Flash photography is essential in getting optimum lighting for portraits when you work in less than perfect conditions. Granted, if you can shoot in natural sunlight for all your portraits, that would be ideal. Natural daylight is God-given and will always appear…well, natural.

However, this doesn’t mean that flash photography looks unnatural. Used wrongly, it will look unnatural. With the right guidance, flash photography is a powerful tool in your lighting arsenal that will help your portraits shine even with the worst possible light conditions (pun intended).

Versatile Photographers Have Flash Photography Skills

Being versatile enough to use your lighting skills no matter the situation will make you a much better photographer. A wedding photographer or portrait photographer who can wield his speedlights with authority and use them in creative ways will be way more confident than one who needs to rely on natural sunlight all the time.

The portrait above shows one situation where a speedlight made a big difference. Even though the key light which lit her face was natural sunlight, the area above her was dark, there wasn’t any light coming from there. Her hair is dark, and would have blended into the dark background, if a speedlight wasn’t used. A lighting assistant held a bare speedlight above her and created a separation light that distinguished her hair from the background.

Apart from highlighting her hair, the speedlight also created a rim light on the edge of her arms and legs, which also helped separate them from the background. Notice the top edges of the steps? That’s also the work of that single speedlight.

Portrait Lighting Setups

Studying a portrait lighting setup is one way to learn flash photography. This is the teaching approach used in SimpleSLR Photography Guides, which show actual portraits or wedding photography by Andy Lim of Emotion in Pictures. The scenario is illustrated through detailed portrait lighting setups. In the Portrait Recipes collection there are 24 lighting diagrams that show

  • the position of the light sources (these can be speedlights, ballroom spotlights, window light and so on)
  • how light modifiers were used (eg. softbox, umbrella or snoot)
  • how they interact with the subject (the model)
  • the position of the camera in relation to the subject and light sources
  • environmental factors such as ambient light, whether it’s indoor or semi-outdoor
  • availability of walls as bounce surfaces
  • and much much more.

Test drive these lighting setups now. Get the complete ebook bundle to see how effectively flash photography can work for you.

Andy Lim
Author of SimpleSLR Photography Guides