Introduction to Portrait Lighting : 18th June 2012

Introduction to Portrait Lighting

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I prefer natural light and have somewhat of a phobia about using additional lighting. This all came to the fore again when I was working on the first Assignment where I only used my on camera flash amongst the trees. Feeling untechnical and therefore unskilled isn’t a good feeling for me at all and so, having watched one of his Photoshop videos and looked at his website, I decided to take the plunge and book a 3 hour 1:1 session with Gavin Hoey .

I’ve read book chapters and articles on portrait lighting and looked at videos but not actually seen or done it myself. Gavin and I agreed that although I might be an ‘improver’ in terms of using a camera I am definitely a ‘beginner’ regarding studio lighting.  It had been suggested that I take along studio lighting equipment if I had any and so I ‘borrowed’ my husband’s Canon Speedlite 580EX which Gavin thought was perfect to use.  He told me that my models were going to be himself and, later, his wife, Sam.

He asked me to fit the Speedlite onto my hotshoe. I use the manual setting most of the time now and so Gavin suggested I set the speed at 1/125 to ensure that the flash would sync.(I’ve checked and with my built-in flash the fast possible shutter speed is 1/200). He asked what I thought could be a good aperture to use – I thought f/5 and then Gavin began a process which showed me that ,whilst the shutter speed will control how much of the ambient light is recorded,  the flash compensates whatever aperture and ISO speed is used so that the same image will be produced.   He suggested that, as a starting point I use 1/125 f/8 (good for one and two person portraits) and ISO 400 (so that the flash didn’t have to expend too much energy).

After several shots with the Speedlite on camera, including ‘bouncing’ from the ceiling, Gavin moved on to showing me the effects when the Speedlite is mounted separately as a ‘slave’. My 500D doesn’t have wirelss transmission so we used a Yongnou ST-ET (cheaper than the equivalent Canon) which will maintain the ETTL system

Everytime I took a few shots we went back to the computer to see the results and I also had brief tutorials on PS use including extending the background by using the crop tool.


No. 1is f/5.6; No. 2 is f/11; No. 3 is f/8 on ‘bounce’; No. 4 is  with the Speedlite stand-mounted as ‘slave’  still in front.

Angled Flash

From there we changed the direction of the flash to 45 and 90 degrees at the side behind and then behind, including a profile view.  A good way to think of this is how similar this is to the direction of sunlight at different times of day.

Zoom flash on the dark background

Gavin then showed me the effect when the subject stands directly in front of the background with the flash mounted high above. I learned that the flash will adjust to the camera lens when it is mounted directly on the camera but off camera it can be used more creatively to change the light spread. I used it at 35m zoom and then 105m zoom. After that he brought in Sam to be my model and randomly changed all the settings on the flash and transmitter so that I had to set everything.


Diffusion umbrella

We then talked about using some form of diffusion by placing a panel or umbrella in front of the flash. Gavin compared this to the effects of clouds and how they can change the effect of light – again a very good metaphor for me to use.


No. 15 shows the Rembrandt effect – a small triangular patch of light on a shadowed cheek that I also replicated with Sam in Nos. 16 and 17. No. 18 shows more of a rim lighting effect.

Special Effects

I was interested in how you change the colour of the background using a coloured gel in front of second flash which is placed behind the subject. A blue gel seemed to work the best with Sam. We then also used a fan to blow Sam’s hair around as attractively as possible (also being fairly quick as blast of air can be quite drying for eyes!).

I was really surprised how much can be covered in a few hours on a 1:1 session. Sam isn’t a professional model so these were very natural images that I hope I can replicate if I can find someone (near and dear) who is willing to pose for me. Gavin explained everything simply and clearly and made it all seem easy.  It makes such a difference not only to have a 1:1 but also to actually do it oneself with an expert standing by to advise. I’d certainly recommend his training sessions. He and Sam were very welcoming and I should add that Sam also has her own cookery blog and so is interested in food photography  as well.

These are my personal favourites from the session:-

Obviously I’ve a long way to go and need much more practice but at least I’ve made a start.

21st June 2012