How to Achieve Multiple Portrait Lighting Effects With One Flash Unit

Here’s a simple portrait lighting setup you can experiment with for your next shoot.

Having detailed or extensive portrait lighting can be easily achieved in the studio. But, what if you’re shooting on a budget or can’t bring all your equipment when shooting on location? Pennsylvania photographer Michael Henderson comes to the rescue with a portrait lighting hack: how to achieve the look of three lights with just a single flash unit.

In his video tutorial’s description, Michael asked, “Is it possible to do off-camera flash portraiture with a single flash unit?” The short answer is yes, with just a handful of equipment you already have if you’ve been doing portraits for a while now. First, if you already have a DSLR body with a pop-up flash, you’re a third of the way there. Next, you have your Speedlight flash with a shoot-through umbrella setup as your main, off-camera light source. Lastly, check for a bright but soft sunlight for shooting outdoors instead of a studio.

Watch all of these come together in his tutorial below:

It’s fairly simple, as Michael showed us in his video. The pop-up flash of his camera served both as a fill light and the optical trigger of his slave flash. The off-camera flash mounted on a basic shoot-through umbrella served as his main light source, placed above eye level, at a 45 degree angle to the subject. Then there’s the sunlight for a nice back light. As we’ve seen in his examples, it works really nicely.

In this tutorial, he shot on an overcast day so the sunlight was more forgiving and he didn’t need to do much to overpower it. He has since updated this tutorial with a recent shoot, this time during the Golden Hour just before sundown.

Check out and subscribe to Michael Henderson’s YouTube Channel for more of his photography tips and tricks.

Screenshot taken from the video.