This is part three in a series of posts about learning off-camera flash. Find part one and two here:
Maybe the most basic use of off-camera flash is the classic studio headshot. When you are learning flash photography, setting up a simple headshot is a great way to quickly pick up on how the position of your lights effect the final image. Grab a friend or family member and find a white wall, screen, or hang up a poster board to use as a background. I suggest starting with one light and get the best image you can with that one light. Then, if you have more lights, add them one at a time and adjust as you go to get the desired results.
For the image below, my main light is a YN-560 II Speedlight on the right modified with a SMDV Speedbox Diffuser Softbox. The light is slightly above the eye level of the subject, supported by the Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand. I love this light modifier! It creates a very nice soft light. I’ll be doing a full review soon, but this softbox is extremely portable, easy to setup and fun to use.
After I was happy with the placement power of this light, I then added a second YN-560 II Speedlight to the left behind the subject, pointed directly at the white backdrop. This light was on a second Manfrotto Nano Stand and modified with a Westcott 2001 43-Inch Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella. The purpose of this light was to light the backdrop and provide some fill light to the left side of the subject.
Here’s another example. In this example I’m using a large softbox with an Alien Bee studio strobe on the left and a second Alien Bee with beauty dish on the right on lower power to add some fill. The positioning of the two lights is pretty similar the above example except the light on the left is the main light and is illuminating the subject’s faces as well as the backdrop while the light on the left is set at a lower power to add some fill to the right side of their faces. You can see that both setups provide very similar results. With the right modifiers and positioning, speedlights can be a very versatile and portable off-camera flash system and mimic the look of studio strobes.
One of my favorite studio setups entails just one large softbox placed parallel to the subject like in the following diagram:
This setup creates a more dramatic feel by leaving one side of the face in heavier shadow while still providing a soft gradation of light.
With softboxes, small adjustments in the position of the light in relation to the subject can make a large difference in how the light sculpts and shapes the face. Umbrellas are less particular. They tend to blast light everywhere while still providing a soft light. Experiment with placement, height, and flash power to see what those variables do to the quality of light.