Studio Portrait Flash Distance

When taking studio portraits, many photographers recommend you put the flash as close to the subject as possible. But have you ever wondered if this is indeed good advice, or just another misguided repetition? In today’s video, photographer Gavin Hoey with Adorama puts this theory to the test by varying the distance between flash and subject. As you’ll see here, it’s not just the light that changes.

For the purpose of this video, Hoey places a camera on a tripod in front of his subject and photographs her by just moving the flash. To keep the exposure consistent, he also meters the shot every time he moves the light.

As you can see,  a lot of changes take place when he moves the light away from the subject. Basically, the catchlight becomes smaller and smaller, and the overall look of the image keeps getting less flattering. The light doesn’t get to wrap around the subject’s face when it’s farther, so the image appears flatter. Even the shadows are elongated and weaker when the light is far away from the subject.

Besides these differences, another interesting observation that Hoey made was that the colors in the image appeared warmer as the light is moved away. This is an indication that the flash’s output had different temperatures at different power settings.

When we compare all the images, it seems that the best option is to place the light as close to the subject as possible. But how close is close? Well, Hoey has a simple technique that he follows.

“It’s gotta be just in the shot, and then just slightly back it up until it’s just out of frame. That’s how close I like to put my light.”

Like Hoey states, having the light close to the subject has many other advantages. You get to use the flash at a lower power, leading to less battery consumption, faster recycle time and sharper images.

Do you have any reasons for setting up your flash far from your subject?

For further training: The Electronic Flash Photography Guide

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