Why off camera flash is spot on | Good Light Magazine

Why off camera flash is spot on

In beauty photography, lighting up your model for a perfect shot is a lot like dealing with a charging bull... meaning – you don’t want to do this head on. In bullfighting, you would end up impaled on the horns of an angry bovine; in beauty photography, you would produce a flat, uninteresting and cheap-looking image.

Even if you don’t want to make an impression of ridiculously high production values (though why wouldn’t you?), a tasteful photo is, in many ways, all about depth – visual, meaningful or sensual. And somehow a bland, boring picture with chiseled shadows created with a frontal flash just fails to convey all of the above.

The lesson here is simple and straightforward – unhook that flash from your camera and mount it on a lightstand somewhere more appropriate: to the left, right or above your point of view. A minor modification like this can make a world of difference in the resulting photos.

Using a white shoot-through umbrella and a lightstand is more than enough to make your images considerably more sophisticated. You will have more creative control in terms of positioning your light sources and adjusting the intensity of the flash.

You might ask, “Just how many creative options are we talking here?” Well, it only depends on your imagination! Let me demonstrate just a few ways of enhancing your photographs with an “off flash”. As I’ve already said, you will need the following:


  • a lightstand;
  • a mounted camera flash;
  • a shoot-through umbrella (to soften the light from the flash);
  • a sprinkle of imagination.


  • a reflector (if you want to minimize shadows).

Now let’s mess around with our “high-tech” equipment and see what happens!

Option 0. Bland and Boring 101
Let’s say you want to do some portrait photography. You have a decent 50 mm prime lens, a good speedlight mounted on your camera – nothing stands between you and all of those awesome pictures! So you take a quick shot and see what happens.

Off camera flash tutorial - example for on camera flash
A flash to the face is boring and unflattering; especially due to hard shadows under the nose and the chin.

The results are strangely underwhelming, aren’t they? Hard shadows under the model’s nose and chin are off-putting, and the flash from the speedlight flattens everything out like a steamroller. Shooting like this is a slacker’s way out, we say! Moving on!

Option 1. From the Left

off camera flash tutorial - example for on camera flashStill undiscouraged, we recall that vertical portraits are a staple format in the majority of fashion magazines, where pretty ladies and tasteful clothing are abundant, and harsh shadows are virtually unheard of. “Eureka,” we say, and turn the camera 90 degrees – indeed, this might solve things!

This time the end result is somewhat ambivalent, which means that there’s good news and bad news. The good news – we no longer have to deal with shadows under the chin and the nose. The bad news – there’s a hideous dark outline to the right of the model, because the flash went off to the left of the lens. In short, it’s still a far cry from what a beauty photo should be.

Instead of rage-quitting on this whole shooting business and going out for a beer or two, we should ask ourselves – what can we do to make our next image look better?

Option 2. Soft Light from Above

off camera flash tutorial - example for light above cameraTime to get serious: let’s grab that umbrella and combine it with the flash, McGuyver-style! We will get an awesome yet practical beauty photography device that is dirt-cheap and very effective. Once we pimp our flash in this way, it will stop creating such chiseled shadows.

But before we do that, the first priority should be to break up the odd couple of the DSLR and the speedlight by placing the latter on the lightstand and positioning it approximately 30 inches above the camera. This will enable us to add a shoot-through umbrella to the combo and make the lighting angle more flattering and pleasant to the eye.
These are very simple and subtle modifications, but believe us when we say that they make a world of difference compared to the previous pictures! Everything works like a charm – the light is soft and soothing now, and we are slowly but surely approaching a fashion photography standard!

Still, we don’t reall ylike the way the model’s shadow looks “stuck” to the wall. Maybe if she stepped forward just a little, then the shade would subside and become less distracting?

Indeed, it would! We thought as much.

off camera flash tutorial - simple exampleSo, let’s summarize: our starting point was a mediocre and cheap-looking technique for shooting portraits with a standard on-camera flash; however, we learned that introducing a couple of slight changes to the lighting setup and the model’s position makes for much cooler photos! You can easily shoot pictures that are on par with some fashion photography images out there! Afterwards, all you need is a little post-production, and your photographs wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine!

To conclude our little inquiry in off camera flashes – and to provide you with some metaphorical icing on the cake – We want to show you another cool trick that will help you out on a gloomy day outside.

Model: Fredau Hoekstra

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