Are you a photographer looking to enhance your portrait skills? If so, we have an excellent solution for you – shooting portraits with just one speedlight! While many photographers may believe that multiple flashes or studio lighting setups are necessary for capturing stunning portraits, using just one speedlight can produce incredible results. In this blog, we will delve into the art of shooting portraits with one speedlight and explore how it can be a game-changer in your photography journey. From understanding the basics of using a speedlight to mastering various lighting techniques, we will equip you with the knowledge and tips to create compelling and professional-looking portraits. So, grab your camera and let’s get started!
Shooting Portraits with One Speedlight
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The Common Assumption
I think the common assumption is that if you’re going to get into shooting portraits with strobes, it’s a very expensive and complicated thing to do. It puts a lot of photographers off from even trying. But I don’t think it needs to be nearly as intimidating as it is to a lot of photographers. In fact, you can do a lot with very little.
A little while ago, I made a video going back to South Africa and I took some portraits of my mentors. A lot of you were very kind about those portraits and made some nice comments. But I was quite surprised by some people who jumped on and said, “You obviously can’t shoot that kind of portrait unless you’ve got pretty fancy gear.” And that’s obviously not true. In fact, everything I’ve got with me here is plenty to be able to produce stuff at exactly the same quality.
So what I’m gonna do is walk you through exactly what I’d use on a budget to get exactly the same kind of shots.
The Intimidation of Strobe
I understand why a lot of photographers find strobes intimidating. I found it intimidating at the beginning. It took me a long time to play with strobes and start to test it out because I felt there would be too much to control. I couldn’t really see what the light was doing like a constant light or daylight. I didn’t know what I was getting and how does it trigger. It’s quite difficult to control, so I put it off for ages.
But when I actually took the plunge and got into it as a portrait photographer, it expanded the possibilities of what I could shoot so much. I mean, forget just studio. I mean, that’s obvious. You need strobes for that. But even shooting outdoors in natural light and adding strobes in different ways, which I might do a video on at some stage, just expands the looks you can get and the kind of feel you can get in your images.
Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely be a natural light only photographer, and that can be a legitimate creative choice. I know a lot of great natural light photographers. But I also know there are a lot of photographers out there declaring themselves natural light only photographers, and it’s more because of a fear of ever wanting to touch strobes.
A Simple Technique
I’ll show you my very untechnical way of setting up lights and getting a good exposure. I’ve never been very technical about light meters and the rest of it, so I’ve got a very simple technique which I use to get a quick exposure that stays the same and is constant through the whole shoot. And I’m just gonna show you with one light because I think if you’re gonna start in strobe, it’s good just to begin with one light, learn how to use that light well, and then start adding lights as you go.
To be honest, nowadays, 95 percent of my images are all one light because I just like the really clean and classical look. So hopefully, when I show you how simple this is, it’s gonna give you the courage to at least give it a go for yourself. Okay, so let me show you the gear I’m using.
I’m literally just in my lounge. It’s like a normal London flat. It’s not very big, so it will kind of give you an idea of how much you could do in a small space, especially when I’ve got a little bit of gear.
We’ll start out with the backdrop. These you can pick up off Amazon. Pretty much most online retailers will sell them. All you need to search for is something like a 2-meter by 1.5-meter collapsible backdrop. This one has a reversible surface so that you can actually choose different colors. I’ve got black on one side and white on the other, and today we’re just gonna use the black.
So it just flips out like that, and all I’m gonna do, and all that would do in someone else’s house, is just prop that up against the wall here. I’m just using a little fake fireplace because that will do the job. And the other thing I have inside here is a little handheld reflector, but I’ll get to that in a second.
Let’s talk about the light. So here’s my little travel light stand. It’s a Manfrotto 5001B. The great thing about these, you can see without this little attachment, it’s quite a small light stand. It folds up pretty small because the legs fold up against itself, so it ends up being really small. If you want to fit this in a suitcase, it’s really really great.
Because you could take this attachment off the top, which I’ll show you in a second, and it’s really nice and small. So all you do is loosen the legs like this. Not very expensive. Manfrotto is a little more pricey than the other ones, but you can get some generic collapsible light stands that really aren’t that expensive at all. And the clever thing about it is it’s actually got four sections which you can raise up, so it can go quite high.
It can go to almost two meters at the point where your adapter meets at the end of the light stand. Because of those four sections, they can telescope up, but it can also go down pretty small. The actual head that I use, the adapter that I use for my lights, here is a Bowens mount, Bowens speedlight mount. That’s probably what you want to search for. And I’ll show you why these are great. Let me grab the light that I’m going to use.
The light is my Godox speedlight. You can use any speedlight. I used to use the little Yongnuo speedlights, which are really cheap, really inexpensive. But the light output on those is exactly the same, and they’re really good. There are a lot more powerful ones. Some of those are all manual lights, but I only use speedlights in manual anyway. I don’t use TTL.
The reason this is great is because it’s a Bowens mount adapter. So you can clip on any softboxes or collapsible beauty dishes which often use onto this with these three pins. It clicks in place and gives you a lot of options in terms of the modifiers you can use. It’s also got a little umbrella hole at the bottom so you can put an umbrella as well.
Because your speedlight actually clamps into the middle like this, it means that the light is centered in the middle of where your softbox is attached. There’s another bracket which a lot of people use, and it’s this one. It’s this little L-bracket. What you normally do is put a cold shoe on top, and that means that you can attach the speedlight. Say you’ve got a cold shoe mount on the top of this. I’m just showing you why I don’t use these in particular.
Then the speedlight sits on top here and you can angle this in. And then if you want, your umbrella bracket, the umbrella sticks through the bottom. But you can see how much distance there is between the center of that umbrella and the speedlight. It’s kind of shooting into the top of the umbrella and not actually to the center of it, which is why I don’t use these very much. I use this…
Frequently Asked Questions – Shooting Portraits with One Speedlight
1. What is a speedlight?
A speedlight is a portable flash unit used in photography to provide additional lighting in low-light situations or for creative lighting effects.
2. Can I shoot professional-looking portraits with just one speedlight?
Yes, with proper positioning and light control, you can achieve stunning portraits using just one speedlight. It’s all about understanding the techniques and maximizing its potential.
3. How do I position the speedlight for portrait photography?
The positioning of the speedlight largely depends on the desired outcome and the subject’s features. Generally, placing the speedlight slightly off to the side and angled towards the subject at a 45-degree angle helps create dimension and avoid harsh shadows.
4. Do I need additional light modifiers to improve the quality of light?
Although using light modifiers like softboxes or umbrellas can further diffuse and soften the light from a speedlight, they are not necessary for shooting portraits with just one speedlight. However, incorporating them can enhance the overall quality of light and provide more control over the look.
5. How can I create different lighting effects with one speedlight?
You can experiment with various techniques such as using a reflector to bounce light back onto the subject, utilizing colored gels to add creative tones, or even using DIY light modifiers to shape the light. These techniques allow you to achieve different moods and styles in your portraits.
6. What camera settings should I use when shooting portraits with one speedlight?
While specific settings may vary depending on the situation, a good starting point is to use a low ISO (such as 100 or 200), a medium aperture (around f/5.6 to f/8 for overall sharpness), and a shutter speed that syncs with your speedlight (usually around 1/200 to 1/250 of a second).
7. How can I avoid the red-eye effect when using a speedlight?
To reduce the chances of red-eye, have your subject look slightly away from the camera or use the “red-eye reduction” feature available on most DSLR cameras. Furthermore, creating more distance between the speedlight and the camera lens can also help minimize this effect.
8. Are there any recommended resources for learning more about shooting portraits with one speedlight?
There are plenty of online tutorials, blog posts, and photography forums where you can find extensive information and tips on shooting portraits with one speedlight. Additionally, there are numerous books and video courses available that cater specifically to this subject matter.
I hope you find useful my article Shooting Portraits with One Speedlight, I also recommend you to read my other posts in my blog at this link.
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