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Lesson 9 from: Portrait Photography Bootcamp

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

9. Speedlights

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

In this lesson, Lindsay Adler discusses the use of speedlights in portrait photography. She explains the benefits of using speedlights, such as their portability and versatility. She then goes on to discuss the different reasons why one might use a speedlight, such as improving the quality and direction of light, controlling the intensity of light in the scene, and creating stylistic effects. Lindsay also talks about the different types of speedlights available and the importance of doing research to find the best one for your needs. She provides tips on camera settings, including using manual exposure and the different ways to control the exposure of the speedlight. Additionally, Lindsay demonstrates how to use speedlights indoors, including bouncing light off a wall or ceiling and using modifiers to soften the light. She also provides examples of using speedlights in a studio setup and on location, and discusses how to control ambient light when using speedlights. Finally, she recommends adding a modifier and getting the flash off-camera to improve the quality of light in portraits.


  1. What are the benefits of using speedlights in portrait photography?

    Speedlights are portable and versatile, making them ideal for photographers on the go or shooting in various locations.

  2. What are some reasons to use a speedlight in portrait photography?

    Speedlights can be used to improve the quality and direction of light, control the intensity of light in the scene, and create stylistic effects.

  3. How can you control the exposure of a speedlight?

    You can control the exposure manually by adjusting the power output of the speedlight, or use TTL (through the lens) mode to allow the camera and flash to make an educated guess at the correct exposure.

  4. What are some ways to use speedlights indoors?

    Speedlights can be bounced off a wall or ceiling to create softer, more flattering light. You can also use modifiers, such as softboxes or beauty dishes, to further control and shape the light.

  5. How can you control ambient light when using speedlights on location?

    You can adjust the shutter speed to control the amount of ambient light in the scene. A longer shutter speed will bring in more ambient light, while a faster shutter speed will darken the ambient light.

Lesson Info


Now, we are going to talk about speedlights. Using speedlights to illuminate your subject. And there are many ways to light your subject. You can use natural light, you can use window light. You can use studio strobes. You can use studio strobes on location and you can use speedlights. And there are benefits, pros and cons to all of them. Now, I see that the really main benefits of using speedlights are that they're small and they're portable. So if you are on the go, if you don't have your own studio space, and perhaps you're doing portraits in an office or in people's homes or outdoors on location or you're shooting weddings. It's going to definitely make sense for you to use speedlights especially if you are a one person show. So you want to keep it light, you wanna keep it mobile. And I use speed lights for many years, particularly we're shooting events. So I wanna talk about today is about how you're going to use speedlights to create beautiful portraits of your subjects. We're no...

t gonna talk about events or anything like that but specifically for portraits. And here's the goals, I don't always reach for speed lights right away. Sometimes you don't need to add light. Sometimes there's beautiful window light streaming in. And that's going to be the better solution. Or maybe I'm outside and it's going to be better if I just use the ambient light that's there. But there are few specific reasons that I would use a speedlight. And you can see them here on this slide. So the first one is to improve the quality of light on the subject. For example, if you're in a situation where the sun is maybe really harsh on the face. Or the light is just really flat. Maybe you're in a big space where there's not really much directional light and it really is just flat unflattering light. And you'd like to sculp the face. You'd like to carve it out. And there's no light to do that with. Well then you'll add a speedlight. And the next one down our list is to improve direction of light on the face. So it's combining the two. Sometimes the light will be too harsh, sometimes it will be too flat, sometimes ... I mean basically it's ... You don't have much light to work with or you need to add a modifier in to fix it. And so the next one would be down the line is to control the intensity of light in the scene. So maybe you have a very very bright background. You would love to see that background. But the way you're shooting in your camera ... If you use natural light, it's totally overexposed. So instead, you can add a speedlight and start to balance out those exposures. So improving the quality of light, the direction of light, the intensity of light. All of the elements of light that we've already talked about. And then the last reason that you might use a speedlight is going to be for stylistic effect. You want to underexpose the background by two and a half stops. So the sky becomes really dark and moody and dramatic and you can see the clouds. Or maybe you're in a situation where you want the subject just to be rim lit because it creates drama. You don't have to use a speedlight but you choose to because of stylistic purposes. And a lot of times that's why we choose lighting anyway as for us photographers. As photographers, we have a particular look sometimes. So as the main goals of why you use a speedlight. But really, it's because it's portable and lightweight. Because I could also use, studio strobes and other things. Alright, so let's take a look at the speedlights that are most common. Now, a lot of you, if you shoot Canon, if you shoot Nikon, there is a standard speed light that they make. The Canon for example, right now, it's the Canon 600 EX-RT, Nikon has their SB910s. Those are great, they work great. They're made for your cameras but also know that there are a lot of other systems that are also fantastic. Third party systems that you may not have looked at before. And those might be a good investment. Especially if you're looking into buying speedlights and you watch this class, you watch another one of my classes and you think, "Oh, I might want one or two or three." If you wanna cutdown your initial investment cost, you might wanna go with a different brand. So this specific gear that I'm going to be using today is right here. I'm actually gonna be using Phottix speedlights. And so the one that I have here is a Phottix Mitros plus and their Odin Trigger. And so if you take a look at the specs of this, it's under $400 for the speedlight. I have a trigger where I can set a bunch of different channels. I can also change all the power output. I can do high speed sync. I can also change it from TTL to manual. I mean I can do pretty much everything that I'm going to need for a portrait. So this is what we're going to use. And I encourage you to do your research and figure it out what's best for you. There's another brand that a lot of photographers use that they're very happy with it. It's very inexpensive called Youngnuo. There's also Cheetah Lights so there's a lot of stuff out there. And the class that I'm going to teach right now. My little overview of speedlights. I really just wanna introduce you to why and how you could use speedlights. But actually have an entire course on shooting light on location and specifically I talk in depth about speedlights. So if you get to taste the speedlights, and you say wow, this is exactly what I need, this is what's going to work for my business. So definitely wanna check out that class. Or another class that goes more in depth into speedlights themselves. Alright, so the camera settings that we're going to use today as I shoot. I am going to use many of the settings that I recommended to you in the Getting Setup for Success in Your Camera. I'm going to shoot evaluative or matrix metering for my camera meter. I'm going to set my camera to single shot, not continuous shot. So we will just shoot one image at a time not multi. And then I'm also going to shoot with manual exposure because I want to have a lot of control over setting my exposure. So let's talk about exposure, though not for your camera, I was just referring to my camera exposure. Let's talk about exposure in your flash. Cause this is an entirely different beast. And if you've never used a speedlight before, this is one that might take a little bit getting used to but once you figure it out, it kind of becomes second nature. So there are two ways to control the exposure from your speedlight. And the first way is controlling absolutely everything manually. You set exactly how much light that speedlight is going to kick out. And so talk often about light as bucket of water. You have a bucket, you decide how much water goes in that bucket. And no matter how many times you throw that bucket, the same amount of water is going to come out. Until you change it on the speedlight or in the case that I'll be using, on my trigger. And so there are some pros and cons of that. But what you'll see is you look at the slide here, is that usually your setting the power. So you're setting it to one to one full power or half power, quarter power, 16th power, 32, you get the idea. So basically, you're just changing the power output or the amount of water in that bucket. You're controlling it in fractions of full power. Okay, this is great in a situation where you're treating your speedlights maybe like studio strobes or where you have a lot of control. Your subject isn't moving. You're maybe lighting it as a portrait. Basically, think more control equals manual, right. Manual you have full control. But what about if you're at an event. Or you're photographing maybe children that are running around. Here's the issue that you run in to when you use manual. I've got my bucket of water. Throw the bucket of water. And let's say that it's an event and somebody is now 10 feet further away. I have the same amount of water. If I didn't change my power output and it's not going to reach them, it's going to be too dim. Or what happens if all of a sudden they run right up to me, get real close. Now, it's going to be too bright, it's going to be too over exposed. So really, you're going to have to make changes for every movement in distance. And so it doesn't really lend itself to versatility. It lends itself to control but not for changing circumstances and changing situations in moving subjects. So, on the other hand, you would use TTL. And what TTL does, is you're giving some power over to your flash and camera. And saying, "Listen, what I want you to do is I want you to judge how far away that subject is." And take my bucket of water and fill it with enough water to reach them to give me the right amount of light, the right amount of wetness. And so, you loose a little bit control because, sure, your camera could make a wrong decision. And fill up with way too much water and soak your subject. Overexpose them and it won't be the right exposure. But sometimes it's going to be the better option. And a perfect example, I'm going to talk about bouncing light, I'm going to be bouncing light and let's say I'm moving in one situation where it's bouncing off a wall right next to me and then I move over another 10 feet and now the wall is that much further and it has bounce. And every single time, every single step I move, it has to be changing the back of my flash or my trigger. And so it's not really the most versatile. So what TTL does basically, without going into it too much, it sends out a pre-flash. And it says, "Okay, what would be the right amount of light based on this reading?" And then it flashes and gives you the correct exposure. And you can adjust the amount so that you do again, full power or I can do a stop of light less. So it's not completely flash but like a stop of light under. Or two or three stops of light. So you still have control, it's just you're leaving a little bit up to your camera. So think of it this way, you're controlling your camera exposure on manual. But then you have two choices for your flash exposure, TTL or manual. And some of them gives away a little bit of control. And so you can in the slides here as you look at this, what it would look like on the back of your flash or on your trigger whether you're using manual or TTL. And so you can see in the little red circle that I have here, when it says, 1.3ev, it means that okay flash, what I want you to do is I want you to look at the scene. Guess what you think the amount of light should be. And throw out 1.3 stops more. I want you to throw out a stop and a third more light than you think should be there. So I'm kind of intervening and telling it, "Okay, I'm smarter than you flash. I need your help but I'm gonna have you do a little bit of the work for me." So my recommendation to you is to test it out and kind of see what you're comfortable with because we're gonna look at the slide right here on my screen. You're gonna see the comparisons. And the top is when I'm shooting with manual flash. I don't change anything on my output. And so as she walks closer to me, closer and closer and closer, she gets brighter and brighter and brighter to a point of being underexposed. Now, when I switch over to TTL for my flash, as she moves closer to me, the last three are more or less correctly exposed. My flash and my camera talked to each other. They did a good job, they made an educated guess. But look at the one on the far left where she was far away. My camera read this black abyss. It saw so much darkness that it threw too much light at it and she's overexposed. So there are pros and cons to each of these. When I do portraits, I'm almost always using manual. Because I'm making the decisions, I have the control. The exception would be is if there's a little bit of movement going on or if I'm bouncing my flash. When I'm bouncing my flash, I invite the camera and the flash to help me out a little bit. So let's take a look at if you're going to be shooting indoors. Let's say that you have never bought a speedlight before. You've got your first one, you don't have any accessories. You don't have anything to do. You just wanna make a nice portrait. And you know that you wanna add a speedlight. Alright so let's talk about this. There are two things that you can do to improve the quality and the direction of light. Because if I put my speedlight on and if you do what ... I mean it seems to make sense, right. I'd point the flash at my subject. This is horrible light, don't do it. It's awful, it's completely flat. You're gonna see bright highlights on the subject's skin. Because it basically reflects that light back. You're gonna see dark crisp shadows. Having your flash straight on to your subject is not a pretty thing. So we have some options of what we can do to improve it. And there's really two main ones when you're shooting indoors. So you can see here, the first option is to bounce this light. And one of the things I talk about with natural light is if I'm outdoors and I see a lot surface hit by the sun like maybe a large white wall and the sun hits it. That white wall, the entire thing is now a gigantic reflector. So I use that when I'm shooting with speedlights. But what I do is I point my speedlight at a large white wall or a large white surface. And so the speedlight goes from being really small to hitting that wall and it becomes the size of that wall, it spreads out. And the larger the light source is relative to your subject, the softer the light. So I took my speedlight by bouncing it off a wall from being a really small source of light to being a very large source of light, it's much softer. Granted I'll loose some power because the light spreads out so much. But it's going to be significantly more flattering. So that is my first option of what I can do when I'm shooting indoors with the speedlight on my camera. And on the second option is, I can add a modifier. I can put something on top of my camera of some sort to make it a little bit larger, make it a little bit softer. And then, there's even combinations of both of those. So let's start off by taking a look at what it looks like to have direct flash and then bouncing the light off of a large neutral surface. So let's go over here to my foe white wall. May I have you beautiful subject. Perfect, so I'm gonna stand you right here, great. Alright, so let's take a look at how ... I know, I mean it's gonna be horrible. You're not horrible, it's horrible. But we're gonna take a picture with flash on camera. (camera clicking and beeping) I wanted to say you but you're pretty, so I'm just kidding ... So looking at this. And as I look at the photo in the back of my camera, honestly you're pretty no matter what. I'm totally serious, you still look good. But it's not sculpting her face. There's highlights basically underneath her eye, on her cheeks, the shadows are really harsh. It's not a soft light source. And it does not sculpt her face at all. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to scope out the scene. I'm going to look around me and try to find a large white or large neutral surface. Now, it's amusing because I showed up at this location and I went, oh, crap there's no white walls. It's actually, there like a ton of red walls and very yellow walls and this becomes very important. Because if I bounce light off of this yellow walls around here, the light on her face is going to suck up that color and will become yellow. Sometimes a little warm is okay but like this type of yellow, she looks like very very sun tanned. So you have to make sure that you're not bouncing off of a colored surface, it needs to be neutral. So in this case what I have is I have these V-flats here pretending it was a white wall. Most spaces have a white wall and all I'm going to do is I'm gonna rotate my flash around. I rotated the head of the flash so that it is pointing into this white wall. It hits the white wall, it spreads out and it becomes significantly softer. So now when I take the same photo, is a much softer light source. But I can make it even softer because right now, the light has to travel a little bit. The closer I bring her to that wall, the softer the light is going to be. Because relative to her, it will be larger. The other thing is, if this is the light source, how often do you want the light source to be completely to the side of your subject. As I look at this photo, it's actually split light. One side of her face, the left hand side is well-lit. It's soft but then the other side is completely dark. So I still need to turn her toward the light source. So what I'm going to do is gonna rotate a little bit. She's facing towards that wall and I can rotate the head of my flash to do the same. (camera clicking and beeping) And now the light is much softer, it's much more wrapping and she has a bit of loop light on her face. And when you can practice with this, as you practice more, you'd become familiar with the distances that work best to achieve this. So let me just take one more picture then point my flash up a little higher. If I want the light to have more of a downward angle. Great and that looks great. So if you look at the difference between these two photographs, in one, the light source is coming from a little bit low because I had my flash point straight into that wall. But as I angled the light up, when it hits higher up on the wall, it's going to bounce down and just like we talked about studio lighting, it carves out the face a little bit. It's a little bit better ... And I mean just a better shape to her face. And I could even ... If there's a tall wall behind me, I could even point it directly above my head and have flat light and just shoot like this. And now, there's significantly less shadow. It's much softer. So let me just show you just flashing camera version to this. And compare the two side by side. I mean, it is night and day. One of them is harsh, it's contrasty, it's flat. The other one, much more soft, beautiful gradient between the shadows and highlights. So all I did is one pointed at her, not good. One, pointed above my head behind me and significantly softer. So put on your checklist. If you want to shoot with a speedlight in your own home or on location, all you need is a white wall. That's literally all you need to have light that looks like a softbox which I think is pretty easy and it's pretty inexpensive. But let's go to a situation where maybe you don't have this white wall. What you could also do is you could also find a white ceiling. Most ceilings except for this one are white. So you can also try to bounce off the ceiling. And you just point your speedlight directly up at the ceiling and it will bounce down at her face. Let's take one shot in there. (camera clicking and beeping) Now what the problem is is is in this particular situation, not only is that ceiling yellow, but it's really really far away. And so it puts out so much power. I mean it's barely reaching her. So there are instances where you could bounce off the ceiling. Fill a little bit of light on the face. You could also use one of these pop-up cards to kick just a little bit of light, a little bit of catch light towards her face but you know in a situation like this, I'm probably gonna have to do something different. And so this is an instance where I would want to put some sort of modifier on my flash on camera. And there are many different brands. There is like Gary Fong has a lot of them. Expoimaging has the Rogue flashbenders, that works great. And there's two goals of these modifiers, these accessories. They make the light bigger to expand the size of it. And they make the light a little bit softer because it's making it bigger. And then also sometimes they spread the light out a little bit. So let me show you one that I use very commonly. I'm gonna guys, it's okay, it's right here, sorry. And I'm gonna put this on my camera. Alright, perfect. So if you look at this particular modifier and there's many of them that do similar thing. It makes the light larger and it also can allow me to bounce light off the ceiling but also kick light out the front of the light a little bit softer. So if I have to shoot with my flash on camera for a portrait, I want something to make the light a little softer and perhaps bounce. So let's just take I quick sample shot here. And you're going to want to compare this to our very first shot with flash on camera. And the biggest difference that I see is that the highlights aren't quite as bright and the shadows aren't quite as dark so each just going to be a little softer and a little bit more flattering. Let me take one more of you. Beautiful. And if you'll notice, I'm following all of the rules that I've talked about before for shooting with her eyes at the third of the eye line. And I'm making sure that the eyes are connected to camera. And I'm making sure not shooting at it in unflattering angle. So those are where I would start. If you had just one speedlight, and it had to stay on your camera, you had no way to get it off the camera, bounce the light or you get some sort of modifier. However, in truth, you're going to have a lot better portraits if you can get this flash off camera in some ways. And there's a lot of different triggers as talking with the Cheetah lights before. There's triggers to get the speedlights off camera for those or I have my Odin Trigger here and I can turn the trigger on and I can have up to these three flashes. Each one on a different channel. So I have channels, I have A B and C. I can change the power output from here. I can do TTL or manual all from the trigger. So now, reason this is so beneficial, is I don't have to worry about the light being flat and harsh. I can put on bigger modifiers. I can take the light off camera and to sculpt to the face. Because with my flash on camera, if I have a massive modifier, it's really awkward and it's not going to really work for me. However, if you want to have a speedlight studio. I'm talking about you wanna have a studio light from your speedlights, you can absolutely do that. And there a ton of modifiers made specifically for that purpose. To give you studio quality lights from a small portable speedlight. But you're not going to do that directly on camera. So the next step I would recommend for you is you start with your flash on camera, bounce it, consider maybe an accessory. The next step from that, find a way to get your flash off your camera. Once you get the flash off the camera, you want to find and take a look at the type of modifier that you like. What can you do to change the quality of this light, to make it larger, to make it softer, whatever you're trying to do. And you can sculpt the face. So let's go take a look at some of the different modifiers available to me once I take this flash off camera and there's so many. And I'm going to create my own little speedlight studio. Alright, so we walked over to the little speedlight studio that I have set up. And probably for a lot of you, if you generally a natural light photographer or maybe you shoot a little bit more of events and you're not quite ready to get into the world of studio strobes or you don't have a studio space. Having a little portable studio out of speedlights can be great for you. And thankfully, there are so many different modifiers. And there's two companies that I regularly use that make awesome modifiers for this purpose. And one of them is Westcott and then the other is Phottix. And they make things so I can have speedlight soft boxes, speedlight beauty dishes, speedlight strip lights, many of the same exact things that I talk about when I am shooting in the studio. So I just wanna show you some of my favorite modifiers. I am kind of a gear nerd. I have like lots of modifiers that I like to work with. Probably my favorite is going to be the one right here. This is the Westcott Rapid Box Octa. And so with the single speedlight, I have the quality of light that I would get out of an octabox. It's soft and it's wrapping light and it's easy to setup. So I want the light to be softer, you remember the rule? The larger the light source is relative to subject, the softer the light. So I can bring the light in a little bit closer to her to make it just a little bit softer. And then like in the studio, if I wanted to have a rim light on her hair, or something to separate her out from the background. Well, in the studio, I use a strip bank and guess what? I have a strip softbox for my speedlight right here. And again, this one is the Rapid Box Strip made by Westcott. So I have like my essential headshot lighting, right here, an octabox and a stripbox. But let's look at a couple of other modifiers that I quite like. Here's one of them, this is the Phottix Luna. And this acts just like a beauty dish. And what I like about it is beauty dishes are not very travel friendly. Most of the time they're made out of metal or made out of plastic, they don't compact well or they're just not intended for travel. But this particular modifier, it actually breaks down extremely easily. And so I can make it much smaller and bring it with me wherever I go for my little travel studio. And so it compacts significantly. And if I wanted to act more like softbox than a beauty dish, it comes with a piece of diffusion that I can put in the front. And now I have more of an octabox than a beautydish. So this is the Phottix Luna. They make a smaller one and a larger one if you like to have like a larger octabox to work with. And let's just take a look at my two other favorite modifiers that are both made by Westcott. I have the Apollo Medium as well as the Apollo Orb. And the Apollo Orb is the one that I use more commonly. Now, these look like softboxes which that's what they are. That's how they're going to behaved. One is going to be more of an octagon or more of a circle and an orb. And then this, of course, it is going to be more square. And they have different sizes of these. But if the purpose of the speedlight is to be portable, to be able to move, to get around, and to not have a lot of stuff on you. It starts to look at I've got a lot of stuff, right. And I wanna be able to setup quickly. Well, thankfully, these are made so that they are easy to breakdown, easy to setup, and incredibly portable. So if I just tear off this front diffusion, this is actually an umbrella so I can compact this and take it on then go instantly. So it's much better than setting up a softbox on location. And the light out of an orb is beautiful. You are going to see that as we go out on location. You're going to see quality of light from some of these modifiers. And how it looks like studio light taking it out on location. But first, let's just take a couple shots with my beautiful little speedlight setup. Okay and I'm going to turn off the backlight first. And let's take a shot here so this is the Rapid Box Octa. Just only have this light on right now. (camera beeping and clicking) And it, I mean that looks like Octabox light. It looks like she has an octabox lighting her face. If I want the light to be softer, I can bring it in closer. If I want there to be less shadows, I can bring the light around to the front. It all behaves the same way as in the studio. The rules are not changing at all. Beautiful and I do one more, great. If wanted to do beauty light, I can add a reflector underneath the ... Bounce some light up into her eyes. If I want to get more dramatic, I move the light off to the side. And just like in the studio, when I move the light off to the side ... Let me just see, let's take it a look here. Yeah, the side of her face and her hair is kind of just blending into the background. So I'm gonna add another light. I'm going to add my stripbox here. Perfect. Now let's take a shot now that I've added that rim light. (camera clicking and beeping) And now, she has a hair light. Now she's separated from the background. And if I think the background light is too bright, that rim light, no problem, I come right here on to my trigger. I can go and I can put this one on A, that one on B. So I can go to B and I can decrease the power. Notice I'm shooting manual, not TTL. Shooting manual because it gives me all the control. I can decrease the power, take another shot. And so now, it's going to be just a little bit more subtle of a hairlight. So yes, this has been kind of a quick overview of how I could use speedlight as studio but there are grids and larger softboxes and beauty dishes and all that for your speedlight. So if that's how you're comfortable, that's definitely something I would check out. But one of the magic pieces of speedlights is that you can go outdoors, you can be portable on location. So let's take a look at how I would use speedlights to light a portrait outdoors. We're gonna take our speedlights now out on location. And in our studio setup, you saw that I use a Rapid Box Octa. One of the small Rapid Boxes. But look at this one, this one is the Rapidbox duo which means that it can actually take two speedlights in the back of this modifier which means I could get a lot more power output. So one of the benefits of using speedlights, is that they are very very portable. But one of the downsides, is that they don't have as much power output as say, a studio strobe would. Well now, when you power and put two of them together, you're going to have a lot more output to work with. But let's talk a little bit about the exposure on location. We talked about how I can shoot TTL with flash or manual. And right now, what I've chosen to do is chosen to put my flash on manual. And I'm changing and controlling everything from this trigger. And I actually have both those speedlights going but all these information would be the same. All of what I'm teaching would be the same if I only had one. Because I'm just controlling the output and these have more output now that there's two. Okay so, I'm shooting manual. So I'm deciding how much water is going to be in that bucket. How much light it's going to throw each time. And she's not moving around so I don't need to go to TTL to help me out. But let's talk about ambient light. So far, what we talked about was just bouncing light off a wall for a portrait or creating a little studio portrait setup with speedlights. But when you're on location, you usually want to show some of that ambient light. And so let's talk about how you control that. I wanna give you a little bit of a demo. I'm going to shoot on manual. Alright, so if I take a photo of her here. Let's do a quick test of exposure. And by the way, if you wanna take a meter reading, you can actually meter the flashes and let's say I wanted to shoot at F ... Let's say I wanna shoot at F5. What I would do is I take a meter reading to the output of those flashes set on manual says F5. I match my meter or my output and my flashes to the meter. By the way, this is a short segment about speedlights. I have a full day all about this. How you meter and figure that all out. So check out my location lighting 101 class to get a little bit more. But alright, I'm photographing her here at F5. And I can take a look and say, alright. I took a shot and the light on her face was too dim. I have a couple things I could do. I could move the speedlights closer. That's going to make them brighter. Or on my trigger, I can increase the power output. And let's take another shot. And I think that that looks like a pretty great exposure. But so far I've just been controlling the exposure of the speedlights. How it works, it actually your ambient light exposure is one area of exposure and then your speedlights are another and then they intersect in the middle. There's a couple things that will affect both. So here's what you want to think about. A longer shutter speed brings up more ambient light. A faster shutter speed darkens down ambient light. And your shutter speed will not touch at all what the exposure looks like of the speedlight, just the light around. So if I'm taking a picture and I think that the background looks a little bit too dark, I can use a longer shutter speed. If it looks too bright, I can use a faster shutter speed. So in this instance as I take a look at the back of my camera, Well, let's take a picture this way, let me see. (camera clicking) you know what I'd like to see, a little bit more light in the trees behind her. So I can use a longer shutter speed. So let's go from a 1/160th of a second down with 60th and see how that improves the scene. So what you'll notice is that exposure on her face from the speedlight stayed identical. That exposure stayed the same. But now the background got a little bit brighter. But what you may notice is that on this side of her face, it got a little bit brighter too and you might ask, well okay wait, didnt you said the light from the speedlight wouldn't be affected by shutter speed. So why did her face get a little bit brighter? The reason it got brighter as I brought up ambient light, which meant some of this light in the environment is filling in on the side of her face a bit. So although these things aren't ... They're not exactly related, they overlap, right. More ambient light will show up on her face, it won't change the speed light. Okay, so let's go different direction with this. I'm taking pictures of her everything looks great and I decide that I want to shoot at a wider aperture. Let's say I wanna go all the way to 2.8. Let me take a look and see what that looks like. So it opened up my aperture. What you will notice is the entire picture got brighter, everything. The light on her face, the speedlight, the background. Here's how it works. When you open up your aperture, you're letting more light in. You're letting in more light everywhere. I'm letting in the light in the ambient light, that will get brighter. I'm letting in more light so the speedlight will appear to be brighter. So when I do this, if I wanna shoot in a wider aperture, I'm going to have to compensate. I can darken down and turn down the output of my speedlights and I can use a faster shutter speed that allow me to use a wider aperture. So I'm gonna do that, I'm going to change the power on my speedlights and decrease that power, okay. And I'm going to use a faster shutter speed. I'm gonna go to 1/200th of a second. Why is that a magic number? Because when I'm working with strobes or speedlights, that's my sync speed. If I go faster than that, I'll actually see the curtains while I'm taking the photo. I actually see my shutter. So let's take a look at how that improved. And now I'm back to where I want to be. By decreasing the power of the flash, now I can shoot at a wide aperture but still get her correctly exposed. And by using a faster shutter speed, I darken down the background just a bit. So that is an overview of how I would speedlights on location. But I know that I'm definitely going to add a modifier of some sort. I would use either this one, this is the Rapid Box Duo or one of my other absolute favorite modifiers is called the Apollo Orb. And it is that big, it's kind of a circular modifier. And I can put one, two, or three speedlights in it to add up and get even more power. So if I'm not shooting in the shade, if I need overpower or try to balance out there with some of the direct sunlight, I can do so by adding on flashes. So what you wanna do is, add a modifier. Get that flash off of camera so you have a bigger light source, you improve the quality and the direction of light. I'm not going to get to events. Just know that in some of my other classes, I talk about things like high speed sync. Going above your sync speed so I can go even wider open or so that I can darken down a blue sky so that it's pitch black or balance out a beautiful color in a sunset. So that all exist but to take a basic speedlight portrait, all you actually need is some type of modifier, one speedlight, and a trigger.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting on Location
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


One of my favorite courses thus far on Creative Live, and definitely well worth the purchase price. Lindsay effectively demystifies many of the critical stumbling blocks to achieving a practical understanding of many critical elements of portrait photography. I would rate this course as being perfect for the advanced photographer - a couple of the concepts might be beyond that of a casual/intermediate photographer, but even they would probably gain a great deal from this course. Her discussion on equipment, in particular was superbly done, and allows one to move forward in beginning to make the right choices to achieve whatever effect one is after in terms of capturing the subject. Finally, the great thing about this course, and the thing which makes it such a great value, is the overall scope of what is being taught. Lindsay covers almost everything imaginable, and does it all in a manner which is enjoyable, and makes the time fly by. There were many, many times during the various days of this course during which Lindsay would share some particularly great tip or technique, and I would think "Insert bookmark here." I don't dole out praise easily (actually left a fairly scathing review on another course here recently) but this course has won me over. Highly, HIGHLY recommended. I'm definitely going to check out her other courses as well.

a Creativelive Student

This is Lindsay's best course to date and believe me, she has given us some good ones already on Creative Live. She hit this one out of the park! She was very well prepared and organized. I could tell that Lindsay put a lot of work into preparation for the class because she just kept giving us great information non stop. There was no down time or wasted moments. All future instructors on Creative Live should be encouraged to watch this course just to see what good instruction looks like. Lindsay has evolved over the past few years and just keeps getting better as time passes. Thank you Lindsay and thank you Creative Live for a job well done! Craig Banton


This class is one of the best investments I have made in my photography business. Lindsay is an excellent teacher. She is a seasoned, yet humble, professional. Unlike some other instructors I have seen on creative live, there isn’t a lot of fluff in her teaching. She sticks to the topics, gets all the information in, but still manages to engage and relate to the audience with real life examples of her own experiences in photography. I have been a professional photographer for several years, but have mostly stuck to natural light. This course gave me the confidence to tackle more advanced lighting setups and expand my capabilities as a photographer. I really appreciate that she doesn’t bash flat lighting, like other lighting videos I have tried to watch. Most portrait clients do not want photographs with dramatic lighting, they want to look their best, and I’m glad that she acknowledges this. This class gives you the information you need to create whatever photos you want to create.

Student Work