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Natural Light vs Flash for Portraits: Which Is Better?

Watch this video that shows the "shocking difference" between these types of lighting
Photo of natural light vs flash

If you’re somewhat new to photography, you might still be weighing the pros and cons of capturing portraits in a natural light vs using flash. Which one will produce better photos?

It’s a popular and somewhat controversial question for photographers and one professional portrait photographer Manny Ortiz seeks to answer in the below video tutorial. According to Ortiz there’s a “shocking difference” between photographing in natural light compared to using off camera flash.

If you’re familiar with flash photography but don’t know what “off camera flash” means, as its name suggests, it’s when you illuminate a scene using a flash that is not physically attached to the camera body. A off camera flash (or strobe) can be triggered remotely near the camera you’re using or placed several feet away.

In the video below, Ortiz photographs a model in several street scenes in both natural light and with off camera flash and compares his photos. In his case, he’s using a professional quality Westcott FJ400 strobe and his signature beauty dish for his off camera flash, but you can use something much smaller such as a removable speedlite/speedlight flash for a similar result.

So which type of lighting does Ortiz prefer for portraits? Well, we recommend you watch the video below to see all the comparisons between his natural light and flash photos and judge for yourself. In several of his street portraits, however, he clearly seems to favor the flash shots over natural light.


“For this location I posed Elizabeth in front of some old school revolving doors,” he explains at one portrait location. “There was a lot of cloud cover, so the lighting was really nice and soft. And I would be 100 percent happy with it, but it can sometimes make an image look flat. When I incorporated the flash, you’re going to notice how it gives the image a little more depth and contrast while still looking pretty natural.”

At the same time, he recognizes how much more work off camera flash requires.

“It’s a chore; it’s a pain in the butt, especially doing what I did,” Ortiz says. “If it wasn’t for my assistant David holding the light on a monopod, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. But again, to each his own. For me though, I think it’s worth it. I think it creates dynamic images that people are not used to seeing. And you can control the exposure, you can control whatever mother nature throws at you and you can always make sure that your model looks good and has good lighting.”


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