In an epic battle on the beaches of Malibu, our very own Pye Jirsa took on fellow photographer & MagMod ambassador, Marlies Hartmann. The flash photography showdown revolved around three challenges. Each photographer had to create three couples portraits with a different goal in mind for each shot. One had to feature dramatic flash, another natural-looking flash, and the last one had to use flash to transform the scene. What prize hangs in the balance? The winner, decided through voting in the MagMod FB community, will receive a $500 gift certificate from MagMod! See below and choose your favorite techniques and final images!

Video: The Flash Photography Showdown: Pye Jirsa vs. Marlies Hartmann

Gear Checklist

Here’s a list of the gear used in this flash photography showdown:

Flash Photography Showdown Rules

The rules for this contest were simple:

  • Each photographer would stand in as the lighting assistant for the other
  • Time-limit: ten minutes
  • If possible, the photographers could create multiple images for each challenge
  • Trash talking permitted


Each challenge was designed to demonstrate the diverse creative opportunities that flash opens up, from creating natural to dramatic looks, no matter the location or ambient lighting condition.

First Challenge: Dramatic Flash with Marlies Hartmann

To kick off the competition, Marlies took the first shot for the dramatic flash challenge.

Marlies placed the couple in a sitting pose on a rock formation on the beach with the sun and ocean in the background. To modify the light, Marlies used a MagBox Pro 24” and placed it camera-right, at about a 45-degree angle and 5-7’ away from the couple.

Here is Marlies’ final image for the first challenge.

1/200, f/14, ISO 100 | Flash Power: 1/1

First Challenge: Dramatic Flash with Pye Jirsa

Pye took a different approach to the first challenge and opted for the Reflector XL to maximize the amount of light he could project onto the subjects.

To add visual interest to the shot, Pye added a foreground element using the rocks and water on the shore. The rock formation also helped frame the couple. Pairing the Reflector XL with the Profoto B10+ gave Pye the light power he needed to overpower the sun and produce a dramatic flash portrait.

1/200, f/14, ISO 100 | Flash Power: 1/1

Second Challenge: Natural-Looking Flash with Pye Jirsa

For the “natural light” challenge, Pye went first and used the MagBox Pro 24”.

The MagBox Pro produces softer light compared to the first modifier Pye used (the Reflector XL). When used with a balance of ambient light and flash power, you can create a more soft, “natural-light” portrait. If you compare the exposure settings between this shot and Pye’s dramatic portrait, you’ll notice the natural light portrait features a shallower depth of field. The softer focus creates a generally softer look in general (while maintaining tack sharp focus on the subjects, of course).

1/4000, f/2, ISO 50 | Flash Power: 1/1

Second Challenge: Natural-Looking Flash with Marlies Hartmann

Marlies chose the MagBox Pro for the second challenge because of its ability to help create natural looking flash.

It’s important to note, however, that a key ingredient for natural looking flash lies in maintaining a steady balance between the flash and ambient exposure.

1/8000, f/1.2, ISO 100 | Flash Power 1/1

Third Challenge: Scene Transformation with Pye Jirsa

For the third challenge, Pye used a CTO DomeGel with a Reflector XL to allow himself to have more control over the color of the scene.

The setup didn’t vary compared to previous shots, but Pye did shoot from farther back.

Pye carefully positioned the male subject on the right side to keep the light from casting a shadow on the female subject. If you find yourself in a similar situation, ask the subject closest to the light to rotate his or her chest slightly towards the camera. This should create a clear path for the light to reach the subject that’s farther away from the light source.

1/200, f/14, ISO 100 | Flash Power: 1/1

Taking advantage of a time surplus, Pye also captured a second shot for the final challenge.

At Pye’s direction, Marlies held the light up high and pointed it down towards the couple. The warm color of the DomeGel helped transform the look of the scene.

1/8000, f/2, ISO 50 | Flash Power: 1/1

Third Challenge: Scene Transformation with Marlies Hartmann

For the third and final challenge, Marlies used a backlighting flash photography technique. This time around, Marlies chose to use a MagSphere XL with a Full CTO MagGel, which she placed behind the couple. Pye positioned the lightsource about waist-high and aimed it at a large rock that served as the backdrop.

In order to make this work, Marlies set a low ambient exposure and cranked the flash to full power.

1/200, f/14, ISO 100 | Flash Power: 1/1

What Is a “Funset” Shot?

Like Pye, Marlies also had enough time for a second shot. For this shot, Marlies used a special “Funset” (fake sunset) technique that uses flash to recreate that ever popular golden hour sunflare. Even if you have plenty of sunlight available, you can still use this flash photography technique and take advantage of not having to shoot only in the sun’s direction.

Marlies broke out a 135mm lens to compress the scene and used some nearby trees as a natural flag to help create a flare from the flash. This technique does require a powerful light source to get enough light to make it look real. In terms of modifying the lightsource, Marlies used a MagSphere on the Profoto B10+, as well as a Full CTO Gel.

Here’s the final “Funset” shot.

1/400, f/1.8, ISO 100 | Flash Power: 1/1


We hope you’ll be able to use these flash photography tips and techniques during your next session. It’s amazing how many different effects we can get by using creative techniques and modifiers. Which of the portraits above do you feel deserves the $500 prize? Visit the Mag Mod community (or this post specifically) to see who won.