Use flash for modern portraits

Rebecca Greig

Discover how to capture glitzy Hollywood-inspired portraits in your own living room


Have you ever watched a Hollywood movie and wished you could capture the glitz and glam of tinseltown in a portrait? Well, what if we told you that you could do just that, all from the comfort of your own home? All it requires is a clever bit of lighting, a willing model as well as the right clothing and props to make it appear convincing. If this sounds like a challenge, then think again as it’s actually incredibly simple to pull off and with our easy-to-follow step-by-step guide we’ll show you exactly how it’s done from setup and shooting, to adding the finishing touches in Photoshop.

Before you get started you’ll need to make sure you have the right gear, most importantly a camera and a lighting setup. If you don’t own a set of studio strobes, then a pair of flashguns works just as well. You’ll just need to make sure you have a way of firing them off-camera, so investing in a set of inexpensive radio triggers is a must. You’ll also need lighting stands to allow you to easily position your lights. Once you have the necessary gear, take a read of our guide to get started.

What you’ll need:

Two light stands
Two flashguns
Wireless radio triggers
Light modifier (softbox, umbrella, beauty dish etc.)

Shooting steps


1  Set up your camera Start off by switching your camera over to Full Manual (M on the mode Dial) and dial in a shutter speed of 1/125sec. Set the Aperture to around f8 and the ISO sensitivity to the lowest possible setting. Set the White Balance setting to the Flash preset.


2  Activate your flashguns To mimic the lighting setup we’ve used, you’ll need two individual light sources, but if you don’t have two you can simply use one instead. Start by inserting a fresh set of batteries in to the flashguns, then set them to Manual mode. Dial the power output to 1/2 power.


3  Use wireless triggers Arguably the easiest way to fire your flashguns off-camera is by using a set of wireless triggers. Attach the receivers to your flashguns and the transmitter to the top of your camera. Turn on all the units and make sure that they’re all set to the same frequency channel.


4  Position your light stands Erect two light stands and attach each flashgun to the top. Now, position one stand in front and slightly to the side of your model, making sure the light is pointing down on to their face. The second stand should be setup to the opposite side and just behind them.


5  Use a modifier If you have one available, attaching a light modifier to your main flashgun is a great way to soften the light hitting your model’s face for a much more flattering result. We’ve opted for a beauty dish, though a small softbox or even a shoot-through umbrella would also work well.


6  Take the shot With your lights and model in position look through the viewfinder and take a shot. Review the image on the rear screen; if the shot is too bright, reduce both of the flashgun’s power outputs to 1/4sec and try again. If it’s not bright enough, increase them to full power.

Light modifiers

Improve the quality of light by using a handy diffuser


Firing a flashgun or studio strobe without a light modifier can often produce harsh, unflattering results and will cast strong shadows across the face. To remedy this, professional photographers attach light modifiers to the front of their studio lights in order to diffuse the light to produce softer results. There are a multitude of different diffusers available, but the most common choices are softboxes, beauty dishes and photographic umbrellas. Although all modifiers work in a similar way, they will produce varying results depending on their size and shape. If you wish to use a light modifier with off-camera flash, you’ll also need to purchase a suitable light bracket.

Editing steps


1  Remove blemishes With your image opened up in Photoshop, start off by grabbing the Spot Healing brush from the toolbox and carefully brush over any spots or blemishes on the model’s skin


2  Dodge the eyes Choose the Dodge tool from the toolbox and set the Range to Highlights and the Exposure to around 5%. Now, brush around the pupils of the eyes to brighten them.


3  Sharpen the shot Head up to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. In the window that appears, set the Amount to 50%, the Radius to 2px and the Threshold to 0 Levels. Click OK to confirm the changes.


4  Add a vintage colour effect Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Solid Colour and pick a dark blue colour. Change the layer’s blending mode from Normal to Exclusion, before reducing the Opacity to around 50%.

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