We often steer clear of using direct flash to light our subjects. In this video, I’ll be walking through how you can use direct on camera flash as a stylistic choice for edgy and creative portraits.

Video: How to Utilize Direct On Camera Flash For Edgy Portraits

Direct flash creates a harsh and raw light that can seem unappealing and difficult to control. It’s most often used as a stylistic choice for editorials and celebrity or fashion portraits. I’ll be using two versions of direct flash today: The Profoto A1 on camera flash as well as the Flashpoint R200 Ring Light. I’ll also be shooting with the Canon R5 with the RF 28-70mm f/2 lens.

Here are 4 tips to keep in mind when utilizing direct flash as a creative lighting choice with my good friend Kiara as our model today! Let’s dive in.

Tip #1: Choose an Outfit that Fits the Mood

Because we’re using a harsh and edgy light quality, we want our subject to wear an outfit that fits that theme.

I had Kiara wear an all-black outfit and stand in a strong pose. You can see how everything ties together right off the bat.

Tip #2: Use a Bracket When Going Vertical

on camera flash shadow
Note the placement of the shadow from the position of the flash.

Because an on camera flash such as the Profoto A1, sits on top of the camera, we get a nice and centered shadow when shooting in landscape. However, many editorials are shot in portrait. When going vertical, it’s important to keep in mind that the A1 will now be firing from the side. This will cast a shadow on one side of your subject. To fix this, attach your light to a bracket to keep the flash on its above position.

Tip #3: Warm Up the Color Temperature

One mistake I see photographers commonly make when using direct flash is that they don’t shoot warm enough. Compare a 4000K balanced with one closer to daylight at 6000K and you can see the warmer image appears much more natural.

Tip #4: Mind the Background Distance

on camera flash background distance

Direct flash portraits are commonly used against white backgrounds. To control the brightness of the background, move your subject toward or away from the wall. Be sure to maintain the same distance between your light and your subject. The further your subject is from the wall, the darker the wall will be.

On-Camera Flash vs. Ring Light

on camera flash ring light
The ring light creates a soft shadow that surrounds the subject.

When deciding between an on camera flash vs a ring light, there are two differences to keep in mind.

  1. Light spread: The on camera flash will be more focused. The ring flash will spread more evenly across the frame.
  2. The shadow: The on camera flash will create distinct shadow behind your subject. The ring flash will create a softer shadow that wraps around your subject.


on camera flash final images
Edited with Visual Flow > Pure Pack

In the end, using direct on camera flash is a fun way to explore edgy looks and portraits. It’s definitely worth a try and I hope you enjoyed this article/video!

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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!