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From the Blog

Why Use Flash for Outdoor Portraits?

A nice couple was walking by as I set up my lights for a photo shoot on Daniel Island. Curious, they asked “why are you using flash for outdoor photos?” I thought that was a great question!

Commonwealth Financial is a longtime client. Several times a year, they have me come out to photograph headshots of new advisors that have joined their team. Heather is always so good about organizing everyone’s schedules and coordinating these photo shoots. She had arranged for me to come out for some updates this week.

We always schedule their headshots in the morning, when the side of their building is in open shade. That way, the light is consistent each time I go out, and nobody is squinting in the sunlight. The even shade also gives me a blank canvas to work with. It creates the ambient light that illuminates the side of the building that we always use as the backdrop, plus provides a nice fill light to the faces. Yes, I could just shoot these headshots with natural light. The light would be nice and soft. But it would also be flat, lacking punch and directionality. Plus it would be inconsistent from shoot to shoot…on overcast days it would be extra flat with a cool color tone…on sunny days it would be warmer and more contrasty. For these reasons, I always blend in some lighting from off-camera flash.

For the main light (to the subject’s right), I set up a Manfrotto lightstand, with 3 SB-5000 flashes on a bracket, firing into an Westcott Apollo 50″ softbox. Since this is a very large light source, susceptible to wind, the stand is held in place by 4 10-lb BoaBags. On the opposite side, firing from behind the subject’s left shoulder, I place another Manfrotto lightstand. This one has a single SB-5000 flash, firing into a Westcott Apollo Strip softbox, and is held down by a single 10-lb BoaBag. This light provides a “kicker” that highlights the hair, provides a little fill on the cheek, gives a little edging to the shoulders, and helps separate the subject from the background. I shoot these portraits using my Nikon Z9 with the Nikkor Z 70-200 f2.8 lens on a Manfrotto tripod.

In the first photo, you can see the results without flash, which I shoot to get a “base” exposure. There’s nothing wrong with it. The light just doesn’t sculpt the face and provide the punch I like in a headshots! The subsequent shots show the final results with the off-camera flashes. I hope this helps answer the question of why I use flash for outdoor portraits!