Using Off Camera Lighting For Portraits

Last week I asked everyone on Twitter and Facebook what some things are that you would like to learn to improve your photography. The most common answer was lighting which was awesome for me to hear since I love off camera lighting and was just thinking of creating more posts about creative lighting. I have written a good amount of off camera lighting articles in the past, just click on the Lighting tab near the top of our site to look through some old articles if you want to get up to speed, and I have tons more that I will be working on shortly. To make sure you don’t miss out on any articles make sure to sign up for one of our alerts here: Stay in touch with Digital Photo Buzz.

In todays post I want to review a recent shot that is a good example of balancing light. Whenever I am shooting I am always looking for cool backgrounds or light to work with. At a recent wedding there was this great choir loft upstairs that had a cool stained glass window. There were a few rows of chairs in front of the windows and it was a perfect small nook to get a photo of the groomsmen. The church inside was very dark so in order to get the stained glass showing I knew that I would have to add flash to balance out the light. The first thing I want to do is find out what the exposure is for the stained glass windows themselves. An easy way to do this is take a few test shots and figure out what exposure is needed to get the windows to show up correctly. Once you have your exposure dialed in, set your camera to manual mode and enter in this exposure.

Here is a shot without the light showing the natural light of the situation.

off camera lighting example

Next all you have to do is add people and a little light. I have used Pocketwizards for years and do love them, you can read about the Pocketwizard here. Here I placed a light at about about 30 degrees to my right as high as possible pointing at the groom. In this case it was setup very fast so I used a Canon 580 flash with no umbrella or soft box. Normally though its a good idea to soften the light with a modifier. The flash was set to ETTL and using the Pocketwizard minitt1 you can shoot at any shutter speed.

I also like to use a backlight to separate the subject from the background a little bit. Here I placed a Vivitar 285 (a very inexpensive manual flash) on the chair behind the groom and pointed the light up towards the back of his head. Depending on how much light I need i’ll dial the flash at 1/4 or 1/2 power, here I set it to 1/4 power just to give a little separation and also some more overall fill since it was bouncing off the ceiling as well.

Here is the shot after we added the 2 lights in.
off camera lighting example

It’s a pretty quick and easy setup and with off camera lights the possibilities really are endless as to what you can create! If you have some great off camera lighting examples I would love to see them, post a comment below or an image to our Facebook wall. Also check out our recent, Intro to Lighting post for more info on the type of gear I use for travel lighting.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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