Making the Best Use of One Flash on Location | Profoto (NL)

Making the Best Use of One Flash on Location

14 May, 2014

Written by: Jared Platt

On May 21, Profoto and photographer Jared Platt will host a free webinar on senior portraits and how to make the best use of one flash on location. To get you in the mood for the webinar, Jared has written a short article on the subject. Here it is, in his own words:

So you only have one light on location.  Most of the time that is all you really need, because in truth, you always have at least two additional lights, courtesy of the solar system and the planet earth.  The sun provides a direct, harsh light and the portion of the sky, opposite the sun, provides a beautiful soft light. Your off-camera flash you brought along with you can do a lot to augment your lighting scenario, but how do you best use that flash? Most people use their flash to fill. Whether they are using a softbox, an umbrella, a reflector, or a bare head, the light is generally placed somewhere forward of the subject to fill in, add catch lights, or cross light a subject.  But sometimes, that one off camera flash can be more useful in a less traditional location.

Consider the three images above from a senior portrait shoot at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.  We had plenty of shade and you can see the harsh light of the sun peeking through the trees, creating a beautiful dappling of highlights in the background.  The eastern sky behind the camera is providing the beautiful soft light that illuminates the background and the subject evenly.  In a situation like this, one could get away with a natural light portrait (as seen in image 1).

By the way, the final image exposure is at 1/160 sec ISO 320 at f 4.5 on a Canon 5D Mark III.


While image 1 is an acceptable portrait and with a little retouching and burring and dodging would be fine.  Notice though, that our model is not all that different from the background because they are both lit by the same large soft box (the eastern sky).  Aside from major heroic photoshop work, there is only one way to separate her from the background and that is with a well placed light.  So we brought in our Profoto B1 Off Camera Flash.

The question then, is what to do with that light?  In this case, we instituted a self imposed rule that we would not be using a soft box, but rather a TeleZoom Reflector on the B1 head.  We imposed this rule on ourselves for this shot because at best, most senior portrait photographers run around with one bare headed off-camera flash on a light stand and a camera.  So we are simulating that to some degree.

Image 2 shows the solution most people will attempt as their standard operating procedure.  Our one off camera flash was set off camera left by about 45 degrees and used to brighten the subject in relationship to the background. It does the job. She is brighter, but there are a few problems that arise as a result.  First, the light creates hard shadows behind her legs and the rock on the left side of the frame.  Second, the forward light flattens her face and body and creates a broad light situation by filling in all those beautiful slimming shadows.

Our solution to the problem was simply to take our light to the less traditional, yet most natural position.  The sun is already filtering through the trees in the background, but we have our model in a spot of shade that keeps the sun from directly striking her.  But the viewer doesn’t need to know that.  In fact, if we can fool the viewer into thinking that the sun has broken through the trees and kissed her with its warm light, then that is even better.




In Image 3, our B1 off-camera flash is positioned behind the model and to the left and is being used as a simple hair light, which creates a beautiful rim of light along her leg, her body, her face and in her hair.  This small addition of light from what most would consider a secondary light’s position separates the subject perfectly from the background without killing the beautiful slimming shadows on her body and face.

In almost every instance, look for beautiful ambient light on which to base the shot, and then augment that light with the tools you have at your disposal.  When you have limited tools, that is the time to think outside of the box.  Just because you have a flash, doesn’t mean that flash needs to be the main light source.  In our case, we relegated our super cool Profoto B1 to the less sexy role of hair light and that gave us everything we needed to make the shot a success.

Join me on May 21 for a free webinar in which we will discuss this and many more simple one light solutions as we take you behind the scenes on a real live senior portrait shoot with one B1 off-camera flash!


The webinar will take place on May 21 at 7PM CET (May 21 at 10AM Los Angeles, 1PM New York, 6PM London, 7PM Paris // May 22 at 1AM Beijing, 2AM Tokyo, 3AM Sydney).

Click here to sign up and we will send you a friendly reminder when the webinar is about to start.

Written by: Jared Platt