Adding external lighting into your portrait photography workflow will really help you make images that will stand out from the crowd. While natural lighting is great, adding flashes and monolights into the mix can really make your images incredibly dynamic. There are so many lighting options on the market though, so it can be hard to choose between the options out there. In this feature we will take a look at six different lighting options that are affordable, and easy to use. There’s no doubt that they will help you take your portrait photography to new levels.
There really is no need to be afraid of adding flash into your workflow. Many photographers shy away from it as they think it is hard to master, but it’s really not. Once you embrace it and can see what it can do for your images, you’ll never be able to do without flash photography. Fortunately you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great quality lighting any more. The six lights below are perfect for beginners and pros alike, and they really won’t break the bank. Lets take a look these lights that will help you elevate your portrait photography.
Yongnuo 560 III Radio Flash
The Yongnuo YN560-III is small, powerful, can be triggered remotely, and it’s incredibly affordable, and because of these things it is a firm favorite with beginners and pros. The YN560-III has a large digital display on the back of the unit, and you can bounce this flash easily thanks to the tilting/rotating head.
Add in a guide number of 58, wireless firing capabilities with an additional trigger, and the fact that the flash is ready to fire after just a few seconds and you have a bargain basement champ on your hands. This manual flash is the best place to start when adding external lighting into your portrait photography workflow.
In our review we said:
“The Yongnuo 560 III should dispel a lot of myths. Not only is it affordable and well built, but it also is a killer deal overall. For significantly less than what all the big players offer, you’re getting a flash with radio transmission built in.”
Buy now ($53.94): Amazon
Pro Tip: If you really want to be able to control where the light from your flash is falling on your subject, the Rouge Flashbender 2 is what you need. This reflector can be bent and positioned so that you can control the light easily. It attaches to your flash with Velcro and is ready to use in seconds. This is a must have for flash photographers.
Godox Thinklite TT685S TTL
The Godox TT685 is probably the best bang for your buck speedlite on the market. This flash has a guide number of 60, it’s built like a tank, it’s easy to use, can be fired remotely with an additional trigger, has TTL functionality, and has High Speed Sync which means you can use this flash up to 1/8000 second.
The head can tilt and swivel from 0 degrees to 360 degrees horizontally and -7 degrees to 90 degrees vertically. Top this unit off with fast recycle times and you have a flash unit that’s perfect for portrait photography.
In our review we said:
“Let me state this: there isn’t a single reason why this flash shouldn’t receive the Editor’s choice award. The Godox Thinklite TT686S TTL flash is reliable, compact, and simply works. Not only that but it gives the user a whole load of options.”
Buy now Canon ($110): Amazon
Buy now Nikon ($110): Amazon
Buy now Sony ($109.99): Amazon
Buy now Fujifilm ($110): Amazon
Pro Tip: Speedlites are great as they can be used both on and off camera. The quicker you can get the flash out of your hot shoe and into a softbox though the better. By using a S-Bracket, you can mount your speedlite to a softbox. By doing this you will be able to generate much softer light which will be much more flattering. This is perhaps the single greatest thing you can do to improve the quality of light from any flash.
Flashpoint eVOLV 200 TTL Pocket Flash (Godox AD200)
If you’re ready for something with more power so that you can shoot in more demanding conditions, the eVOLV 200 (Godox AD200) might fit the bill perfectly for you. This flash needs to be used off camera as it’s not hot shoe mountable, but my goodness what a powerhouse it is.
The eVOLV 200 has roughly the same power and output as three regular flashes (200ws). It is compatible with TTL, and is High Speed Sync ready. The rechargeable battery is good for about 350 flashes per charge, and it will work with almost all major camera brands as long as you have the right R2 trigger for your camera. This light makes portrait photography a piece of cake.
Buy now ($295): Amazon
Pro Tip: You can add unlimited amounts of drama to your portraits with external lighting, and one of the most fun ways to do this is by using gels. Colored gels that sit in front of, or on your speedlight will cast the color of the gel on to your subject. You can use orange gels to simulate golden hours, or you can use green, blue or pink gels to simulate neon lights. Add some gels to your images and you’ll be able to create portraits that really stand out from the crowd.
Interfit Honey Badger Unleashed
If you want to take things further with your lighting game and need even more output you can step up into the world of monolights. The Interfit Honey Badger Unleashed has 320ws of power for you to play with, it’s TTL compatible, features High Speed Sync, it recycles in just 1 second, it’s very portable, has an easy to read display, and it has great battery life.
You can expect roughly 430 flashes from the battery, and it recharges in just 90 minutes. This light is suited for use in a studio and it’s perfect to take out on location too. Keep in mind you’ll need to use the wireless transmitter or a sync cable to fire this light. While not powerful enough to overpower the sun, you’ll still be able to use this in lighting situations that smaller flashes would balk at. It’s perfect for a first time monolight user.
In our review we said:
“I think that the Interfit Honey Badger Unleashed is not only a fantastic monolight, but it’s a great option for any photographer that needs to work on a location due to the fact that the entire thing is self contained. You get reliability, durability, ease of use, and quite a bit of power.”
Buy now ($299.99): Amazon
Pro Tip: Light meters are a flash photographers best friend. These small devices take all the guess work out of having to figure out cameras settings so that you can blend flash and ambient lighting perfectly. You can even get attachments for your phone that work incredibly well. The Lumu Power Light Meter simply plugs into the lightning port on an iPhone; you then use an app so that you can measure readings. It’s small, very accurate and affordable. You’ll get your portraits right first time with one of these.
Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Pro TTL Rechargeable Monolight
The XPLOR 400 Pro TTL monolight is quite possibly the best bang for your buck monolight available. It’s perfect to use in studios, and is powerful enough to overcome harsh lighting conditions outside thanks to its output of 400ws. The rechargeable battery is good for about 400 shots, you can use it manually or via TTL, you can shoot at 1/8000 sec thanks to the High Speed Sync integration.
The light recycles in less than a second. The large display on the side of the unit is easy to read, and you can mount different light modifiers to it thanks to the available adapters. Like other Godox Flashpoint lights on this list, you’ll need an R2 trigger for your camera brand to be able to fire this light. If you want studio quality lighting on the go, the 400 Pro TTL is the way to go.
In our review we said:
“The build quality is great overall, the battery life is fantastic, and it’s consistent performance means you can just shoot and don’t have to worry about what you’re going to get from it.”
Buy now ($649): Amazon
Pro Tip: Owning a light is one thing, knowing how to get the most out of it is another thing entirely. There are so many different styles of lighting out there that it can quite honestly be a little overwhelming. One of the best things you can do is invest in materials that will help you become a lighting master. One of the best around is Frank Doorhof, and his guide on Essential Lighting Techniques will help you become a portrait photography lighting master in no time.
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 Pro TTL Battery Powered Monolight
If your portrait photography clients absolutely demand that you be able to shoot in full sun, the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 Pro TTL is what you’ll need. It’s a little bit bigger than the Flashpoint 400 Pro TTL, but it has the same great features such as TTL and High Speed Sync.
What sets this light apart from all the others on this list is that you can overpower the sun thanks to the 600ws output. With this light in your arsenal you’ll be able to shoot in any location, at any time of day which means you can book more sessions, and your clients will get the images they want.
In our review we said:
“Featuring excellent built quality, premium fit and finish, consistently performance, exceptional color accuracy, speedy recycle times, and outstanding battery life, the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 Pro is a professional grade monolight with an aggressively competitive price tag, and serves as an excellent alternative to the pricier monolight offerings from competing European manufacturers.”
Buy now ($899): Amazon