Mastering Off-Camera Flash: Avoid These Common Mistakes

Learning to shoot with off-camera flash brings a whole new level of control and creativity to photography. But along with the endless possibilities comes ample room for slip-ups. This fantastic video tutorial outlines the five most common mistakes people make when first stepping into off-camera lighting, along with fixes to set you up for success.

Coming to you from Pye Jirsa of SLR Lounge, this great video tutorial will help you improve your off-camera flash portraits. First, Jirsa stresses the importance of clarifying your intentions before firing the flashes. Determine whether you want a natural or dramatic effect and let that guide gear settings and positioning. Once intention is set, mistakes often come down to placement. Flashes positioned too low cast unnatural shadows. Too high and catchlights disappear. The key is positioning at an optimal angle just above eye level. 

Another pitfall is placing modifiers too far from your subject. This significantly decreases light quality and intensity due to the inverse square law. A good rule of thumb is to stay within 1-2 times the size of your light modifier. Back that softbox or octabox away and you may find shadows sharpen unexpectedly.

Of course, direction matters too in creating your desired mood and look. Consider what lighting patterns make sense compositionally and for the story you want to tell. A Rembrandt pattern adds dimension while remaining natural. Flat front lighting lends a flattering beauty aesthetic. Getting creative with angles can add drama. The key is intention.

Avoiding these pitfalls from the start clears the way for growing through thoughtful light shaping and an expanded visual vocabulary. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Jirsa.

If you would like to continue learning about how to light a portrait, be sure to check out "Illuminating The Face: Lighting for Headshots and Portraits With Peter Hurley!"

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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