How you approach a scene determines the end result and without a proper plan of attack, things may fall short. Build your shot from the ground up by determining how prominent a role each variable plays in your scene. Here are 8 steps to get you through the process of perfecting the use of off-camera lighting setups to ultimately produce a refined, well-thought out image.

Video: How to Capture Dramatic Portraits Using Off-Camera Flash By Yourself

Gear Used:

  1. A camera with off-camera flash functions. I’ll be using my Canon EOS R5.
  2. A portrait lens, ideally a zoom such as the RF 70-200mm f/2.8L to compress the scene.
  3. A portable off-camera flash like the Profoto A2.
  4. A light modifier such as an umbrella or softbox. I’ll be using the new Profoto Clic Octa Softbox.
  5. A lightweight stand such as the Manfrotto Nanostand.

Before we jump in, be sure to give Sabrina, our model today, a follow on Instagram.


Figure out the composition of your shot and then dial in your camera settings accordingly. Often photographers get so bogged down in metering their light before even thinking about where to place their subjects or their desired composition, inevitably wasting precious time, but this step is mandatory regardless of your use of OCF or not, it will guide you in the right direction before you assess the strength of other variables. Camera settings based on the desired composition are known as compositional attributes.

I want to use the leading lines on this brick wall as a visual guide to the wall in the back. This skin-tone colored wall will serve as a good backdrop behind Sabrina.

Ambient Light

1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200 @ 180mm

When using off-camera flash, the ambient light settings will set the intention for the photo. Dark for dramatic and bright for natural. Since we’re going for dramatic portraits, I turned down the exposure quite a bit.

Modify/Add Light

After assessing your available light, decide how you will use your flashes to balance the ambient light to flash. If your shutter speed is going to be faster than 1/200th of a second then there are two ways of going about the situation: You can turn on high-speed sync for all flashes or, if that’s not available, use a neutral density filter to cut down the ambient light so that your flashes can actually maintain power and synchronize with that shutter speed.

In our Lighting 101 workshop, we discuss a myriad of options for balancing ambient light to flash, showing you comparisons between different flashes and how they fare in various lighting conditions. Stream the full workshop as a SLR Lounge Premium member here.

dramatic portraits rembrandt

I placed the A2 with the Softbox on my Nanostand and positioned it to create Rembrandt style lighting. Be sure that your off-camera flash can provide ample power to light your subject if you’re shooting in the daylight.

Adjust White Balance

Balance your ambient light color with your flash color to avoid mixing light, and then adjust your in-camera settings accordingly. This is a known area for problems arise because most photographers often miss or forget one of these adjustments and end up paying for it later in post-production.

Balance Ambient Light with Flash Power


The less ambient light, the more dramatic of an effect flash will have on your image. When ambient light is greater than flash power, meaning your ambient light is brighter and your flash is less powerful, then the image will have more of a natural light effect.

Modify Light Direction & Quality

Now that you’ve determined what type of light to use and how it is going to function, where do you place it and how do you modify it to fit the ambient light available?


It all depends on what type of light quality you are going for and how dramatic or natural you want your light to affect your scene. Remember, there is no such thing as a define ‘perfect light’, so trial and error is the best way to see where your shadows are falling and fix your placement and modification accordingly.

Take a Test Shot

Always take a test shot when you first approach your scene, and as you make these minute adjustments and additions, keep taking them. See if the image is progressing or if it’s veering off path from your original intentions. Throughout this entire process, take shots to see how to perfect the ambient exposure to flash balance.

Start Taking Your Photographs!

dramatic portraits off camera flash
Edited with Visual Flow > Pure Presets

With all the settings dialed in, it’s time to start capturing our dramatic portraits!

Move, Pose, Frame

Start moving around, switch your angles, swap out your lenses, and do whatever it takes to get the best possible outcome. Grab a safety shot and then experiment towards getting a more unique and refined result.

Analyze Highlights & Shadows

Once you have all the characteristics of your light set up, focus on where your shadows are falling and where your highlights are overexposed. Zoom in and look closely because an image might look perfectly fine on the back of your screen but will vary on your computer. If you’re not tethering it may be difficult to see the smaller adjustments that need to be made in order to refine the image, so for every major light set up, zoom in, look at the highlights and the shadows on the image and then continue shooting. And do this with every major change in camera to subject position.


That’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on photographing dramatic portraits by yourself using off-camera flash. To learn the full creative potential of off-camera flash, check out the Flash Photography Training System on SLR Lounge Premium. There, you’ll also find dedicated courses on Building a 7-Figure Photography Business, Mastering Lightroom Editing, and more. You can also visit Visual Flow for our entire library of Lightroom presets and retouching tools.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!