Top Photography Lighting Tips Using Flash For Portraits

Never use direct flash. Never use the built in flash on your camera apart from one type of effect called catchlight…see “catchlights”. Use an add on flash and at the very least you can bounce it off a wall behind you, the ceiling or even a side wall. Simple, very diffuse and natural. This one tip alone can change make your photography look professional.

Watch your sync Due to the design of a DSLR, the shutter and flash synchronisation have limitations which mean that most cameras will only sync up to 1/250, and some are at 1/180. The only time you start to notice this issue is when you are outdoors and having to balance daylight with your flash. So make sure your shutter speed is set below your sync speed.

Use available lighting as well. Shooting indoors or out, there is available light which is often nicer and warmer that your flash alone. (By the way we called the flash a strobe, so I’ll use this term from now on) The trick to getting this is to reduce your shutter speed. Remember you are using a strobe, which flashes at 1/10000 of a second; so you really don’t need to worry about camera shake. You can reduce the shutter speed to 1/30 sec…even 1/15 although you may start getting some blurring effects if you go too low. At 1/30 you should easily get some warmth coming through. Use this rule: Shutter speed adjusts daylight – Aperture adjusts flash. This tip alone will greatly improve your photography for.portraits.

Take this tip one step further and if you are shooting outdoors use movement to illustrate the action, and flash to keep your subject sharp. Works great for weddings.

Catchlights In portraits what makes the eyes sparkle is called a catchlight. Its essential to get these in your shots, they can make or break your portrait. To get them without strobes in daylight, sit your subject in front of window, and position their head so that the window light is visible in their eyes. To get them with a strobe, you need to take it off camera and position it off to the right/ or left, but remember you are bouncing your flash so use a reflector card on the strobe to create the catchlight. Many modern strobes have one built in to the unit that can extend about an inch from the head itself. This reflects a white light back to the subject. Alternatively you can tape a 2×1 inch piece of card to the back of the strobe to create the same effect.

More tips…

Use your inbuilt flash for catch light Most modern cameras now have a popup flash built in. You should never use this, as the main light from it is too small, harsh and ugly. However, it can create good catchlights. You need to dial the exposure compensation for the flash down -2 stops so that it does light the scene too much.

You need diffuse flash If you getting serious about portraits or people images with strobes you must diffuse your light properly. You can get an umbrella, softbox, or even makes something our of cereal box, with tracing paper at the end. Good tip here…A simple solution is to take milk carton and clean it out and wrap it around you strobe head.

Get your flash off camera for effective lighting in your photography OK so you need to get your strobes off your camera and fire them remotely. You can either buy cactus wireless triggers (about $40 – bargain!) or use cable/PC-sync cords. The wireless triggers give you much more scope to move about. You can also use them behind objects, which takes your lighting to a new level.

Look for back lighting Backlit situations make beautiful hairlights…and add a real wow factor, if you get the frontal exposure right. If you are in a backlight situation, use your strobe to light the subject to balance. You need to get the balance right, and with digital you can check it right away. Remember to set your exposure for the daylight, and then add the flash at the same aperture setting. Then use the rule: Shutter speed adjusts daylight – Aperture adjusts flash.

Hot tip on backlighting….go for flare. Its not taboo and adds a bit of character to the shot. Make sure you get your subject clear though and correctly exposed.