Almost all the photographers I know have at least one speedlight. They use for their cameras hotshoe, if for nothing else. But what if you want to dub in off camera flashing but don’t have any modifiers yet? In this article I will show you 7 different single flash techniques for portraits that you can apply right now – without buying any modifiers.
The only thing you need to have is a wireless radio trigger and you’re good to go*.
One Light on Grey Background
Let’s start off with a simple one light portrait. I placed my model at about 5 or 6 feet away from the background, and bounced a speedlight off a white illustration board (but you can also use foam board which is easier to handle) to soften the light a bit. Here is a rule to remember when shooting against a white background – the farther your subject is from the background the darker the background gets. My speedlight was set at 1/4 power, and my camera settings were ISO 200, 1/125 shutter, f4.5.
One Light Above the Subject on Black Background
For this shot I wanted my light to come from above the subject. I placed a speedlight on the camera hotshoe and pointed the speedlight at 45 degrees upwards, towards a piece of foamboard. (it was actually the same piece of board, I just placed it above the camera to bounce some light towards the model.
Clean White Background
Question: How do you get a clean white background and get your subject lit well with only one light?
The subject was around 2 1/2 feet away from the background for this setup. I placed a speedlight directly behind my subject and pointed towards the white background. The speedlight was at 1/2 power. I got a mirror and placed it at camera left to catch the light bouncing from the backdrop and re-bounce it back towards the subject. My camera was set at ISO 400, 1/125 , f3.6
For this technique, I got an illustration board and cut out strip shapes and then placed it in front of my speedlight. My speedlight was angled at 45 degrees to the right. You can check out a complete breakdown of this technique here.
Strip Of Light
This one is kinda similar to the previous technique, but it uses a different pattern. I got two illustration boards and placed them close to each other. I then popped a speedlight right in between. The result? A nice sharp strip of light.
I like using a bare speedlight outdoors because it resembles the hardness of the sun’s light. I have a routine I call the 2 Stops Magic Bullet which I will re-share now. Once outside use Matrix or Evaluative to measure the background. then move to manual and set your exposure to underexpose for 2 stops. From there place your speedlight at 45 degrees left to your subject. A more detailed explanation can be found here.
Shoot Thru An Umbrella
And lastly, I was doing a Pre-nup photoshoot near the street and it was raining. My “client” had a black umbrella with a white lining in the inside (or it may have been my umbrella, I’m not telling). I got them to stand on the sidewalk and the groom was holding the speedlight behind them and pointing up at the umbrella. I zoomed my speedlight to about 85mm. My speedlight was around 1/16, and my camera settings were at 1/30, ISO 800, f1.6
* Actually if you have one of the new Canon, Nikon, or Matching 3rd party strobes, you don’t even need a trigger, it comes built in with CLS or e-TTL, Or even just a dumb optical slave.
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