Shooting portraits against a black background makes a dramatic statement. It forces the viewer to give the subject their undivided attention, and it can give off a wide range of emotions. However, it also presents lighting challenges for photographers. In this video, photographer Joe McNally demonstrates a simple approach to these challenges:
To illustrate the difficulty in photographing on a black background, McNally first shoots an image with the on-camera flash. The result is harsh, heavy on contrast, and unflattering:
To soften the light, McNally uses the on-camera flash to trigger a remote Speedlight, which is then aimed at the subject through a diffuser, resulting in a natural-looking light with soft shadows:
For yet another look, try a large diffuser panel (McNally uses one that measures 3 feet by 6 feet). Those who don’t want to buy or rent one can create a makeshift panel from a bedsheet. Diffusing the light over such a large area will create a soft, allover glow on your subject:
Depending on the mood you’re trying to capture, any of these lighting setups could be the right one for you. But as always, it pays to familiarize yourself with a variety of approaches.
“Be observant of light—observant of natural light; be aware of what your flashes can and cannot do for you; and the mix of those two potential approaches (available, flash, or flash mixed with available) make you a very versatile photographer.” – Joe McNally
Like This Article?
Don't Miss The Next One!
Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current: