How to Make the Most of Your Flash With No Light Modifiers for Portraits

Approximately the same side due to how soft the lighting is

When you’re getting into portraiture and you’re a photographer on a budget, sometimes you don’t have the money to buy umbrellas, softboxes, etc. So the best things for you to generally do is learn how to photograph someone with a flash firing directly at them. This is what lots of shooters do, and sometimes it delivers awesome results but other times it really doesn’t.

After shooting for years on sometimes a shoestrong budget, I’ve learned how to do less with more. Here’s how.

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Lighting Basics: How to Light Portraits with a Beauty Dish

To a certain extent, a flash duration that is very fast can also give the same effects as less ambient light. This works best at the camera's max sync speed with your flash. Model: Asta Peredes.

So far, we’ve covered how to light portraits with an umbrella, an octabank and a softbox–today we’re focusing on the beauty dish. Beauty dishes were used mostly by fashion and portrait photographers for a while and for the most part they still are. They’re designed to give a very specific soft look that is directional and uses light in an inefficient way. The look has been characterized as being like a softbox and an umbrella at the same time. That’s part of the beauty of a beauty dish–pun totally intended. There are lots that are available about there, and you can easily hack them to do what you want too.

So let’s get into it!

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Useful Photography Tip #167: Have Your Subject Face Your Key Artificial Light Source

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Expoimaging Rogue Flashbender soft silver portraits of Anna (1 of 12)ISO 1601-250 sec at f - 2.8

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Hey strobist photographers: if you’re shooting a portrait of someone, the best thing that I’ve learned over the years is to actually make them face your artificial key light source. Of course, you wouldn’t do this with a natural one light the sun–but you can surely create more flattering portraits with a strobe or flash in a light modifier like a softbox, umbrella, etc.

Having your subject face the light source:

  • Makes the light look softer
  • Makes the light more flattering
  • Eliminates shadows on their face and sometimes body that may otherwise be unflattering
  • Gives them what I like to call the flattering spotlight effect.

When they’re facing the light source and the light source is shining directly down onto them, they’re illuminated to a certain point where they’re clearly made to be the main point of the photo. However, the light source isn’t as harsh as a spotlight, so it’s naturally more flattering.

As an extra tip: place the modifier so that the actual source of light is slightly above eye-level of the subject.

Also note: It doesn’t need to be direct; the light source can be slightly off to the left or right too.

Review: ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBender 2 XL Pro Super Soft Silver Reflector

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Expoimaging Rogue FlashBender Extra Large Soft Silver product images (1 of 9)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.8

These days, I’m generally not the type of photographer that shoots with a flash in the hot shoe of a camera–and in some ways it seems like the ExpoImaging Rogue Flash Bender XL Pro in Soft Silver wasn’t really designed for this. Photographers have loved the Flash Benders for a very long time due to how they bend light. They’re a staple for wedding and event photographers, but when the Extra Large came, out, they started to break more into the off-camera flash realm.

After teaming up with Frank Doorhof for their creation, the soft silver is designed to work for portraiture. It’s got the best of both worlds: the softening of white reflectors, but the sharpness that only silver reflectors can provide.

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Creating the Photograph: Nathan Hostetter’s “Mirror Mirror”


Creating the Photograph is an original series where photographers teach you about how they concepted an image, shot it, and edited it. The series has a heavy emphasis on teaching readers how to light. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com

Photographer Nathan Hostetter usually works with natural lighting and tries to emulate some sort of film look to his images. His photos can be characterized as having some sort of elegance to them while also finding a way to show off the humanity in his subjects. So when Nathan showed us a few of his portraits, we were quite impressed with one he shot of Naomi.

But what you’ll also be amazed by is how simple his lighting is–and that’s what makes the images!

Here’s Nathan’s story!

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Lighting Basics: How to Shoot Portraits With a Softbox

One foot in front of the other, higher shoulder back, one hand on the hip, the other doing something below the neck line. Bringing one foot forward shifts the weight in the body

The softbox is perhaps the most common and spoken of light modifier for portraiture and in general with photographers. They’re called softboxes because of their ability to take otherwise harsh lighting and make it look softer overall. This softer light references the quality of the shadows–the more opaque the light is the harder it is in general. This quality of light is highly valued in the photography community because of the very appealing look that it can deliver in the right situation.

The light is pretty beautiful, and we’re going to teach you some of the basics of using a softbox.

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Ivan Tsupka: Embracing Experimentation in Portrait Photography


All images by Ivan Tsupka. Used with permission.

It’s always important that every photographer working for taxable income also does lots of personal work–as is the case with many getting new gigs from their creative side work. “In 2009, I quite accidentally shot my first fashion campaign for designer Olga Gromova, which at the time I worked as a director.” says Ivan Tsupka, a Ukrainian fashion and advertising photographer whose Construction series . “And gradually began to more and more work in the field of fashion photography. In the last two years I my work is mostly fashion photography related.” Part of this is due to his creative art project–which he describes as being very experimental.

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Review: Flashpoint Xplor600 Monolight (Canon TTL)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Adorama Flashpoint Xplor600 monolight product images (1 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

At this point in the game, if you’ve been trying to figure out which TTL monolight to purchase, then the Adorama Flashpoint Xplor600 monolight isn’t exactly going to make life any easier. In a photography world with options from Profoto, Interfit, and Phottix you’re already quite confused about what to go with. But now you’ve got a very affordable option. The Flashpoint Xplor600 is based off of the Godox system and even uses their transmitters. It’s capable of deliver TTL flash output for Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras. Additionally, it can do things like high speed sync, stroboscopic modes, and offer almost full control over the monolight from the user’s remote.

One thing’s for sure though: f you’re a photographer looking to step up from the standard speedlites, the Xplor600 is an absolute incredible choice.

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