Outdoor Portrait Photography: How to Use Speed Lights to Gain F-stops

Shooting portraits outdoors can come with its own set of challenges, especially when you want depth of field at the same time as a well-lit portrait. This is when using speed lights to gain those precious f-stops can make all the difference. Joe McNally explains how in the video below:

McNally’s goal was to use a relatively small aperture–f/13–in order to include the details of the landscape in his portrait. However, without any added light, he’d have to open up the aperture to properly expose his model, which would blow out the background and decrease depth of field. His solution? Use multiple speed lights to match the natural light.

How to Increase Depth of Field

As Joe McNally demonstrates, you don’t need a lot of equipment: a C-stand with diffuser panel and a simple stand with a speed light setup are the main ingredients. The number of speed lights you choose can vary (Joe recommends up to three), but the bigger the light source relative to the subject, the greater the potential f-stop gain. When pushed through a diffuser panel, this combination provides a large, diffused light source that allows the subject to be fully lit, while at the same time keeping much of the detail and saturation of the background.


In addition to gaining f-stops, pumping speed lights through a diffuser panel can also help you light your subject when there is a lot of ambient light in the shot or when you’re battling large exposure zones (like a brightly lit sky). It can also provide you with a faster flash recycle time, something especially important when your subject is moving or you need a lot of shots in a short amount of time.

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One Comment

  1. Howard says:

    ” you don’t need a lot of equipment: a C-stand with diffuser panel and a simple stand with a speed light setup are the main ingredients.”

    And I notice there’s ……. AN ASSISTANT! And that rig doesn’t look any too simple either.. And multiple speed lights. I’ll jump right on it.

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