[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from Lindsay Adler a professional portrait and fashion photographer based in New York City. We’ve featured many of Lindsay’s lighting techniques here and we are excited to have Lindsay share with us how to master location light in this article].

Canon 5D Mark III | Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 | 1/200 | f/2.8 |  IS0 200 | Phottix Mitros+ | Odin Trigger
Canon 5D Mark III | Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 | 1/200 | f/2.8 | IS0 200 | Phottix Mitros+ | Odin Trigger

As a portrait and fashion photographer, mastery of location light is essential for shooting a wide range of subjects. I’ve always leaned toward shooting and modifying natural light. If possible, I analyze the light in the scene and then work with diffusers, reflectors and subject placement to control the light.

I love shooting natural light when possible, but there are times when the ambient light simply isn’t cutting it and I know it’s time to reach for a speedlight or strobe. When bringing speedlights on location, I typically have three main goals or problems I am seeking to remedy. 

Typically, I’m aiming achieve one or more of the following goals: 

  • Improve the direction of light on the subject
  • Improve the quality of light on the subject
  • Control the intensity or amount of light in the scene

For example, sometimes the light on a subject’s face is simply too flat or dull, and by adding a speedlight I can help give the image and subject some contrast and help them ‘pop’ from the scene (quality of light). Other times, the ambient light is simply unflattering to the subject because of its direction, and I utilize a speedlight to help change the direction of light on the face for more pleasing results (direction of light). Finally, sometimes the background is simply too dark compared to the subject, and utilizing speedlights can help me darken the scene and pump light and life into my subject (intensity). 

My use of speedlights varies from scene to scene, but I am typically affecting these three elements for impact and to improve my images. Let’s take a moment to see this in action! 

Here I took my beautiful model on location wearing a dress and headpiece from Dream Shoot Rentals. (Recognize her face? She’s been a contestant on America’s Next Top Model and a model for Project Runway). I took the model in the park in the mid-afternoon, and placed her in front of a nice clearing of trees where she would be backlit by the sun. I liked the sun on her hair and headpiece because it helps give her a heavenly glow and separate her from the background. 

Here is the scene that I choose to photograph my model. The lighting has a lot of potential, just needs a bit of tweaking. Canon 5D Mark III  | Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art | 1/4000 | f/1.4, ISO 32

I ran into several problems I needed to solve:

  1. The light on the back of her head was very bright. When I exposed so those highlights were not totally overexposed, now her face was far too bright.
  2. The natural light on her face was a bit flat compared to the high contrast background.
  3. The direction of light on her face not exactly how I wanted it. There were not great catchlight in her eyes, and depending on how she turned her face, she had dull light that was somewhat split (one side of face lit, the other darker).

By adding light to the scene, I could conquer all of these problems!


Here is a close up shot of the light on the model’s face once we’ve underexposed to try to control the background highlights. The intensity, direction and quality of the light needs improving. Canon 5D Mark III | Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 at 112mm | 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200


Once we add a speedlight and the Apollo Orb, we are able to improve the amount of light on the face, give a softer quality of light on the face with improved contrast, and also improve the direction of light on the face. Canon 5D Mark III | Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 at 112mm| 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200 | Phottix Mitros+, Odin Trigger

First, I started by putting my camera on manual and getting the ideal ambient exposure and depth of field. I decide I wanted the scene to be darker than my meter recommended and to control the highlights on her hair. For this reason, I decided to underexpose the scene by about 1 2/3 stops.

Now, the light on her face was far too dark. Next, I grabbed my gear: Canon 5D Mark III and my brand new (and insanely sharp) Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens and the very versatile Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8

For this shot, I choose my favorite speedlights and one of my go-to speedlight modifiers: Phottix Mitros+ flash and Phottix Odin trigger to give me wireless TTL and manual control. I love these strobes as they are not only incredibly affordable, but also extremely easy to use and do everything I need a strobe to do!

Next, I grabbed the Westcott Apollo Orb. This is an AWESOME location lighting modifier. First of all, it allows me to take the feel of a studio octabox out on location. Second, it is light-weight and extremely easy to setup, and also easy to raise up above a scene for more directional lighting. The quality of light from the orb is great– it is soft, but still small enough to allow me to control the direction of light. 

Along with my assistant, we put the speedlight and orb together on an extendable pole.


IMG_9378Here is how we were able to control light in the scene. 

By adding the strobe, I was able to now pump light onto my subject, and chose about 2/3 stop underexposed strobe to give me great illumination without being too ‘flashy.’ Next, we improved the quality of light on the face by using the Orb, thus creating stunning glowing light. Finally, by using the extendable pole, I could have my assistant raise the light up to help give a big of shape and drama to the face and overpower the previously unflattering light on her face. 

This is an example of one of the many beautiful angles we were able to capture once we mastered the light on location.  Canon 5D Mark III | Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art | 1/800, f/1.6, ISO 200 | Phottix Mitros+ | Odin Trigger

If you want to learn the ins and outs of location lighting, be sure to tune into my upcoming creativeLIVE “Location Lighting 101.” creativeLIVE is a free live streaming educational platform, so you can join me for the entire class free August 21-23! We will cover natural light, speedlights, and strobes on location. Don’t miss it if you want to make images like the ones discussed here!

Also, if you loved the bright purple background in the lead image, be sure to watch one of my many other creativeLives include “Retouching and Creative Photoshop Techniques” to learn this and much more!