Single Flash Portraits On A Budget

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Learn how to create beautiful portraits – whether indoors or outdoors – using nothing more than your camera and a single flash. Check out the inexpensive umbrella flash kit, like the one we use in this video, here:

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like a lot of photographers I prefer to do my portraits in natural light but you can't always schedule a photo shoot around natural light or sometimes you want to shoot at the clients home and the natural light there just isn't good you can introduce an external flash and the light stand and umbrella everything you need for under 80 bucks so I'm going to show you how to get great results with an off-camera speed light and how to take it outside and use it in brighter sunlight as well as how to adjust all your camera settings we'll talk about the specifics of the camera gear and what you really need to so the first thing I'm doing is setting up this light stand and just putting the flash on top of it and I would never really use a bare bulb flash like this but I will do it just for the sake of example to show you what kind of results you'll get with just the external flash now lots of flashes will integrate with your camera's system but we're going to recommend off-brand flashes that don't necessarily talk directly to your camera because you can save a whole bunch of money so I'll show you how to do that for every different camera that you might have but for now I'll just turn this on and demonstrate the results we'd be triggering it with the external flash here so right away we have a flash shot but the flash is really hard the shadows on her face are just hard lines and the shadows are also really deep so let's talk about how to set up the settings on your camera and on your flash because we're shooting indoors and the flash is going to be our main light as opposed to a secondary light we want to use manual mode on the camera now there are flash systems where you can use sort of automatic modes but in the course of either using this or just learning it I find manual mode to just be a lot more reliable I find the sort of ETTL systems for off-camera flashes like this to be more complex than necessary in manual mode is much easier don't be intimidated by manual mode if you haven't used it before we have a video that can walk you through every step of the process and make it very easy but for now I'm just going to put this camera into manual mode and then I'm going to set the shutter speed to 1/2 hundredth of a second I'm going to go ahead and use the lowest f-stop number I can and the lowest native ISO which on this camera most cameras is ISO 100 now if I take a picture of Chelsea without the flash on let's see what we get with these settings so as you can see the shot is just black and that's actually a good sign that means the camera isn't getting enough ambient light to properly expose the photo that means any sort of light we get on Chelsea is going to be coming from the flash now to activate the flash I'm going to be using the onboard flash here so I'm going to pop that up now this flash can operate is what they call an optical slave and that means it does nothing it just watches the world until it sees a bright flash of light and when it sees that flash of light then it pops then it fires so I put this into optical slave mode by just pushing the mode button and I've adjusted the output down to one eighth one eighth of total power that's three stops down from full power there's nothing complex about that at all nothing to be scared about you just press the power output button until it's you know three stops down from the power the camera setting it up to properly trigger the optical slave can be a little more complex and it's different for different cameras you will want to put your on-camera flash into manual mode and then set it to lowest power output which is usually one 128th full power if you don't feel like fussing with the on-camera flash if your camera doesn't have an on-camera flash you can also get a radio trigger for maybe 20 bucks they'll allow you to trigger a flash remotely but we're trying to save 20 bucks and get this as inexpensively as possible so now that I've configured my on-camera flash to trigger my optical slave here we can pop another picture with the flash itself the shadows are really harsh so let's work on softening that up a little bit stands like this come with an attachment that allow you to put an umbrella on and in fact we bought this whole kit with the stand and the umbrella for about 30 bucks so for now I'm going to start with the easiest umbrella to use which is a shoot through umbrella this attaches to the stand that goes between the light stand and the model and what it will do is just catch the light coming from the flash and diffuse it that will just bounce that flash around the room a little bit adding a little bit of fill light and it'll soften the light that does go on to Chelsea so basically this whole umbrella becomes the big light source so I'm going to kind of point that down to Chelsea and the closer I can get it to Chelsea the softer the light is going to be but of course I don't want it jutting into the frame this lighting setup resulted in very dramatic light with very deep shadows not as hard as the bare bulb but still only going to be appropriate of Chelsea's writing horror movies so she's trying to be happy about this so we're going to try to lighten the light up a little bit and I can do that by casting some more light on the other side of her face so by moving the flash a little are on-axis I can also raise this up so I'm actually shooting underneath the umbrella this is more traditional portrait lighting and by moving it over towards the camera more we call that moving it on access because the access is coming straight from the camera's lens it's still a little bit off so the light will be a little more interesting than just flat lighting let's try this again a little bit more actually going to switch sides some of the lighting is more pleasing but the shadows are still really really deep there are a couple of ways to do that you want to do it by adding in more fill light so you could put a reflector below Chelsea and that would help fill in the shadows by reflecting some of the flash back up we have a whole separate video on using reflectors so check that out the way I'm going to show you how to do it is by adjusting the ambient light in the room and how much of it your camera gets so we're in manual mode here and if I make any settings that allow more light into the camera the light from the flash is going to remain constant but the camera will gather more room light so one of the things I can do is to lower the shutter speed right now it's at one 200,000 if I go down to one sixtieth of a second that should be enough to freeze any motion from Chelsea but it will gather much more room light two and a half times more room light I can also use a higher ISO ISO is the camera sensitivity so if I go from ISO 100 to ISO 400 that's going to be letting four times more light in in addition to the two and a half times more light in I got from the slower shutter speed so I'll take one more picture now there's more room light and indeed there is more fill and the shadows on is deep but the flash seems a little bright and this kind of process always takes place anytime you use a flash and a camera because there's no one set of settings that I can give you that's going to work in every environment and said what you have to do is take test shots adjust it a little and reshoot in fact sometimes before we have a client over I'll even set up a mannequin or it could even just be a foam head and I'll practice on that I'll get the settings just right in the right environment so that I don't have to go through as much trial and error when the client does get here so I'm going to drop the light output from the flash by a couple of stops if you get to the point where your flash is as low as it can go you can always pull the flash farther away because moving it farther will also reduce the amount of light that reaches your subject let's try again so I'm happy with the lighting now we have some shadows under the cheekbones which help to define the face if there were no shadows I'd want to use a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO to cut the amount of ambient light getting to the room if the shadows were too deep again we raise the ISO or lower the shutter speed the light on the face is nice and bright and contrasting with the ambient room light if there weren't enough light on our face from the flash I would turn the flash output up or even move it a little bit closer to her you'll see that as I've been moving the umbrella I've been trying to keep it pretty close to Chelsea and generally the closer you can get the flash to your subject the softer the light is going to be if the shadows were actually too soft or too flat you might rectify that by pulling it away a little bit or by using a smaller diffuser on the flash let's take a look at a couple of the other umbrellas that come with this same like it they're pretty cheap the the other main umbrella that you'll see is a bounce umbrella and it's different distinctly different from a shoot through umbrella in that it's reflective so if you were to fire the flash into this with a setup like this obviously all the light would be coming back here and you want it going towards the subject so I'm going to take this umbrella out by the way this will happen on every single umbrella that you buy all umbrellas are fairly cheap you when you spend a lot on them the cheap ones are especially cheap it's okay it still works I've had this umbrella for like a decade I think it broke on about use number three but that's fine itzel gets the job done maybe doesn't look super proud though so I'll attach this umbrella into the light stand and then go turn the whole thing around and of course angle it down towards the model so notice that even as I did that I the light source is now back here instead of being over here because this umbrella itself is the light source not the flash so unless I want to change the size of the light source I also need to move it much much closer and again usually your best bet is to get as close as you can without getting it into the frame you can see the quality of light from the reflected umbrella is a little bit different than it was with the shoot through umbrella let's take a just a minute to understand the camera settings a little bit better I've been shooting at ISO 400 and one sixtieth of a second let's drop the ISO from ISO 400 down to 100 so that we can see the effect as you can see the whole image gets darker when you change the ISO because the ISO affects both the strobe and your model and your subject if you want to adjust just the ambient light you can adjust the shutter because I'm at one sixtieth of a second now but the flash is going to fire in just a fraction of that so even if I adjust the shutter up to one 200th of a second the same amount of light from the strobe is going to get in because it's firing it just a tiny fraction of a second but it won't gather as much ambient light from the room so shutting the shutter speed down and see how it looks at one 200,000 we're cutting out all light from this fairly dim room so we're only seeing light from the flash at this point there's one more light modifier I wanted to show you which is my favorite it's a little bit more expensive but it includes an actual diffuser in it so it works like the reflective umbrella but then it has basically a built-in softbox and they're quite portable and not nearly as expensive as a full softbox and pretty easy to set up so take this off and for this I need to put the flash right in there and then just seal this up as much as I can around the flash now I know this is going to lose some light so I know I have to raise the output of the flash I'm going to bring it back up to 1/8 power and because it is a reflective umbrella it needs to be pointing away from Chelsea this whole big white surface here is going to become a big soft box it's a little more effective at this than the shoot through umbrella was because it's not scattering light as around the room as much so we'll set that up take another demo shot there we go just gorgeous light I think I want a little more the ambient light in there because those shadows are too dark so noir what I need to do I need to lower that shutter speed and maybe raise the ISO so I'm going to go from one two hundred down to one sixtieth of a second I'm also going to raise the ISO back up to ISO 400 and I think a flash is going to be too bright but let's take another test shot so we do see more detail in the shadows now but as I predicted the flash is too bright because they made the camera more sensitive by raising the ISO so I'm going to lower the output by two stops because I raise the ISO by 2stop so just going from 1/8 to 1/32 you don't have to be good at doing math with the stops you just have to do a little trial and error just lower it down if it's too bright or raise it up if it's too dark so we'll try this again so there we have it a really nice professional-looking environmental portrait done on a pretty low budget so let's take it outside so we can see how to use these flashes in bright sunlight we have really nice light out here so I'm going to use the outside light the Sun and the shadows as the main light and for the time being and we'll use the flash at all I'll keep that turned off I'm just going to use auto exposure even I'm putting it in aperture priority mode selecting the lowest f-stop number which is my typical way to shoot a portrait outside and I'm going to use auto ISO and let the camera just take care of the rest so first I shot without the flash those would be some chance the lighting is nice on her face but she's wearing dark clothes and the background behind her is very dark and that means she's not very well separated from the backdrop so I'm just going to take this flash and put it behind her I like having a flash available to use as a kicker flash so it's going to be behind her and just out of the frame and you can see I've got a sandbag here because these things become a sail in the wind and they will fall over try it again so again there's always a little bit of trial and error with lighting but as I look at it I can see the light is actually catching her face quite a bit so I'm going to move it more behind her just more on access I can see I can actually get it closer so I'm just gonna make another adjustment to it so that's not bad we are getting there but this light it's just a little too much for my taste she's separated from the background but I wish there were a little less of that light so I'm just gonna turn the flash down each stop I drop it will cut the light by half so we drop it maybe a stop and a half or so and we'll try again now I'm happy with that I I have a little bit of light setting off from the background but it's not overpowering I think most people wouldn't even notice that it was there and what I'd like to convey most about this is that you can get a flash and a light stand and a couple of umbrellas pretty inexpensively and it can really really improve your portrait photography it's not too much to carry around it doesn't have to be a technically complex problem either you don't have to memorize settings or remember anything about stops or f-stops but you want more light turn the flash up if you want less light turn the flash down or move it further away figure out manual mode on your camera first and then I'll make your life much easier but again we have a video in Chapter four and stunning digital photography can help you figure out manual mode too I hope you like this video if you did click like you want to see more free videos three every week click Subscribe and of course check out our book stunning digital photography which has more than twelve hours of videos just like this walking you through step by step all the parred parts of photography and making it as easy as it can possibly be thanks you

36 thoughts on “Single Flash Portraits On A Budget

  1. CLS system of the nikon is brilliant. It worked every time indoors. Outdoors you have to turn the sensor facing the camera. You can buy a blocking panel to get rid of the harsh direct light off the camera. Its made by nikon. Its great for indoors. Its called the sg-3IR.

  2. Your videos are always great. Big fan. One thing I noticed, at 14:21 the info says shutter speed 1/200 but it is 1/60 may be it's a miss.
    Anyways I learned a lot and will do flash photography in my next project . Thanks Tony and Chelsea

  3. Totally off subject, but what Taylor guitar do you have on wall? Check my channel for some fingerstyle lessons….on a Taylor if course!
    Back on subject, thanks for making these videos. I'm learning more a photography and videography and your videos have really helped. New subscriber.

  4. Making to many adjustments, makes one look like an amateur, and possibly piss off the Client! With experience, one has a very good Idea, about the Lighting set-up ahead of time!

  5. Wow, look how old this video is. Watching in 2018 while trying to learn off camera flashes. I notice you are using a consumer level camera. If I had to guess it was a Rebel of some sort from the T#i brand, likely a T6i? You covered it with your finger at one point when you turned it towards the camera, looked intentional. But based on the placement of the dial, the flip screen, and the year the video was released, that is my guess. 18-55mm lens too?

  6. At 13:50 you said "I'll take another Demo shot" and Chelsea is smiling with teeth showing for it, but the picture you showed, she is not? Then again at 14:21 your test shot she is smiling with no teeth yet your demo pic she has her mouth closed… Different pics? Continuity error? 🙂 Great video though, liked this one… Keeps things simple..

  7. So why do i constantly have a little crush with your wife

    My ex was a pro model and did a vogue cover

    So i am spoiled but theres just that something special with Chelsea

    And if i tried to do a vid with my ex she last about 5 min and start to complain and ruin the mood

    I dont know how u guys do it

    Lets see some behind the scenes gritty real life action of u two arguing

    I would really enjoy that in fact all of us would because none of our wives would not start arguing in 5 min

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