Skip to main content

photo & video

Flash Photography Crash Course

Lesson 11 of 13

Dramatic Portrait Session

Pye Jirsa, SLR Lounge

Flash Photography Crash Course

Pye Jirsa, SLR Lounge

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

11. Dramatic Portrait Session
We’re going on location to demonstrate how to use our CAMP framework to create a dramatic portrait.

Lesson Info

Dramatic Portrait Session

All right, so we are here on location. This is our model and friend Brendan. We're gonna link him up so you guys can give them a follow as well. Now we are going to go for a dramatic image here. So, I already have something in mind but we're going to walk through the exact framework. I'm going to show you a simple flash setup. We're gonna get to a great result. Let's start first with the composition piece. So again, don't touch any gear. I want you guys to think about what you're trying to actually create now. So what I like about this scene is we kind of have a lot of depth. So if I stand on this side and I shoot with a kind of a longer focal lengths, a 70 millimeters 85 100 or using a 72 100 I can get a lot of really great depth in this scene. I also noticed this nice reflection kind of happening against the brick where we have this really great tonality and it kind of almost matches Brandon's outfit in the way. So what I'm gonna do is actually placed Brandon right here and we're gon...

na have them lean up against the wall just kind of in a nice casual manner. And Brandon, you're gonna kind of look down and towards your phone actually right there. Okay, so once again, I haven't done anything from a lighting standpoint yet. I'm choosing my focal length, I'm choosing my composition first. This is that composition piece of the camp framework. And right away, I kind of noticed, I love this shot right here. So what I'm gonna do is go ahead and actually dial in some settings, Okay, And I'm gonna show you guys kind of just what I'm seeing. So, first we're at 1 500 a second. F 28 and low. I so I'm just dialing something in right now so you guys can actually see it? I love this shot with him kind of like leaning up against the brick. You can kind of see how we get this beautiful toning of the brick in the background. I'm going to zoom into that so you guys can see that a little bit better. Okay, I love that look right there. So that's one of the compositions that I want to aim for. Another. Potential composition is going back right to about this spot and actually framing Brandon's head right against the bright areas of the background. And now we're going to frame him kind of in the bottom right side of the image where you can see his head kind of right against the highlights. So we have this natural composition that pulls us in because our eyes are naturally drawn to highlights. So those are the compositions that I'm thinking and I would encourage you please before you do any lighting, anything whatsoever decide on composition. Because no matter how well you light a scene, if you start with the bad composition, it's not gonna look great. So next we get to ambient light. Now, remember this is where I talk about setting the intention of a photograph. So this is where I'm gonna dial in the ambient light exposure on my camera. I would highly recommend using the History RAM for this process. Okay, so what you're gonna do is press info at least on a Canon. If you're not using Cannon, just go ahead and look up in your manual. How to pull up the history RAM and all. You got to remember when it comes to ambient exposure is if I dial this brighter, okay, you guys can see this is more of a bright exposure right now, it's gonna be more of a natural image, right? The image is gonna look more natural, I'm gonna use less flash power if I dial this to something darker like this, and you see the shadows, the shadows are pulled all the way over here to the left side, right, then we're aiming for something more dramatic. So what did I say? My intention was at the beginning of this. It's a dramatic image. So I'm gonna be pulling my exposure is down a little bit. I'm gonna adding more flash power into the shop because we're working in the shade right now, we can probably get away with as much light as we need with just a standard flash head. So I'm gonna start there. If we need anything more we can go to that. But when we're not trying to overpower the sun, we're okay with just a standard flash. So right around 1 500 F 2.8 and low I. S. O. Is where I'm getting that nice dark background and we can modify that as we go. But that's a great starting place. So let's start there. Now I'm gonna go ahead and just grab my flash. This is the pro photo A 10. So again a standard flash is totally fine. You guys use what you have, what's in your budget. This is going to be a 75 watt second flash, so just a little bit more powerful than say, a standard flash head. But again there's plenty of different options on this route so pick the one that suits you and your budget. Now, I'm standing right across from Brandon right now. This is that man photo stand that we showed you guys in the setup. Go ahead and raise it on top. I have that mag mod cold shoe, right? This thing is so handy dandy. I love it. I'm gonna place that right there, tighten it up. We generally want our light to come top down so I don't want to leave this. If you look, if I place this right next to Brandon, I could aim this up and like his face but the light is not going to look natural. We are used to seeing light coming top down. So I want you guys to get in the habit of kind of lighting in that same fashion. Otherwise you're gonna create weird up lights and kind of we call it camp fire lighting. It doesn't look great. It's like, you know, telling a spooky story type lighting. So I'm directly across from Brandon, I'm gonna position this right here and Brand, you're actually gonna come right to the middle of the wall. So step this way there you go right there, we're going to position this right here. So if you look at kind of like what I'm seeing, I'm shooting from that far side, this is just placed on the other side of Brandon. Kind of lighting directly towards the wall. Yeah, we're gonna go ahead and raise this up. Yeah. Okay. And if I do a little test shot, I should be able to see the, sorry Brandon, I mean to blame you. Uh huh. Right, totally got him. Okay, that's good. Right there, we don't have a modifier on it so it will stay as is there's not really any wind here. Um So without a sandbag is totally safe. Once we put a modifier on there we do need to secure the standard. Okay, so I'm gonna grab my remote, I'm gonna go ahead and walk over and just make sure that the radio and everything is all set up. So what we talked about it just needs to be on the same channel. So this is currently set to, This is currently set to channel I'm going to put it actually on Channel five. I want to move this one to channel five. Okay, This is on group A. We're controlling group A. If I do a test shot Brennan, don't look then you can see that it fires everything is good to go here. Okay? So once you've dialed in that ambient light, we kind of did it when I showed you those those first example images. Right? Let's take another shot real quick so you can see it. Okay, So with ambient light dialed in, this is where we can actually see how to modify light. So modify. Is that third step where we've added a light source here, When it comes to modify its either modify or add right for this scene. We can't really modify light because there's not enough sunlight to reflect or anything. So we're left with adding a light source. So you're going to add the light source like we have and then we're going to begin to modify that light source with whatever we need to to get to a light quality that fits the look. Okay, so let's start here. We're at full power. That's 75 watt seconds. I'm also gonna leave on high speed sync. So if you are going into the entire lighting series, we're going to dive into all of these nuances in depth. If you are just here for the crash course, then I simply want you to understand this. If you your shutter speed goes above 1 200 of a second, you need to turn on high speed sync or HSS on the flash. The trade off is you're going to get lower power so you can braise the shutter speed up but you're gonna get less light out of the flash. So we're starting at full power but we're using high speed sync and that means we're going to lose a little bit of power again. We go into all the nuances through the lighting series. But all you need to know for this crash courses going into high speed sync means less power but you can use a faster shutter speed. Okay, so 1 500 F 2.8 low I. S So we're currently at full power on that flash. There's no modifiers use. I'm gonna go ahead and take a shot of Brandon. I'm gonna line this up so that his head is kind of right against the brick. Brandon kind of looked down to that phone right there. So we get an image that's very dramatic, right? We have a lot of flash being added in. You can see that the shadow is coming a little bit top down and we get this nice lighting on him. But I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the way that the light is hitting the wall behind him. So we have a couple options. I could soften the listener so it's not quite as hard and speculator. Or I could potentially put a grid on it. So it just focuses the light. So let's start with the grid because I want you to see some basics in modifiers now and then we'll see if you want to jump to the umbrella. So whatever flash you're using a grid, does the exact same thing on any light. It's just gonna funnel light and you can see that because if I turn to the side, you're not able to see through it anymore. Right? So from what the light does is it's it's gonna funnel it forward and not let light spill everywhere. There's different brands of these, but they all essentially do the exact same thing. We're gonna go ahead and pop this right onto the flash. Once it's on, we really need to make sure that the light is aimed right at Brandon because it is gonna look. So you can actually see from the pattern. If you can see from the pattern, it's now much, much tighter. And we're gonna go ahead and bring this in a little bit. I'm gonna make sure this is pointing directly at him and down a little bit. I'm gonna go back to that exact same shot. Couple things are gonna happen when you put the grid on one. Obviously the light is now funneled right? But to we're actually gonna lose a bit of light. So taking the exact same shot of Brandon right here, brian, look down again. There you go, okay, you're going to see compared to that first shot. Well more the background is actually covered in light in the first shot. So we get a lot more of the background on the second shot, it looks actually quite a bit more natural and like we're just highlighting Brandon out of the scene, which I really like. I'm actually gonna shoot a few images of this. I dig the look, the vibe that it has, it's, it's really cool. I love the way Brandon's outfit almost like matches the colors in the background to. So at this point I might make any tweaks or adjustments so we get through the modifying ad right? I want to modify, maybe I want to reduce flash power a little bit. So I'm gonna go one stop down on my flash and I'm gonna brighten the exposure just a little bit by like maybe 1 400 a second going down just a little bit. So what that does is it kind of balances the foreground and background just a bit. So I landed around 1 3/20 F 2.8 low I. S. O. And we're at a nine on the A. 10, which means half power, right? So this is a great balance. Now you're ready to photograph. So this is when you're actually gonna start shooting, notice how we work through all of these steps, one by one, before we get to the photograph piece and now I can shoot away. So Brandon we're gonna start shooting now. Yeah, let's start with that shot right there. I dig it, bring the chin over to me a little bit. Okay, so right there when Brandon turns toward me a little bit, notice that the light is still a little bit too far behind him, Right so all I gotta do is make a slight adjustment to that light, so I'm just gonna pull it forward. Brandon look towards where you were a second ago, right there, bring the chin back maybe a little bit. So what I'm looking at right here guys is I want to get a little bit of a triangle shape on Brandon's far cheek. Okay, so in that previous shot we kind of had a split lighting look now. The way you can get that is, look from the angle of your flash and just make sure you can draw a line and actually see the other side of his cheek. So if we look directly through the flash, we can actually see that right there and that's a good flash position. That's it. Now we get the other side lit up Brandon, go ahead and look at me now, right there, chin down a little bit, I want to make another tiny adjustment there and Brandon, actually, what I'm gonna do is just scoot you back a little bit to back towards the middle again right there. Let's see if that that might have actually fixed it right there. Yeah, that's perfect. So I'm gonna do a couple more right here against this wall. So again, going back to that composition I had. Okay, so from here I'm going to power up the light just a bit, I dig it now. This angle allows me to get to the side where I really don't see any of that light hitting the wall. So if you kind of don't like the light hitting the wall, you can always kind of take a more straight down the line angle, just like this. Now, last thing I'm gonna do. I love the shots that we have so far, but I want you to see what it looks like, modified a bit. So let's go ahead and put the umbrella on. I'm actually gonna use my bag just as a little safety and a little weight. Let's get this modifier on. So this just pops straight through this little bracket right here. I'm gonna take the grid off. Now, we don't need it. Don't drop yours. Let's pop this guy right through. Okay. We generally want to set the zoom on your flash to widest when you're using an umbrella because you really want to fill out the umbrella. I'm also gonna bring it in a little bit closer, so brother standing back in the middle again, right there and then we're gonna hang this guy right here. So now we're gonna get a softer light. Let's go ahead and test out our settings there. That's a much softer light so you can immediately see just from a kind of adding that the shape on the shadow transition has softened up quite a bit. Our light source got larger and because of that the shadow transition gets a little bit softer, little bit smoother. I like the light quality quite a bit right now. The only thing I'm gonna do is uh let's make a little bit of a tweak to exposure. So I'm gonna go back to 1 400 A Second. F two Should Be Good. And let's kind of get that shot right here. Yeah, I like that a lot. Okay. Yeah. All right, Brandon, these are for real now, feel free to move with each shot brian being the left hand around so I can kind of see it. So maybe like put the knee up or something and bring the left hand into the shot. There you go. Right there. Let's see it. That's sick. So stay right there Brandon. So notice that right now I have just a little bit, so it's kind of split lit, right? I want you guys to master all the lighting patterns you get in the lighting series. But for right now, understand that split lip is when one half the faces lit and we don't have any light on the other side. This is okay for a male subject when you're going for something dramatic, right? It's okay for a female subject as well. As long as you're going for something super dramatic right now, I want it to be a little bit softer instead of actually moving my light. I'm just gonna push Brandon this way a little bit. So Brandon just scoot this way and that will add the highlight on the other side of the face. So if Brandon holds that exact same pose right there, okay now you see that we start to put light on the other side of the face. Brandon bring the chin back just a little bit and now keep your eyes on me right there Toby I love that cool part about this is using light in this way. You're getting these images straight at the camera, you've seen the ones that I've edited, look at them straight at the camera there. still fantastic. And this is the power of lighting is we get to transform a scene however we like, and get to whatever result we want in camera kind of save time post. I love doing post production, but I like that to be a small part of my job, not my entire job type thing. So I'm digging this. I hope you guys enjoyed this editorial. Let's go and do one more in the next one. We're going to aim for kind of a more natural result. Let's go to that.

Class Description


  • Use flash to create dramatic portraits.
  • Use flash to create natural portraits.
  • Balance flash with ambient light.
  • Use and understand off-camera flash.
  • Understand off-camera flash gear and setups.


Let’s be honest, flash photography is intimidating. Many photographers never learn the power of flash because at first glance it looks complicated and overwhelming. This course is the exact opposite. In around 90 minutes, you will walk away not only understanding flash gear, but also having a simple framework to immediately begin using flash in your own work.

I’m going to show you how easy flash can be. From creating dramatic portraits straight out of camera, to using flash for a more natural and soft look. You will walk away from this course with everything you need to get started using flash. Should you choose to dive deeper down the rabbit hole of lighting, this course will also prepare you for the Lighting Series, a four workshop intensive that covers the ins and outs of location lighting for portraiture.


  • Beginners that understand their camera
  • Beginners that want to start learning flash
  • Beginners that want to learn how to use flash for portrait


LPye Jirsa is a photographer, educator, author, podcaster and lifelong learner. He has made a career out of creating frameworks that simplify complex subjects. Frameworks that have helped millions of people learn languages, creativity, photography, lighting, business, communication and even relationships.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Gary Hook

Pye is a talented instructor with a wealth of knowledge. He has an excellent technique of brining out the learning points and does an excellent job at the end of the sessions through summary. He provides some handy tools to assist the beginner to get out and shooting pictures with simple, easy to remember steps, e.g. CAMP. While I am a huge fan of building a foundation of theoretical knowledge, the majority of the first 8 sessions was more on an informercial for Profoto to the point of being painful. A few examples if I may. Pye tells us he is not familiar with the Godox menu system but then sings the praises of Profoto because it is so easy to use? Mmmm, maybe if you actually understood the Godox system you would find it easier to use? When it comes to modifiers, you stress that the Profoto is so much better because of its portability even though it takes more time to set-up than the competition; however when it comes to Menu systems the GoDox is not as good because it takes more time. So one is okay even though it takes more time but one is NOT good because it takes more time? No paradox here right I appreciated his chart to demonstrate the differences between Groups and Channels; however, when using the same identifier for both, e.g. letters, it can be confusing. From my perspective identifying Groups as Teachers using a # and Channels as students using letters (A,B,C,D) would reduce the risk of confusion. Instruction 101: if you are going to demonstrate something, learn it before you take up screen time! Profoto has the most counter-intuitive number system for power. How does 9 out of 10 make one think of 50% power? Session 8 – 2 minutes of actual information crammed into 15:40! With respect to terminology, Pye asks do we really need Master/Slave? I’d ask do we really need “Air” versus “Radio”? good tips on Trouble Shooting Overall the last four sessions made the whole session worth it. The simplified and structured approach of CAMP was brought out nicely with the dramatic and natural on-location shoots. Well done

Kriss Ward

This has been one of my favorite courses so far on Creative Live. A great starting point for OCF. I really enjoy Pye's teaching methods as I have seen them on other platforms so I was excited to find this here. Not only does he explain things in digestible bites, but also his demos are helpful too! Will definitely be watching the more in depth series that follows!

Angie Martin

This is a wonderful class! I was able to apply these concepts right away for a senior portrait shoot. i was like, "Wow! Pye was right!" I have learned not to tweak 100 different things at once and get confused. His CAMP system makes SO much sense...clarifies everything. Thank you, Pye, for this. You're a wonderful teacher! Marry me! I'll wait.