How To Create Stunning Portraits Using a Cheap on-Camera Flash

The best portrait photographers always use the most expensive lighting set ups — right? This great video from photographer Irene Rudnyk shows you how to create stunning results from a single on-camera flash that costs only $50.

Rudnyk has carved a reputation for creating beautiful, ethereal portraits and it is perhaps testament to her skill as a photographer that the results from shooting with a single, on-camera flash doesn’t look all that different from her other work.

If there’s one thing to take away from this video, it’s that Rudnyk spent an entire day testing and tweaking her setup in order to create these images. Preparation is key.

If you don’t have a blank wall available to bounce the light (or some white blinds in Rudnyk’s case), see if you can rig up a white bedsheet or something similar — ideally something a bit more reflective. Bedsheets might also work for creating your backdrop which in this situation is critical for producing clean, minimal images and avoids having the bounced flash fill everything in the background of the shot with light, taking the focus away from the subject. Bedsheets will inevitably have some creases but these can quickly be removed during your post-processing.

What other tips would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

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14 Comments

Never Mind's picture

Funny that she mentions she took a very very "old old flash" that she bought "years and years ago", and it was "her first ever speedlight"..... "7 years ago" ? 🤣 I guess I'm getting old. I wonder what's the average experience on photography that the average youtuber has. Not trying to discredit anybody here, since many do it very well, but I honestly love watching those few videos by elder people, that summarize their 20-40 years experience on photography in a few lessons.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

gatekeeping photography because of age?
Couldn't be me

Never Mind's picture

As I said, I wasn't trying to discredit you, just the opposite! But I couldn't hold a smile when you judged the 430EX so 'old' that it seemed you had already discarded it for anything useful. For me, 'old' would be a flash that could harm you if you fiddled with the contacts ;-)

The way we judge stuff generally changes with experience. E.g. an old enough photographer can teach you shoot without light meters. A younger one rarely will. Shooting with a light meter can be taught by hundreds of youngsters on YouTube.... I prefer watching videos that teach you shooting without one instead. That cannot be easily learnt from books or manuals.

Again, this is not trying to discredit your video. Lighting requires good skills, and I don't consider lighting one of my best. There's a good reason why I was watching your video! And I am thankful for that. Thank you!

Russell Tennett's picture

Lmao gatekeeping? Gtfo here he’s right. Have some self awareness. 7 years old isn’t an old flash. Also he wasn’t gatekeeping, young people acting oppressed because of age is the dumbest shit lol. Old people get screwed because of age. Buck up or stop reading comments on your vids and articles about by other authors, because this dude literally said he likes your stuff and you got mad butt hurt.

Irene Rudnyk's picture

the flash was released in 2008, so that makes it 13 years old tech. In my opinion that's pretty old, especially if we are talking about digital gear with new stuff released each month.
I think you should take your own advice and not react so emotionally to a comment online.

Robert Buckingham's picture

Well said and your results are perfect. Arguing about the age of a flash! Is that all they have :( Very depressing comments

Irene Rudnyk's picture

if you look at dislikes, the profile RD was just created solely to dislike anything that i said on this thread or any comments that were supporting me. It's hilarious and quite flattering that someone went to those lengths just just to troll online.

Never Mind's picture

I noticed too loads of dislikes appearing suddenly, on opinions from both sides. It was not just on your comment. Honestly I thought it was you, angry about it all. You should have noticed I upvoted you on reply. I never down vote anybody unless I see some offensive comment. What would be the point?

@Robert, I did praise her work. I just honestly said I generally prefer other kinds of videos. I just believe youtubers are rather young and are influenced by latest technology too easily. Having the latest lens and camera doesn't make your skills better. And that's many times proved by experienced (read, elder) photographers. But being young and making good use of new technology is not a crime either.

This should not have been a discussion but a chat. Anyone has something to learn from others.

I repeat : I suck at lighting so I was watching her video. Is there any higher praise than that?

Irene Rudnyk's picture

I am not offended, thank you for clarifying your comment :)
If you watch my YouTube channel you would know that I am far from being influenced by technology. My content is always based on budget, do it yourself and creativity.
dislikes are most likely coming from my "fans" that love to troll me online.

Drew Rickerson's picture

Just focus on the method. She happened to have an EX flash lying around, for someone just getting into photography, it might be a brand-new $50 yongnuo flash. Chatting about the good-old days might be amusing for photographers among themselves but let's appreciate that this creator made educational content that helps many people not as experienced as yourself. Photography as a hobby has noticeably picked up due to covid boredom, and we should welcome that and applaud people who help educate newcomers.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I really enjoy her content. Corona isolation does not prevent her from creating content and she walks away with some stunning images, like always. Well done!

Art Robb's picture

Never Mind. As a user of old equipment I understood your point. Irene, thanks for sharing the knowledge. Much appreciated.

Pierre Dumas's picture

Interesting video Irene ! Did your reflected flash produce that highlight in your eyes by itself ?

Irene Rudnyk's picture

the flash did all the work