key and fill lights. With some practice, you’ll create perfectly lit portraits in no time!

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Positioning your lighting for shadowless effects

To get sharp images and avoid unwanted shadows, proper lighting placement is key.

Here are some tips to eliminate shadows and get flawless results:

Position your main light slightly above eye level and 45-60 degrees to the side of your subject. This angle provides even lighting and this way you can avoid shadows under the eyes or nose. You want the light facing towards the subject at about a 30-degree angle for the most natural effect.

Use a diffused light source like an umbrella or softbox. A bare bulb can create harsh shadows. The bigger the light source, the softer the quality of light will be.

Place fill lights opposite your main light, at 30-45 degrees from your subject and slightly lower in intensity. This helps fill in and soften any remaining shadows.

For close-up portraits, consider using a lens with a longer focal length, like 105 mm or greater. This shallow depth of field helps blur and soften any remaining shadows. Shoot at a midrange aperture like f/5.6 to f/8 for the best results.

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Play with manual settings on your camera

To achieve shadowless portraits, the correct camera settings are key. Here are a few tips to help you master lighting and avoid shadows:


In the realm of indoor photography, managing your camera’s aperture is of utmost importance. To achieve the most optimal results, consider opening your aperture as wide as possible, around f/2.8 or lower.

A wider aperture allows more light to enter the camera, enabling you to use a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO.

These adjustments help prevent motion blur and image noise, contributing to clearer, sharper photos.

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Shutter speed

In the world of indoor photography, mastering your camera’s shutter speed can greatly enhance the quality of your shots. To capture clear, sharp images, you should consider using a faster shutter speed, preferably 1/125 sec or higher.

This technique effectively “freezes” your subject, eliminating motion blur caused by minor movements. This simple tip can significantly improve your indoor photography by providing crisp, clear images free from unwanted blur.

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For top-notch indoor photography and to successfully avoid shadows, it’s crucial to manage your ISO settings effectively. Aim to keep your ISO as low as possible, ideally around 200-400.

By utilizing a wide aperture and fast shutter speed, you can comfortably operate with a lower ISO, ensuring better image quality and a successful evasion of unwanted shadows in your indoor photography.

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White balance

In the context of indoor photography and the quest to avoid shadows, setting your white balance correctly is an essential step.

Choose the appropriate preset for your lighting conditions, whether that’s “daylight” or “flash.”

Utilizing manual white balance can also aid in ensuring color accuracy. Therefore, by taking control of your white balance, you can achieve more accurate color, thus enhancing the overall quality of your shadow-free indoor photography.

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Exposure compensation

When it comes to indoor photography, where the objective is to avoid shadows, adjusting your camera’s exposure compensation can be beneficial. Consider increasing it to +1 or +2 stops.

This method gives you the flexibility to further fine-tune highlights and shadows during the post-production editing phase, ensuring your indoor photography remains shadow-free and visually appealing.

By optimizing these key camera settings, you’ll have the power to illuminate your subject evenly and sculpt the perfect shadowless portrait.

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Posing your subject to avoid shadows

To avoid shadows in your portraits, carefully consider how you pose your subject. The way a subject sits or stands to your light source directly impacts the shadows that appear on their face.

  • Face the light

Have your subject face toward the main light source, whether it’s a natural light or studio light, or strobe. Facing the light head-on can help avoid shadows on the face. Turning even slightly to the side can cast shadows on one side of the nose or under the eyes.

For the most even soft lighting with the fewest shadows, have your subject face directly into the soft light. In low-light indoor photography, you can capture fixed subjects using a long exposure setup to enhance the light sources and compensate for shadow-light proportion.

  • Find the “sweet spot”

Discovering the perfect position in correlation to your artificial light source is key to achieving a balanced illumination on your subject’s face, thus avoiding the harsh shadows often encountered in indoor photography. By adjusting your subject’s proximity to the artificial light and experimenting with various body and face angles, you can identify a position that showcases them in the most appealing light.

  • Broad lighting

When considering indoor photography, one effective way to avoid shadows and achieve a flattering light is by employing “broad lighting.” This lighting technique involves positioning your subject such that the side of their face is oriented towards the camera. Any shadow cast from their nose will graciously fall on the far side of their face, out of the camera’s view.

  • Relax the face

In the realm of indoor photography, where avoiding shadows is crucial, the expression of your subject plays a significant role. A tense or strained expression can unintentionally emphasize shadows on the face. Encourage your subject to relax their facial muscles, adopting a slight smile or a neutral look.

This ultimately contributes to a portrait bathed in open, shadow-free light, enhancing the overall quality of your indoor photography.

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So there you have it. With the right camera settings, lighting placement, and a willingness to experiment. You don’t need to spend a fortune on studio lights to learn flash photography. Play around with different lighting placements and intensities.

Move your lights closer or farther from your subject. Change the angles. Try different modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, or beauty dishes. Your subjects will glow with a soft, even radiance, and their eyes will sparkle as the light dances across their features.

With a dash of practice, you’ll master the art of eliminating shadows, capturing portraits so brilliantly luminous that your friends will be utterly convinced you’ve discovered the secret to bottling natural light everywhere you venture.


As with any topic, there are common questions that come up about how to avoid shadows in portrait photography. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones:

What are the best camera settings?

The key settings to capture sharp images are:

When shooting your product photos, try to make the shadows as simple as possible by using a white background or minimizing complex props and dynamic backgrounds.
Fast shutter speed (1/125 sec or faster): A fast speed freezes any movement for a sharp image. It also avoids motion blur in low light.
Manual mode or aperture priority mode: These modes give you full control over the aperture, which is key. Shutter speed and ISO can be adjusted to capture sharp images.

How do I position the lighting?

Place your main light slightly above and in front of your subject at a 45° angle. This casts a soft, flattering shadow under the chin and nose. Use a reflector opposite the main light to open up any shadows on the subject’s face.

For headshots, placing the lights further apart and at 90° angles also works well. Experiment with different positions and note how the quality and direction of the light change.

What lighting equipment do I need?

For shadowless portraits, you want:

A large softbox or octobox: This provides a very soft, even light that wraps around the subject.
Reflectors: To avoid shadows and even out the lighting. Silver and white reflectors work well for most skin tones.

Why do my background shadows look unnatural?

Shadows may look unnatural if:

The lighting is placed too close to the subject: Move the lights further back for a softer, more even effect.
The lighting is too harsh: Use larger light sources, place a diffuser over the light, or increase the number of light sources to soften the quality of light.
White balance is set to flash or daylight temperature (direct sunlight or available light), this can lead to unexpected color casts in your photos
Using a camera flash for capturing subjects indoors certainly results in washed-out, unappealing photography.
There are too many shadow falls and too much contrast: Add fill lighting, such as a reflector, to open up dark shadow areas.

What is a lighting style that eliminates shadows?

Fill lighting is a technique primarily used to avoid shadows. To make it more effective, consider using reflectors and additional light sources. This strategy will help you to better manage and diffuse light across your subject, thereby, to remove shadows.

What is the best lighting to reduce shadows?

Utilizing reverse lighting presents an ideal solution for mitigating unwanted shadows and enhancing illumination. To optimize this process, consider switching your camera to manual mode. This allows for greater control over the exposure settings, ensuring you successfully prevent any unwanted shadows and achieve the best possible lighting conditions.

How do you avoid shadows when taking pictures outside?

Reflectors can bounce light off a light source and fill any shadow. You can buy reflectors specially designed to take photos outside. Alternatively, use a white paperboard or white paper to create a fake reflector.

How do you prevent shadows with a ring light?

To achieve a more precise representation of a subject under artificial light, you might need to introduce additional lighting or get closer to your subject. Alternatively, you could consider adjusting the angle of your ring light.

Positioning your subject away from the wall can also help avoid the effect of shadowed walls, adding depth and preventing flat-looking images.

You may need to move your subject away from the wall not just once, but perhaps a second time, adjusting as needed to minimize the shadowed wall effect for a cleaner, more professional shot.

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