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On Location Lighting With Speedlites Part 1 – Portraits

Originally posted on The Photo Life.

I like to travel light. Maybe it’s because I spent many years working without an assistant. Also, as I grow older, I don’t really like carrying a lot of equipment. You know what I mean, right? Aches and pains aren’t fun. So, instead of hauling hundreds of pounds of studio lighting equipment I decided that I would create a system for using my speedlites whenever I had to go on location – whether it’s for weddings, portraits, headshots, or fashion shoots.

Here’s what I use on my shoots:

• Speedlite (or two, or more – depending on the size of the group or if you want a rim light)
• Wireless Trigger
• Light Modifier (beauty dish, softbox, umbrella, etc.)
• Light Stand (or even just a monopod). I have even held the flash away from the camera with one hand in a pinch. The most important thing is to get the flash OFF the camera!

A speedlite is like a shotgun unless you modify the light somehow. Trust me – your speedlight will just throw light everywhere. That’s why you need a light modifier. You’ll want to shape the light on and around your subject. Experiment, play and test a few types of light modifiers. Find the type of light modifier that works for you – one that creates the effect you want, and is consistent with your style.

Right now, you may be saying, “Casey, I’m a natural light photographer. I don’t need to use my flash!” Oh, trust me. I prefer to use natural light as well, but Mother Nature is not always helpful. You might be shooting headshots at noon in July and you don’t have a reflector…yikes! That’s why we’re talking about off camera lights. They’re a lifesaver in certain situations. Like this headshot:

© Casey Fatchett Photography –

Or, what would you do in this situation? You’re photographing a bride and groom on a rooftop in New York City and you want to separate the couple from the background of the skyline…here’s how we can do it:

© Casey Fatchett Photography –

My modifier of choice for portraits is most often a beauty dish, but if I want a softer, broader light, I use a softbox or shoot-through umbrella. Or, I’ll just fire the flash through a handheld diffuser.

I photographed this entire fashion spread using primarily one speedlight on a monopod – occasionally throwing in a second speedlite behind the model to add a rim light. Check out the results:

You can view more photos from this shoot by clicking HERE.

Experiment, play and practice until you find the combinations that suit your style. Practice! Practice! PRACTICE! That way, when you’re working with a paying client, you aren’t fumbling around trying to figure it out. Know the equipment. Know the situation. Know exactly how to handle anything that Mother Natures throws at you!

In Part Two of this series, I’ll discuss using wireless speedlites at events. Can’t wait. In the meantime, please leave your feedback, thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Q & A

Do you have questions about using speedlites for portraits? Leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer it – or I might even do a post on the topic in the future!

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The Nerdy Photographer
The Nerdy Photographer

With more than a quarter century as a professional photographer, The Nerdy Photographer's goal is to spread knowledge and laughter throughout the photo industry. Please follow along on social media and subscribe to the podcast.

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