It's easy to get great Canon Speedlite portraits with one Speedlite and the right techniques.
I've been doing portrait photography for almost 30 years using umbrella or softbox lighting, so I wanted to challenge myself by using just one Canon Speedlite to get nice portrait lighting.
The portrait below was shot with a Canon Speedlite 270EX II attached to the shoe mount on top of a Canon G11. Molly the Mannequin was place 3 feet in front of the cinder-block wall in my basement.
If your subject is placed in front of a background or wall, harsh and distracting shadows from the direct flash result. You also get the distinct, sharp-edged shadow underneath your subject's chin.
Direct speedlite flash is contrasty, does not bring out much depth and is generally not the best portrait lighting.
Find a large surface or improvise to create one.
You gain the option of aiming your flash toward that surface.
Make it the primary source of lighting.
You'll get a beautiful soft look.
Speedlite portraits like the one below have a much nicer look to the lighting when the light can bounced off of a ceiling.
In the portrait below, just like the one above, my Speedlite 270EX II was still aimed directly up at the ceiling. This time I held a white piece of paper just behind and above the speedlite to add Direct Fill.
Notice that the shadows on the eyes are completely eliminated and the shadows on the background are only moderately seen.
The final step to getting my portrait lighting the way I wanted it was to move farther away from the background.
I used the same bounce-lighting technique as with the previous photo, but Molly the Manequinn was 10 feet away from the background instead of only 3.
I cropped the portrait as a vertical composition and then darkened the edges a bit in PhotoShop. Notice how the shadows on the wall are basically non-existent.
In the past the only time I've used a speedlite is when I need a bit of fill flash while doing outdoor team sports photography or beach photos.
I am a newbie when it comes to shooting Canon Speedlite Portraits, so I wanted to take it one step further. I decided to turn my camera sideways to a Portrait Orientation and bounce the light from my Canon 270EX II sideways off of a wall instead of the ceiling.
I shot this Canon SpeedLite Portrait Video to show you how I set it up. As a side-note: both the Canon Speedlite 580EXII and original 580EX have a built-in, slide-out bounce panel.
You can achieve a somewhat similar effect as the portrait above and get combined bounce and Direct-Fill.
The small bounce panel does a nice job at filling in the shadows on the eyes and adding a "Catch light" highlight to the eyes as well.
The million dollar question is if you need a Speedlite for portraits? Lighting situations vary significantly from one portrait to the next. You are the photographer in charge and you must decide whether to use a Speedlite or not.
You need a Speedlite when there is not enough light hitting the important parts of your portrait subject. Lighting is the single most important aspect of portrait photography and using a Speedlite properly will make the subject their best.
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I hope this post was helpful. The best way to learn portrait lighting is to experiment with it. Try a few variations each time you shoot portraits and study how your portraits come out. See the related posts listed below my signature or use the search box below to find another topic you're interested in.
Bruce Lovelace is the publisher of Canon Camera Geek. Read more about him on the About Page. He also publishes how to articles and camera gear reviews at the Photography Tips website.
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