3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits

What if you could use the lighting gear that is probably already in your camera bag to shoot incredible lit shots of your couple’s that LOOK LIKE you used studio strobes? You can!



On Today’s Tuesday Tips and Tricks we will show you the 3 essential tricks for stunning speedlight portraits that look like you had large studio strobes on your shot!


1. Modifiers:

When you use the RIGHT modifier for your speedlights, you can create stunning portraits with minimal amounts of gear. The MAIN light is the most important one because it will give the majority of the light to your subjects face and body. We have been using the Westcott Rapid box for speedlights because it does a few things REALLY well.

  • It is EASY and Fast to set up (pops open like an umbrella).
  • It is very light weight which is great for not adding sweat to your already long days shooting.
  • The QUALITY of the light is outstanding! The reason the light is so good, is because the Rapid Box does a great job of spreading the light out evenly when it comes out the front of the box and therefore creates ultra soft, buttery light which looks great on anyone!
The other two modifiers on this shot (which are not necessary to use, but fun to have in the shot), are two Westcott Rapid Box strip banks.

2. Control

(Ambient Light Only)

Control over your modifier and Speedlight POWER is critical to making the images work for your style. For the style of this shot, we wanted it to look more like we were in the studio, so here is what we did.

  • Placed on our main light off 45 degrees to camera right to create dramatic light on the face.
  • Used two background strip banks (placed at 45 degree angles to their backs)  to cut out our subjects from the background.
  • Used a light meter to know EXACTLY how bright all of the lights were and have ZERO guess work (this saves us time and allows each shot to be correct based on knowing what we want in the image).

3. Ratios

Choosing the right ratio between ambient light, and flash, will determine HOW your image will be perceived. You can use flash to just add a pop of light to the eyes when it is needed, or you can use it to make your images look like they were shot in the studio (like the example here which was shot outdoors at 3pm in the afternoon under an over-hang).

For this shot, we decided to go more dramatic and pick a heavier 5 to 1 lighting ratio (which means the main light is 2 stops BRIGHTER than the ambient light).


Here are the keys to making these ratios work:

  • Over-Powered the ambient light by 2 stops to create dramatic contrast with our MAIN light. (for this shot, the ambient light was metered at ISO 100, 160th of a second at f/3.2. So, we powered UP the main light until it was 2 stops BRIGHTER at ISO 100, 160th of a second at f/6.3 in order to get the 5 to 1 lighting ratio).
  • UNDER-POWERED the two background lights by one  stop LOWER than the main light so they don’t overpower the shot (that is a good technique to under-power the background lights because light looks brighter when it comes towards the camera). The background lights were metered to f/4.5.

Once we had the right modifier that could really enhance the poor light quality of the speed-light, took control over that modifier and placed in the right position, and then got the ratio of light we wanted for this style of shot, the image just came together very easily!


Now, here is our CHALLENGE to you! Leave a comment below, let us know what type of ratio of light you like, OR let us know if you think you could use this technique to shoot some off-camera lit shots, and then, go out and try it!


PS. Did you know that our IN-CAMERA Digital workshops are back and are on SALE FOR 24 HOURS? (tweet this message out!) So, if you want to check them out or send a friend to get one, head over to the store and take a look!


PPS. Did you also know that we offer more training, free videos and exclusive content on our newsletter? (tweet this message out!) If you want to get in on the action and join over 23,000 other photographers that read it every week or so, get it HERE!