5 Flash Photography Tips for Shooting Portraits

Screenshot of flash portrait tips

Using flash when shooting portraits can be a hit or miss scenario for some photographers. Get your flash settings and set-up right, and your subject will look like a movie star. Get things wrong, and it could look like someone dropped a nuclear bomb in front of their face.

Fortunately, there are professional photographers like Scott Kelby who is about as good as anyone at explaining complicated photography subjects to beginners. In the below video, Kelby shares five flash photography tips “to bring your portraiture form amateur to amazing.”

In the tutorial, Kelby explains everything from the right camera and flash settings to use and what additional gear might help to optimize your portraits with flash. He also shows you how to use your flash both in the studio and outdoors. (If you don’t own a flash but are considering buying one, you should check out our new guide to the best budget flashes on the market.)

Here are the five flash portrait photography tips that Kelby explains and demonstrates in the below video, which is from B&H’s YouTube channel.

#1 Use a Gel Outdoors
“If you’re shooting outdoors, put a gel over your flash,” he says. “White light from a flash outside looks weird. Think about this: when you’re a kid and you were drawing a landscape and you drew the sun. What color did you make the sun? Yellow. In our mind, the light from the sun is yellow. So anytime I step outside with my flash, I’m going to put a quarter cut, a thin amount of CTO (color temperature orange) gel over my flash. It makes people look their best.”

#2 Lower the Power
“Whatever flash I’m using, I set my flash starting power at one quarter power. And if I change the power of my flash, it is likely that I’m going to lower it to 1/8th. What do I see people out there shooting with? A half and with a full, and it looks very flashy. It looks like you went to Lowe’s and bought one of those battery-powered lanterns and just aimed it at them. Turn your freakin’ flash down!”

#3 Try Backlighting
“If you’re shooting outdoors, try putting your subject’s back to the sun, so they’re backlit. The idea is you’re going to make them a silhouette. Only one thing left to do: turn on the flash at one quarter power. The only thing you want lighting your subject is the flash. So, with the sun behind them, you get a rim light, you get a nice hair light. And then you light the subject from a 45-degree angle with your flash. It’s a recipe for success.”

#4 Use a One-Stop Diffuser
“First, buy a one-stop diffuser. Then all you’re going to do is hold your flash up, shoot the flash through the diffuser. That’s it. You are not going to believe the difference it makes. It’s the cheapest way you can make people look good.”

#5 Get a Softbox
“I’ve used every softbox you can imagine for flash and I’ve fallen in love last year with Westcott’s Rapid Box Octa. It’s the size of an umbrella and it pops into a softbox. You can go literally from being in its little, tiny case to up and shooting in 90 seconds. It just so easy and so quick and the results are great.”

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