6 Tips for Taking Better Portraits with On-Camera Speedlights

Take standout portrait photos when you learn how to harness light both indoors and out with on-camera speedlights. See here for a chance to take the online Craftsy class Portraits with an On-Camera Speedlight by award-winning photographer Neil van Niekerk. And, enjoy six tips that will set you on your way to success:


1. Bounce the light

When taking portraits with an on-camera speedlight look for a big wall or ceiling to bounce your light. Ideally identify a flat white space that will reflect the light and turn your very small speedlight into a much larger light source. The larger source gives shadows a soft edge to them and produces a more flattering light.


Bounce the light off of the ceiling or a wall.

2. Modify the light

If you don’t have a white wall or ceiling handy, bring along something that can modify your speedlight into a bit of a larger light source, that is not quite as direct. This can be as simple as a piece of paper or white cardboard taped to your flash. There are many other products on the market that take an otherwise small light source and find a way to make it bigger by spreading it out.


Use reflectors and other modifiers to increase the light source’s size.

3. Fill the light

It may be that you already have enough light to get a decent photo without the use of a speedlight. However, you may get a better photo if you use your flash as a fill light, to fill in the shadows that the ambient light creates. This is most true in direct sunlight, where the sun can make dark shadows under the eyes, nose and chin. A direct flash can make these shadows appear not so dark.


Flash fills in shadows.

4. Gel the light

When working on portraits indoors, where your ambient light may be coming from incandescent lamps or fluorescent bulbs, a little gel can go a long way. Speedlights are color balanced to daylight, so when you use them with warmer or cooler or greener lights they can look very strange and artificial. A tiny piece of gel placed over the light can change the color temperature to match whatever is going on in the room.


Use gels to color balance.

5. Automate the light

Camera technology has gotten to a point where the flash settings can be pretty accurately set based on in-camera light meter readings. This TTL (Through the Lens) technology means that you may be able to switch your camera into automatic mode and not worry about settings or how bright the light should be. It will all be done for you! This is great news for the portrait photographer who needs to work very quickly in changing light.


Make use of TTL technology.

6. Collect the light

Using a slower shutter speed along with the flash is an interesting method for portraiture. You can basically collect ambient light by leaving the shutter open longer and then freeze the action in your foreground (ideally your subject) by using the flash. The duration of the flash is very quick no matter your shutter speed so the person will look “frozen” during that short period of time—and therefore sharp even with a very slow shutter speed.


Make use of ambient light in your portraits.

Now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve, take the next step towards improving your portrait photography when you see here for a chance to take the online Craftsy class Portraits with an On-Camera Speedlight. During this online class, expert Neil van Niekerk reveals the effects of different lighting environments, when to use automatic or manual flash, advanced on-camera flash techniques and much more. You’ll even get personalized advice and your photos critiqued.

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