Create Soft Light Portraits with Speedlights: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace
Create Soft Light Portraits with Speedlights: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on Adorama TV. I am Mark Wallace, and I’m joined by a wonderful model. This is Juana Espínolaa and she is going to help me show you how we can create some really nice soft beautiful light with speedlights, and so what we’re using is we’re just gonna use three speedlights, these are godox Tt685 R’s which means that we could use TTL metering so the camera could figure out the exposure, but we’re gonna use manual mode the R means that these are radio triggered, so that is really awesome, because we can shoot through walls and all kinds of stuff. So now what we want to do in this situation, the challenge here is to create a lighting setup that will work just about anywhere. So this studio is very small, it’s very white, light’s gonna be bouncing all over the place, that might be your basement, your garage, or wherever you’re shooting, and that’s okay, you can still shape light, and you can still shape light using speed lights, and that’s what we’re going to do. ok, listo. Okay so, so I am just going to zip back, so the first thing I’m gonna do is set up a key light. We’re gonna do a key light, a kicker and a hair light. So our key light is going to be this first speed light, I’m gonna throw that on my my little umbrella adapter, and then I’m going to use a nice white shoot through umbrella. Now if you’ve never used shoot through umbrellas before, make sure you watch Gavin Hoey video on using shoot through umbrellas. It’s very, very, awesome, the reason I love these is because you can get really nice soft light, and you can get the modifier very close to your subject, and sort of surround them with light that’s going to be very, very, soft and very forgiving, and in a small space like this you don’t have to worry about having extra space for a normal umbrella. So now we’re going to zip back here, and I need to make sure I set the key light so just gonna put this guy on here, now most umbrella adapters like this have an angle and so they’ll be either be up or down, and so you need to pay attention to that so that you’re not mounting the umbrella the wrong way. So I already figured out which angle this is, so when this goes in, you’ll notice that this shaft and this light meet, so you’ll know if it’s wrong, if the angle is off where the light is shooting at the wrong part of the umbrella. So I want to put this in about right here, the thing that I did with my flash is, I set the zoom manually so the manual zoom I’ve set it to 28mm, that means that this light is going to really go out wide to eliminate all of this, because I want a really nice soft light. So then I’m just going to sort of position this to the side, so our video cameras going to go where our normal camera will be, and so I’ll show you sort of the position we want this to be, off to the side about like this, so it’s going to be 45 degrees-ish like that, the height is going to be just a little bit above eye level, but it doesn’t really matter because this is such a big soft light. Light is just spilling everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shape the light, we’ve got a bunch of tools that we’re going to show you how we can sort of restrict and add and subtract light in creative ways. The first thing we need to do is meter our light so I’m going to grab my light meter, here and then we’re gonna make sure we meter this, so I’m going to turn this on, then I’m going to use my transmitter here, and I’ll meter this to that light, just to get a nice reading, and when I trigger that, that meters right at f/3.2, so I need to take a test shot so I’m going to go here grab my camera, and let’s take a shot, so this is set to f/3.2, I’ll set my camera to f/3.2, there we go, ojos aqui. Perfecto. Okay we look at this and well it’s nice soft light, but it’s, it’s really not exciting, this is something that we need to fix, we need to be able to shape our light, and add and subtract some things to make sure that we have beautiful light not just blah, soft light. So let’s start doing that right now, our key light is all set up, but you can agree with me that it is drab. We need to add some light shaping and we’re gonna do that with this attachment right here. This is a Bowens attachment for a speed light, it allows us to use all the Bowens reflectors and grids and things on a speed light, it’s a really groovy tool. So the first thing we need is a reflector, and so I happen to have one right here. This is gonna reflect all of the light forward, it’s gonna make it a little bit punchier, and so that just snaps right onto the front just like that, but there’s too much light flying everywhere. We need a grid, and so this grid is going to help us restrict the light. You can see that that shows, or hides light based on an angle, so this is going to make sure we have light going forward but not bouncing everywhere into the studio. So that just sort of pops right onto the front of that, now the other thing that we have here is, a place to attach a speed light. If you look really closely, you can see that this is vertical instead of horizontal. Now why is that, well now that I have my speed light here, you can see that this horizontal light throws light horizontally, but we don’t want that, we want light to illuminate Juana’s cheek, that is vertical so we need to mount this vertically. Now I did a total video on horizontal and vertical and light shaping with speed lights. I put a link in the description of this video about that. It’s really, it’s sort of an important concept to understand when you’re working with speed lights. If you need to mount them vertically or horizontally, and where you zoom them based on what you’re putting around them. So make sure you check out that video again, it’s in the description of this video. So we’re gonna put this vertically, just sort of pops in there, screws right in. To really understand that in this lighting setup, we’re gonna walk back here. So I’m gonna put this where it’s gonna go, so I’m gonna put this about right here. Something like this, and then this light, it’s vertical, we wanted to illuminate vertically on her cheek and her shoulder, and a little bit of her hair. We don’t want this to go horizontally, because then we miss out on a lot of stuff. So a vertical light that’s very restricted. Okay now, we’re ready to move on to our next light modifier. We have our key light all set up, we have our nice kicker light, but we need to really separate Juana’s hair from the background. So I’m going to do that using this, this is a snoot – you can see that that is taking all the light from our little speed light right here, and it is restricting it, so it just comes out of this little small circle in the front, but to even restrict the light more, I have a grid on there, you can see sort of this grid right here. So that’s really really being restrictive, so the way to do that is, I’m going to get this boom right here, I’m going to mount this on the boom, and then we’re gonna go right back here, so we’re going to zip on back here, and you can see that all I need to do here is – to put this light or to put this, yeah, put this light just above, because we don’t want it in the shot. Know I am going to have to make sure I position it, so that this is just projecting light, right here on her head. Nowhere else, not the shoulders, not the face, just right here. That’s why we’ve restricted everything using the snoot and the grid. So I’m gonna fine-tune this, and then we’ll show you exactly how it looks. All of our lights are set up, but we still have a little bit of a problem here. Let me show you exactly what it is, so it’s gonna take a really fast test shot. This looks great, just like that, well it’s a good shot, but we have way too much light bouncing around. We need to fix that some way, we can do that using reflectors and subtraction panels. So a subtraction panel, so what we have right here, so Fabian just bring that out really fast, it’s just a big panel that has the black painted on it, that’s gonna keep light from spilling everywhere, and to add some fill on this side, we’re gonna bring this in, so we want to make sure those are set exactly where we want them to, and then I’ll walk you through the entire setup. So you can see exactly how this works, let me just say a quick thing about how I’m triggering the lights. I am using this Godox remote control, it’s very basic, I have three groups. So I can control the key light, the kicker light’s all independent of each other, so I’m using groups A, B and C on my remote control here, and I’m using radio triggering, so I don’t have any issues with things blocking our lights. Well now that you know that, I’m going to put this on my camera, and then let’s just walk through this lighting setup, and so I can show you each light individually, so you understand exactly what’s going on. Let’s begin by talking about this light right here – it’s got one very special thing to do, and that is our kicker light, we want to add some light to Juana’s cheek – to do that I’ve added this grid, it’s about a twenty degree grid, and that really restricts the light. So it’s not flying everywhere, and so that’s just gonna add some highlights on Juana’s cheek, and her shoulder, and nothing else, it’s exactly what we want. The other thing we want to do is, we want to add some light to her hair, we’re going to do that with this snoot. This snoots gonna restrict the light, but even more we have a grid on the end of that, and that makes sure that the light is going to be right here on her hair, and it’s just gonna highlight that. So we have nice soft light on her cheek, and just a little bit of light on her hair, that’s gonna highlight her because it’s opposite our key light, so let’s talk about this key light here. The key light is just a big soft umbrella, you can see it’s right here, we’re using a shoot through umbrella because you want to bring this really close to get really nice soft light, and we want to have this fill in on the same side as our highlight. So that is going to work really, really nice, but we have a problem with this big light, and that is that, this studio is really white, it’s got white walls, white floors, white ceiling, so light is flying everywhere, we need to control that, so that’s what this is right here. This is a subtraction panel, it’s painted black, and so what it’ll do is – this light is going to hit that, it’s going to keep it from falling on the background. This panel is also doing double duty because we have this light back here, our kicker, bringing light in, we don’t want that light to fall on our camera, taking the picture, and it causing lens flare. So this is going to block that, from hitting our camera, the other thing we need to do is – because we have so much light coming on this side, this side of Juana’s face is going to fall into shadow, unless we have some light bouncing back in. That’s why we have this panel right here. Well now that we know all about our lighting setup, let’s get to it and start shooting, we’re gonna do that right now. That’s all there is to it, a very simple three light setup that you can do in any small studio with speedlights. The key is adding grids and controlling all of that light. Well thanks so much Juana for being here. You can follow Juana on Instagram, I have linked to her Instagram account in the description of this video. So make sure you check that out. Make sure you follow me on Instagram. It’s right here and also subscribe to Adorama TV – it’s absolutely free, and we’re uploading stuff every single day. Tons of different contributors on tons of different topics – you don’t want to miss out, so make sure you do that, and click on the bell to get notifications. Thanks so much and I’ll see you again next time.

35 thoughts on “Create Soft Light Portraits with Speedlights: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Miguel Gallegos says:


  2. Miguel Gallegos says:

    I think her right eye is bigger than the left and is closer to the camera. You should reverse everything to make them look even?

  3. phynx2006 says:

    Great lighting tips as always Mark. Nice soft light portraits without spending $15,000 on strobes 😲😷

  4. Frank Woodbery says:

    Yay Juana! It's hard to stay exactly in position.

  5. JYP1M says:

    Thank you for the video, I'll put it on my watch later collection if I'm not dead after this pandemic

  6. Marcello Branca says:

    wow nice video, very useful and nicely explained

  7. Patty Mattes says:

    Mark, thanks!!!

  8. Meng Jur says:

    Love Mark Wallace ! I have learned a lot from his tutorial video when I was starting out photography. And also Bryan Peterson.

  9. Mike James says:

    Thank you, Mark!

  10. jpmmef says:

    Great video! You always give info I can immediately put to use. I appreciate greatly the focus on speedlights!

  11. fmrff70 says:

    Thanks Mark! Like some have commented, Profoto is not in most of us youtubers budget. Not saying it's not in our dreams!

  12. David S. says:

    Nice video. My question is…did you just meter the one light and set all the lights at the same power or did you use different power settings for each light? If so, how did you come up with the right camera settings with the lights being at different power settings?

  13. Ketan Shah says:

    too complicated for a simple photo

  14. Bill Johnson says:

    Do you post the link to the video about using the speed light narrow or sidewise

  15. photobyterry says:

    That's great Mark – except you didn't mention how to adjust the ratios of the rear lights compared to the main light. Still thanks anyway.

  16. M S says:

    I thought I’d watched a lot of yours and Gavins videos, but don’t remember watching those two. Thanks, they were very.. illuminating too. Wah wah wah. 🙂

  17. paul fernandez says:

    Hello, thanks for the tips since (once the crisis is over) I'll need portable lighting solutions for shooting interviews in international settings. My concern is for your health-make sure to keep that safe six foot distance between you and any clients. Regards!

  18. saubhagya1988 says:

    Amazing…..just amazing. This guy means business. Very "to the point" tutorial without annoying music or distracting comic script. Hats off sir.

  19. Sachin Yadav says:

    Nice video and good information…and nicely explained too but what if we don't have a budget to spend on grids and other fancy stuff. In that case how can we manage to modify the speedlights.

  20. sarvanan m says:

    Thank you sir your video useful

  21. Slowly Rusting says:

    Thanks, Mark. I find myself taking more and more portraits of my family (children and grandchildren) in my home, and theirs. This is a very portable, and affordable, set-up.

  22. T Asan says:

    shw is beautiful and awesome video thamk you Mark

  23. Bill Merritt says:

    Great video Mark. Thank you. Very helpful, especially about light subtraction.

  24. chphotovideo says:

    Great tutorial. Had to laugh "It's about a 20* grid"….. says 60* right on the front. lol that honeycomb is way to wide to be 20* 🙂

  25. Alex M says:

    Amazing beautiful model!

  26. Forced Media says:

    Excellent primo lighting demo instruction. Are the speed lights all firing at the exact same time? What's the kicker and snoot spread set at with the grid on it? Our studio has a McGyver type setup to get the same effect. L O L

  27. Gene Berkenbile says:

    Great stuff, Mark! As always, your content is something I use to teach others in my group I administrate so they know exactly what to do with a given situation! You are always mentioned as the source of anything shared so they know who it is that is giving the information!… Your Awesome! … Thanks!

  28. ElMarkoCinco says:

    What's that 90 degree adapter for the light called?

  29. says:

    amazing tutorial , thank you ! I'll have one question ; why do you shoot at 1.8 ?

  30. Steve says:

    Nice video, but what wee the settings on the fill and background lights?

  31. Allan Marshall says:

    You didn't say how you had the speed lights set up. Master and slave etc. On the speedlights.

  32. Thorsten Hildebrandt says:

    Graet basic tutorial! Thanks Mark. Go on with this kind of tutorials!

  33. Anders R. says:

    Thank you Mark. Very usefully.

  34. Mark Day says:

    For all those wondering about light ratios, shot of transmitter at 11:09 shows Group A (key (umbrella)) 1/8; Group B (kicker (reflector)) 1/64; Group C (hair(snoot)) 1/128 – that's assuming Mark used these settings! Kicker light being 3 stops lower than the key light seems to a good place to stsrt.

  35. Steven Wade says:

    Where is your M10?

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