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The Pros and Cons of Using Flash Versus Natural Light for Portraits

Photographers often segment themselves into flash versus natural light when it comes to portraits, but the truth is, there is merit to both ways of shooting.

Coming at you from photographer and YouTuber Manny Ortiz is a look at how similar portraits look in the same spot, at the same time using natural (and on this particular day, beautifully harsh) light versus a flash. His tools of choice for the shoot are a Sony a7R V, a Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM Lens, a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens, and a single Westcott FJ400 strobe with a beauty dish.

There's some stunning backlight that makes for some interesting touches of light with Ortiz's photo subject, but while not using the flash lets him get a lot of freedom of movement and composition, it's hard to balance out the light on the model with the background and sky. The flash makes it much easier to control both. Ortiz mentioned that he used to just bring up the shadows in the model in post and not worry about the light, but that's also a recipe for disaster, he notes. It's also probably a lot less work to get it right in the camera versus spending hours in post-processing.

While the strobe makes the photo pop with a 3D look and balances out the light on the model and background, the downside of this is that many places won't let you shoot with a light, or a large beauty dish might attract a lot of unwanted attention. There's also the simple fact that you'd have to carry the light around with you and you're more limited in where you can place the model and yourself to make the most use of the strobe.

There's also the wind factor. It looks like, at least in this case, investing in something like a sandbag might be a good bet as well. Although, that's another thing that you'd have to carry around.

Which looks better to you, the natural light portraits or the flash portraits? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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Hi, thanks for the video. I don't think it's entirely fair to compare the two because you're darkening the ambient light when shooting with flash, which gives a completely different mood/look. You're not using the flash solely to fill in shadows. Personally, I prefer the flash pics, but think the ambient pictures could be a bit darker. Beautiful model.

The whole "natural vs flash" became boring a long time ago. One isn't necessarily better than the other. It's all down to the right tool for the job and having said tools in your toolbox.

Something that I'll point out is that just because you use flash doesn't mean you have to underexpose the background into oblivion. Why not more of a balance? Just a thought.

One more thing. Sandbags for your stands. Good grief.

Agreed. It's all a matter of taste. There is no right or wrong.

'No flash' is SO IN! Just get yourself a freekin Sony A something and an IG filter omfg, you will be a superstar for models all over the place

I like Manny and his content. His choice of modifier not so much. I like an umbrella with a cover. I like the output better, and, the flash is actually good protected if the stand falls. And it will, if nobody holds the stand or you have some sand bags:)

The problem with these types of comparisons, always, is they make natural light look terrible. I will agree sooc would favor flash, and probably less post work.

Just to name a couple of photographers off the top of my head that shoot primarily natural light, Sean Archer and Irene Rudnyk. They put a lot of experienced strobe shooters to shame.

Sean Archer

Irene Rudnyk

yeah if you're gonna shoot natural light at least get the model in good light. here's a few I did, i try to shoot both but if I'm alone with no assist then natural light seems better to me