Simple Speedlight Tutorial

The proper use of flash drastically improves image quality. But what if you can’t afford studio quality lights? Not to worry. You can produce excellent images by properly using your speedlights, as well. Photographer Daniel Norton from Adorama demonstrates how with this speedlight tutorial:

Take the Flash Off the Camera

A common tendency is to mount a speedlight on the camera and point it toward the subject. The problem with this technique is that it produces harsh light. This creates deep shadows and hot spots and blows out skin details.

portrait using on camera flash

The first tip that Norton shares is to use the flash off-camera. By placing the flash on a light stand, you can position it on to the side of the subject just like you would with a studio light. This gives you the freedom to move the flash closer to or farther from the subject. Also, you can change the height of the stand to shape the shadows. However, since the flash is only a small source of light, the shadows might still appear harder than you’d like.

portrait using off camera flash

Make Your Light Source Larger

To improve the quality of the light and the look of the image, Norton’s next tip is to make the light source larger. You can do this by bouncing the flash off the ceiling or walls, using a reflector card, or using a softbox.

Norton is able to get an image that looks much better than the previous one using a Profoto 1×1.3′ softbox.

portrait using softbox on speedlight

With the softbox, the image retains details and texture, and the soft shadows wrap around the subject’s face.

Use Some of the Light in the Space

The second image has a look and feel of a studio portrait. Norton exposed it just for the light coming off of the speedlight. By using a shutter speed of 1/250 second, he was able to cut off all the ambient light affecting his image. But, if you want an image that looks more natural, Norton suggests that you allow some of the ambient light into your image.

To do this, Norton reduced his shutter speed by a stop to 1/160 second. And as you can see below, the image turns out looking much more natural.

portrait with flash and ambient light

So just by taking the speedlight off the camera, by making it larger, and by letting some of the surrounding light into your shot, you can get way more appealing portraits. Keep these simple tricks in mind the next time you’re popping your flash.

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