Outdoor Flash Photography Tips with Children & Pets

As we all know, photographing children can be very challenging. It is tough enough just to keep them in sharp focus. Who in their right mind would complicate the task even further by adding pets and flash lighting to the mix? You should! Adding the right amount of flash at the correct angle can turn an ordinary snapshot into a work of art.

Two Speedlights Used

120mm lens, ISO 400, f/6.3 x 1/200 sec., WB 7000K. Feathering the main light evenly lights both subjects with flash.

Select a Familiar Environment

The photograph of the three year old girl and her dog was shot in their backyard. Children and animals are most comfortable in a familiar environment. Most photographers think a beautiful location is the answer to great portraits—wrong! Relaxed and comfortable subjects are the key.

Popular scenic locations are always overrun with lots of people and too many photographers. Who can relax under those conditions? Remember– your subject is the star of the photograph, not the background.

This article demonstrates the following techniques:

  •  Underexposing the Background for Drama
  •  Multiple Speedlights
  •  Line of Sight Communication
  •  Feathering a Light Source
  •  Flash-Fill
  •  Inverse Square Law

How the Subject was Lit:

The background was deliberately underexposed one stop to emphasize the subjects and add drama.

 Feathering the Light

Lighting setup for the above photo.

Main light (B) was placed into an Umbrella Softbox six feet from the dog, just outside of the camera frame. The Umbrella Softbox, attached to a lightstand, was handheld by the child’s mother above the subjects’ heads and feathered (angled) slightly left of the child (see diagram). This technique evenly lights both subjects, since a light source is brighter in the center. The dog was lit by the dimmer edge of the light source and the child was illuminated by the bright center.

Speedlight B was set to ½ power.

Inverse Square Law

Fill light (A) is an on-camera Speedlight with a medium-sized diffuser attached. Its job is to add a little detail into dark shadows. The power was also set to ½ power. Why?  Since the fill light was much further from the subjects than the main light, the power had to be set high enough to brighten the shadows.

The Inverse Square Law tells us that F8 (the distance between the Umbrella Softbox and midway point between our subjects) is a little over 3.5 stops brighter than f/28.

Calculate light to subject distance in F-Stops (2’, 2.8’, 4’, 5.6’, 8’, 11’, 16’, 22’ etc.) and this will help you set the correct power settings on your Speedlights. For example, move your light from 4’ to 5.6’ and you lose 1 F-stop in power, move from 4’ to 22’ and you lose 5 F-stops in power.

Fill Light A was approximately 3.5 stops less bright than main light B. It brightened the dark shadows on the dog and girl slightly.

Knowing photographic math helps, but don’t sweat it! In reality, shoot a test and adjust your power settings accordingly.

“Line of Sight Communication” is built into most modern Speedlights

Rotate the head of the Speedlight toward the subject. Sensors must see each other without obstructions.

No radio slaves were needed for this photo. “Line of Sight Communication” – the system that is built into modern Speedlights, made both Speedlights fire simultaneously. It works flawlessly when used correctly. You must make sure that the Slave Speedlight sensor is aimed at the Master Speedlight’s sensor. The Master Speedlight is on the camera and the Slave Speedlight is off the camera. The Speedlight’s adjustable head makes this system of lighting possible! Point the light at the subject and rotate the sensors toward each other.

Note! It is critical that any modifier attached to the Speedlight not obstruct the sensor.

Light Modifiers Soften Harsh Direct Flash

Speedlight modifiers used: Diffusion Mitt – left. Umbrella Softbox – right. Handheld attached to lightstand and used as boom.

Manual Mode is Usually Best

The Speedlights and camera were set to manual mode. Manual mode gives the photographer maximum control and the results are consistent shot-to-shot.  However, if I was chasing this three year old around the yard it would be best to switch the Speedlights to ETTL. (That article is in the works, so stay tuned.)

One Speedlight Used

200mm lens, ISO 400, WB 7200K, f/5 x 1/200 sec.

Flash-Fill from the Camera

Lighting setup for the above photo. Ceiling blocks unwanted top light. Subject lit by flattering side light.

The photograph of this beautiful young girl was far less complicated. She was positioned on a bench at her home under a covered patio. The ceiling above her head shielded unwanted top light from striking the subject. Light from the side is more flattering than overhead light. It creates a more three-dimensional appearance.

The only problem was that the shadows created by the open skylight were too dark. The simple solution was to add a little Flash-Fill from the camera’s position to lighten the dark shadows.  A medium sized diffuser was attached to the on-camera Speedlight to soften the flash. Speedlight set to ETTL -2 FEC.

Lighting setup for the above photo. Ceiling blocks unwanted top light. Subject lit by flattering side light.

(A) Diffusion Mitt attached to on-camera Speedlight to soften Flash-Fill

About the Author:
John Rogers is an award winning photographer from Boise, Idaho and owner of prolightsecrets.com.

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3 Comments

  1. alfred says:

    thank you for the tips. the first picture look very beautiful. I also want to try the a picture of my daughter and my cat.

  2. Pupoamoi says:

    Thanks for the tip. Really love your sites. Surely will recomend this to my friends. Have a good day

  3. Kevin says:

    Thank you for the lighting tip. I had learnt about the inverse square law but had never known to convert distances into F-stops. It all makes sense! Can’t wait to haul out the speedlites again.

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