Use of Off-camera Flash for Natural Light Portraits / by Karthik Rajagopal

Most documentary photographers, street photographers and some of the candid wedding photographers consider it a sin to use flash for natural light portraiture. Is it because they really want to keep the pictures close to reality? Let’s take a reality check at the real reason.

After talking with a few portrait photographers who have only shot in natural light on why they do not use an external flash for their portraiture I narrowed down the reason to two points.

  1. Most photographers had a horrible experience with the use of on camera flash.

  2. Many of them who hate flash don't make an effort to learn about flash photography.

As photographers it easier explained with pictures than typing paragraphs of text. Here is a particular portrait of a tea-estate worker I shot in Kothagiri during the course of a post-wedding outdoor couple shoot. It was a compulsive shot for me as I saw a women dressed in scarlet saree in a green background with beautiful warm backlight from setting sun.

 Shot without Flash   |   Camera Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis 85 mm f/1.8

Shot without Flash   |   Camera Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis 85 mm f/1.8

The first shot is one I did without a fill flash. I could have recovered shadows and with face mask I could have almost brightened her face. But, if the shadows were a little more darker recovering would have certainly produced losses.

 Filled with Light from Godox AD200 with 60 cm soft box| Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis 85 mm f/1.8

Filled with Light from Godox AD200 with 60 cm soft box| Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis 85 mm f/1.8

Fortunately this time my friend Praveen was waiting with a Godox AD200 with a 60 cm softbox equipped with a boompole. As soon as he saw me shooting he was at the spot for the next shot to light her. In such a situation it is quite difficult to judge the flash intensity you need to get a good fill. I trusted on TTL with a -1 dialed in to retain some of the shadows. This is almost like holding a white reflector to reflect the sunlight onto her face. While using a reflector is not possible in all situations, a portable flash comes handy.

I trust I did not kill this picture with a flash. I did not do any exposure changes on this image in the raw processor to represent the pictures as shot for better understanding.

The idea of writing this blog was just to get people who never tried off camera portable flash for lighting natural light portraits. Please feel free to comment and write to me. Based on your inputs I 'll probably throw more light on using off-camera flash.