- Guaranteed for 2 full months
- Pay by PayPal or Credit Card
- Instant Digital Download
Ideally, every time we take photos of someone, there is a studio full of equipment at our disposal or wonderful sunlight that is perfectly diffused. This, however, is not reality. Usually, the sun is either too faint or too harsh. We don’t always have access to a studio, let alone one full of lighting gear that we can use. Sometimes, we also just don’t have the time to learn a new technique, rent more gear, or find the perfect location. Other times, the subject has very limited availability and locations. Still, we smile through the limitations and do our best to provide professional images every single time.
Do you feel prepared to compensate for these different light conditions that you may be forced to work with, though?
Natural light is always wonderful for any type of portrait, including headshots. Bouncing that natural light around with reflectors or just finding a bright shaded spot all work well. If you have a flash at your disposal, though, you can create even, or dramatic lighting to accommodate headshot needs.
The following three tips will help you create headshots using only one flash to compensate for less-then-perfect lighting conditions:
When using a flash, the last thing you usually want is for it to LOOK like you used a flash. To do this, you need to find ways to make the light disperse more, reducing any harsh look that it will otherwise produce. There are several ways to do this, and each on their own will help. Combining techniques works best, though.
In the before and after photos above, the left image shows the result using only natural light from the window. It’s beautiful light, but not always what you want.
The right photo shows same location, same position, with a single flash used to fill in the shadows. The flash is on-camera and has a flash dome diffuser on it. It’s angled to left of photographer (right of subject) so that it will bounce off walls and ceiling, and manually set at 1/8th power.
If you have access to remote triggers, play with using the light to add drama or emotion. This alone will give you a studio look and can be done just about anywhere. Be sure that this type of look is appropriate for your subject’s needs, especially since it tends to have a very strong look. For example, the owner of a flower shop may want something that is more natural-looking and shows the outdoors or her shop, while the owner of a tech start-up may like the strong look of dramatic lighting. While each situation is different, a few options for flash placement are:
The before and after photos above show how to use a single flash to create some dramatic headshots in any indoor situation. The left photo is properly exposing for the space, using natural light only. The photo on the right is manually controlled to greatly underexpose the natural light (so that the background disappears as much as possible), and then a single flash is placed towards right of subject to give concentrated and dramatic light.
While it is best to always use your flash on manual mode in order to have full control over the lighting, this is an often overlooked method. Manual mode on your flash will allow you to adjust the strength for any situation. Shooting indoors and bouncing the flash? Start your flash strength at 1/8 of full power and adjust from there. Shooting in full sun? Start at 1/2 strength and adjust down as needed. Need a soft bit of shadow to be filled while indoors? Set your flash strength to 1/16 and adjust from there. Note that you will get to know good starting points for different situations, but adjustments are always needed since every situation is unique.
The before and after photos above show you can use a single flash to compensate for shadows in daylight. The left photo shows direct daylight and no flash. The photo on the right is at the same time, same position, same sun condition, but with a single flash at 1/4 power to help fill shadows.
Regardless of what tools you have access to for each photo shoot, a big part of your job as photographers is to be able to adjust to any situation. While having lots of gear at your disposal is handy, it is not always necessary. Oftentimes, the gear you have on hand can do the job you need it to do; all it takes is some thinking outside of the box.
Do you have ways that you create beautiful headshot or portrait lighting on-the-fly? Please share in the comments below.