On-camera flash gets a bad rap. People tend to think of the deer-in-the-headlights, face washed out, red-eyed look when they think of on-camera flash, but there is a world of possibility if you just get a little creative. Professional headshots with a single on-camera flash? Preposterous! …Or is it?
A popular look in headshot photography involves creating a square of light around the subject so that they are illuminated with soft, flat light that flatters most faces. This requires light coming from four different directions, but we’re only using one flash. What do we do?
When you’ve only got one flash but need more, the best solution to magically multiply your light is by utilizing reflection – bouncing your flash. Let’s explore a technique that lets us achieve the “square lighting” look that we feature in our Headshot Photography 101 workshop.
You Will Need:
- Four Reflectors
- Stands To Hold Them
- flash unit
As mentioned above, direct flash to the face is usually not going to be the most flattering look you can create with one flash. That’s where our four reflectors come in. We aren’t going to point the flash at the subject at all. Instead we’ll basically make a little reflector tent where our subject can hang out and look fabulous and ricochet light all over the place so it ends up in our square lighting pattern on the subject’s face. It may not be the simplest thing to put together, but it will do the trick with less equipment (and therefore significantly less expense) than if we were using four separate flashes in softboxes or LED panels.
For our demonstration we used C-Stands with grip arms, but while they’re awesome to have around and extremely useful, they’re expensive and heavy – so if you don’t have those handy, get inventive and play Erector Set with the equipment that you do have. We will be making, you guessed it, a square around our subject with the reflectors with one above, one below, and one on each side of the subject.
Placement of the top reflector relative to the flash is important. We want to maximize the space so that the flash can fill more of the reflector. We also want to zoom the flash as wide as it will go to spread the beam to help with this.
This is why we have a tripod on our equipment list as well – varying the distance of the flash to the top reflector will vary the intensity and spread of the light from shot to shot, providing inconsistent results. By using a tripod, we only have one moving variable – the subject. The camera and lighting equipment is all going to stay put.
Another consideration to achieve the look we want is the elimination of spill from the front of the flash. Simply bouncing the flash in front of the subject’s face will result in some light kicking forward directly onto the face, causing a milder form of that less-desirable front-lit bare-flash look. All you need is some kind of a gobo – something that goes between the light and the subject. Anything flat and opaque that can be maneuvered between the flash and the subject will work. Just be careful to choose something neutral so you won’t introduce an unwanted color cast.
It’s a rewarding feeling to turn one flash into many, so give it a try and see what you can do. Share your results with us in our Facebook group!
For more content like this and in more detail with video demonstration, be sure to check out our Headshot Photography 101 workshop and if you’d like access to our full collection of Premium workshops, become a subscriber!