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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Dramatic Portraits: Off-Camera Flash Tips to Make Shadows Work For You

The harsh shadows you get in your first attempts at external flash photography can be discouraging, and let’s not lie—bounce flash photography is challenging. But from another perspective, strong shadows are exactly what you need to create a dramatic portrait! You just need to control them. Here are some tips on what to do. (Report by: Yasuhiko Kani, Model: Sayuri Kurahashi/ IARA)

Dramatic portrait

EOS 7D/ EF17-40mm f/4L USM/ FL: 22mm (35mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto/ Speedlite 600EX-RT/ Metering mode: Evaluative metering
*Speedlite Release Cable SR-N3 is necessary when using Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT on EOS 7D and other cameras released before 2012.


Your external flash can help you create shadows! Here's how:

Emitting light to make an image brighter is just part of what an external flash does. What it really does is to help you control light, and this includes creating shadows where you want them. Here are some tips for an easier shoot.


1. Use your modeling flash
Press the depth-of-field preview button on your camera to fire the modeling flash. This helps you to see where the flash light casts shadows on your portrait subject.


2. Move your flash unit to find the best position
Finding the best position will require some trial and error. I got the shot above by placing the flash close to the model (see diagram).
Note: The flash does not necessarily have to shine on the subject—even if it shines on something else, E-TTL mode will control the flash exposure so that the entire scene gets properly exposed. This brings us to tip 3, which is...

Diagram showing position of model, flash and camera with ST-E3-RT

A: Camera with Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT attached
B: Speedlite


3. Trust E-TTL
Taking the flash off the camera can be daunting, especially if you have never tried it before. Using E-TTL mode, which automatically analyses and sets the optimum flash exposure, can give you pretty decent results to start with. So why not go ahead and get creative with it? You can use manual mode to fine-tune the outcome when you get more familiar with flash photography.


Try this product: Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT

Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT

Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT
For even more flexibility in positioning your flash, attach Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT to your camera. This allows you to wirelessly fire a flash unit placed anywhere within a 30m radius.


For other light/shadow control techniques, check out:
Taking Dramatic Food Photos in Chiaroscuro Style
Cosplay Photography Techniques (3): Examples of Different Lighting Setups


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yasuhiko Kani

Yasuhiko Kani

Born in 1970 and graduated from Nihon University, Kani studied under photographer Shin Yamagishi before he went independent. He currently focuses on portrait photography, and is also engaged in a wide variety of activities for magazines, photo albums, CD jackets, advertisements, and movies.