Shooting portraits with off camera flash should not be something you are scared to learn. Flash photography has a bad rap for being difficult to learn and to use. Not to mention expensive and heavy to carry.
Table of Contents Hide
- Golden hour portrait shoot
- Off camera flash gear – Profoto light
- Sony a7riii mirrorless camera with Sony 24-70mm f2.8 G Master lens
- GOBE Variable ND filter
- Portrait shoot breakdown – How I got the shots
- Moving locations and changing ambient light
- Location and portrait shoot concept
- Sunset lighting with off camera flash
- Off camera flash before and after portraits
- Off camera flash portrait samples
- What did I learn from this shoot
- Final thoughts on OCF Portraits and why beginners are scared to use it
- Conclusion – Off camera flash
Golden hour portrait shoot
I can agree with some of the expensive parts, but there are now so many more affordable options when jumping into off camera flash.
I wish more beginner photographers would jump into and learn flash photography sooner vs only shooting natural light.
Check out the gallery below and learn more from this portrait shoot break down with off camera flash
Over the summer I had a chance to shoot with Ashley. A beautiful model from the Dallas, TX area. We met in downtown McKinney during the latter part of the day.
My goal was to do a portrait shoot with my off-camera flash system. I am constantly learning new skills and flash photography is one of those skills.
Off camera flash gear – Profoto light
For this portrait shoot I used the Profoto B2 Strobe. This has been my main off-camera flash strobe for years. I got it on the used market along with a Profoto Air remote.
The price was just too good to pass up. Paired with the strobe is the Profoto OCF 2×3 softbox with double diffusion. I wanted to get the best soft light possible, so I kept the inner baffle on the softbox.
This creates a beautiful natural glow along with keeping the light close to my subject. The Profoto B2 has a single head with attached cord that plugs into a small battery unit.
The unit can get heavy when hauling it around, so I got a ProMedia Gear mount.
This allows me to strap the battery to the mount and clamp it to the base of the light stand. This acts as a small weight for the light stand and keeps the whole unit from blowing in the wind.
Sony a7riii mirrorless camera with Sony 24-70mm f2.8 G Master lens
The Sony a7riii has been my main portrait photography camera for the past year. This camera has tons of resolution and lets me do massive cropping in post without losing too much details.
Normally I would just shoot and get my composition right in camera, but there are just sometimes I want a closer crop and I can do this in post with no worries.
I paired my Sony a7riii with the Sony 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens. This lens is my favorite zoom lens for portrait shoots. I wanted to travel light so I only needed this one lens for the shoot.
I knew the 24-70mm focal range would give me plenty of versatility during the shoot to get plenty of different compositions.
GOBE Variable ND filter
For the first time, I also added a GOBE variable ND filter to the front of the lens. This was a great test to see how I could use the variable ND filter with this camera and flash setup.
The goal was to be able to shoot wide open at f2.8 all while keeping the flash sync speed under 1/250sec if possible.
The GOBE variable ND filter act like sunglasses for your lens and allows you to control the intensity of the ambient light before each shot.
This way I could get a more power from the flash unit without having to go directly into high-speed sync mode.
I would not recommend this type of off camera flash portrait photography as it adds an extra layer of settings that you have to get right in camera before you start each shot.
I had a great time learning and I love the way the photos of Ashley came out.
Portrait shoot breakdown – How I got the shots
The majority of these shots were all setup the same way. I followed each step below as I moved from location to location.
- I would place my model in the location of choice.
- I would set my strobe either camera left or camera right
- I would then adjust my camera settings to the preferred aperture, ISO and shutter speed
- Then I would adjust the variable ND filter to cut down on the background light
- Once the background was adjusted, I would turn on the flash and place the remote in TTL mode
- I would take a test shot and then more the control into manual mode.
- Once in manual mode, I would adjust the power of the light in order to get a soft light and balanced exposure on the model.
- Once I dialed in all my settings, I would request Ashley do a small series of micro movements while posing in the same spot.
This is a very tedious process, but I wanted to see how much power I really needed from each flash output to get a good exposure. I rarely had the flash set to more than ¼ power.
Normally in high-speed sync mode, the flash unit would go to ¾ power with the higher shutter speeds to get a balanced exposure.
You also have to remember just about all flash strobes or units will lose power once you go into high-speed sync mode.
If you keep your shutter speed under the camera sync speed you will retain battery power and get more shots.
Moving locations and changing ambient light
We started on the steps of a local downtown museum. The time was around 6:30pm and it was pretty bright outside. Sunset started close to 7:30 so I wanted to get as much shots finished in the street level location as possible before moving to the top of the parking garage.
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Location and portrait shoot concept
The concept was simple. Make this a simple lifestyle portrait shoot while testing out the capabilities of the Profoto B2 strobe in the daylight.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Ashley multiple times, so I let her know I would be doing a lot of testing for this shoot.
I communicated ahead of time as much information as possible about the process so she could better manage expectations from the session.
Sunset lighting with off camera flash
Once we moved to the top of the parking lot overlooking the small downtown area, the sun was starting to set pretty quick.
I had Ashley change into a second look and we got started.
With the light constantly changing I needed to adjust the variable ND filter more and more. I wanted to keep as many details in the sunset as possible so I had the Variable ND set to about ¼ of its total setting.
The sun gave me a beautiful backlight for each shot and some of the shots I had a soft orange halo around Ashley hair and top of her head.
The white top also added contrast against the darker background, so this made Ashley stand out even more.
The wind was blowing very slightly, and this gave Ashley some life in her hair.
I took full advantage of the strobe during this time and learning how to get my exposures balanced with the orange lighting from the sun.
Once the sun finally set and we were left with minimal lighting I grabbed my last shots of Ashley and we called it a day.
The sky was turning more of a dark blue and mid tone purple so I knew there was pretty much no ambient light left for us to use. That was the shoot!
Off camera flash before and after portraits
Here is an example of a before and after shot from our session. The first shot is an exposure with only natural light. The background is bright and Ashley is in almost complete darkness.
Here is the same shot with flash at 1/4 power. See how much difference it makes to have the flash close to the subject. The sun gives a small golden halo behind Ashley and helps separate her from the background.
Flash is a power tool to help control the lighting in your composition. I highly recommend giving it a try.
Off camera flash portrait samples
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What did I learn from this shoot
Using the GOBE variable ND filter was challenging and I think more cumbersome than just using high speed sync.
The Profoto B2 unit and air remote automatically go into HSS mode when the shutter goes about the camera sync speed of 1/125sec.
I can understand why some photographers use this method to shoot with gear that does not have as HSS option.
Also, I was worried that the budget friendly ND filter was going to reduce the sharpness and clarity of the images from the 24-70mm f2.8 G Master.
I was pleasantly surprised that the combination was still sharp at the end of the day and after reviewing all the final photos from the session.
Final thoughts on OCF Portraits and why beginners are scared to use it
Lighting is a main ingredient of great photography. If you are only using available light, you are limiting yourself and your creative options in my opinion.
I wish more and more photographers would look to using off camera flash for portrait shoots. Godox has many new options that are considerable cheaper than the Profoto B2 unit.
Don’t think you have to buy expensive gear to get great shots. In fact, I wrote an entire article on why expensive gear doesn’t make you a better photographer. Make sure to check it out here.
Conclusion – Off camera flash
Off camera flash can give you dynamic portraits and help set you apart from other photographers who only shoot natural light.
No matter what way you choose to shoot, remember that lighting is a big part of your composition and if you can control that light with flash then you are giving yourself a better chance to get the perfect shot.
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