Seven Reasons Why Flash Portraits Are Better Than Natural Light

Seven Reasons Why Flash Portraits Are Better Than Natural Light

If you're serious about improving your Portraits, then pull your seat in a little closer. Because in this article you’re about to discover 7 compelling reasons why, using flash is much better for your Portraits than just regular natural light. But first, can I ask you a question?

Could you for a moment, push aside any preconceived ideas you may already have about flash photography and be open to the possibility that there maybe something, you just might be missing out on by not using flash on your photo shoots.

one-light-outdoor-portrait

One light portrait taken with the Godox Ad 600 Pro in high spped sync with the 36 Westcott Rapid Box XL and the Nikon D850 with the Nikon 105mm F1.4 lens.

If you’re like the majority of photographers out there, you’re most likely looking for that slight edge that will help you to take your images to the next level. And if you are not already using flash when your capturing your portraits, then this article might be exactly what you’ve been searching for.

As you read each and every word on this page you'll discover why using flash in your portrait work, just might be better for your portfolio than using natural light alone.

outdoor-portraiture-one-light-setup

One light setup with a 36 inch light modifier. Godox AD 600 Pro with the Westcott Rapid Box Xl.


Let’s get into the 7 reasons why flash portraits are better than natural light in my opinion, off camera flash is a much better option for taking photos of people than relying on natural light alone to capture your portraits.

1) Using off camera flash allows you to control the direction of the light and where the shadows fall on your subject's face. Allowing you to create different lighting patterns to flatter your subject and control the overall mood and feel of your images.

If you don’t like the position of the light, you can easily move your strobes position to exactly where you want it, which isn’t always the case when using only natural light.

off-camera-flash-portrait

One light setup, 36 inch light modifier 3 feet from the model.


2) When you are equipped with off camera flash you can control the quality or the softness of the light on your subject's or client's face. Simply by using a larger light modifier and moving it in closer to your subject which will allow to you can create soft flattering light.

A good tip is to start with your light modifier the same distance away from your subject as the diameter of the light modifier you are using. For example, if your modifier is 36 inches or 90 centimeters in diameter. 

You would start by placing your light modifier 3 feet from your subject roughly 45 degrees and down depending on the look you are going for and take a test shot. From there you can adjust the distance and position of your flash to taste, allowing you to create an wide range of lighting patterns quickly and easily. 

The sun on the other hand can be very harsh at certain times of the day making it a little more difficult to capture softly lit portraits.

sunset-flash-portrait-one-light-setup

Shot at sunset with a flash camera right.


3) You can capture stunning portraits any time of the day or night because you have a portable light source with you that you can take anywhere you want to go.

With natural light you can only photograph during daylight hours and for the very best light for portraiture you either have to shoot early in the morning or close to sunset, just ask landscape photographers.

4) With off-camera flash you can shoot indoors during a dark wedding reception for example and create cleaner looking images than if you were to boost your ISO to capture natural window light.

one-light-flash-flattering-portrait-lighting

Simple one light setup using the Godox AD 600 Pro with the Westcott 36 Rapid Box XL.


5) You can use a portable flash on the top of your camera giving you a very portable portrait lighting setup for events, weddings or just everyday shooting and you’ll be able to illuminate your subjects allowing them to stand out from the background.

6) If you are armed with a flash you have greater control of the background exposure when you are shooting outdoors on location. Our eyes can perceive roughly 20 stops of light but most cameras can only capture between 10 and 14 stops of light.

one-light-flash-setup-tutorial

One light camera right.


You may have noticed this if you tried to shoot video with your camera, you have to make a conscious choice on whether to expose for the highlights or get an accurate exposure on your subject. You can’t do both and capture the whole dynamic range of the scene.

Which means if you want to capture the sky and not blow out your highlights and still have a well lit portrait then you have to reduce your background exposure in camera to expose for the highlights.

Which often means if you were shooting with natural light you would have to raise your shadows in post production to achieve an accurate exposure on your subject which can add noise to the image.

sunset-portrait-using-a-one-light-flash-setup

By exposing for your highlights and using flash on your subject you can capture more dynamic range without blowing out your highlights.


With flash you can get a well exposed background and and have a good exposure with soft flattering light on your subject. Allowing you to reduce the dynamic range of the scene so you can capture all of the details.

7) With flash you can position the catch light from the flash in the optimal position of the eyes which is between 10 and 2 o’clock, this will bring life and more light into your subject's eyes and add more punch to your portraits.

use-the-sun-as-a-hairlight-for-portraits

You can use the sun behind your subject as a hair light and use fill flash in front of your subject for a two light portrait lighting setup outdoors.


Bonus reason 8) Off-camera flash can add more pop, saturation, and drama as well as allowing you to use colored gels for effects that you would not be able to get from just natural light alone.

Now at this point in the article you may still disagree on the whole flash versus natural light debate but let me give you another way to think about it.

portrait-with-background-bokeh

Background bokeh was created with bubbles...


Let me start by asking you a question: if you were the director of photography for a blockbuster movie that contained both daytime and nighttime scenes, would you be able to capture your vision for the movie with just natural light alone? Or, do you think it would be easier if you had more control of the light in the scenes?

For example, if you wanted to create different moods or to convey different emotions would it be easier for you if you had more control of the light direction and quality of the light?

ideal-position-of-catchlight-in-eyes

Note the position of the catchlight in the eyes. It should be between 10 and 2 o'clock.


Let me ask you another question: do you think the majority of movies or television that you watch, use only natural light or artificial light sources? They most likely use a combination of both because it gives them added flexibility in capturing their artistic vision. Using flash will also help you as an artist as well because it will allow you to control light which is like a photographer's paint brush.
getting-accurate-exposure-using-flash

Getting a correct exposure in camera reduces your retouching time in post.


In conclusion, the debate between using flash over natural light can be one that you may feel very strongly about and this article may not have changed your mind about the subject.

If you still feel that shooting your Portraits in natural light is better than using flash. Instead of leaving a comment such as: Natural light is better, could you instead do me a favor and list your top 3 reasons why you feel that natural light is better than using flash. 

By leaving your top 3 reasons, you can also help other photographers better understand your point of view and you may help them gain a greater understanding of using light in their own Photography.

All of the images are a one light set up using the Godox AD 600 Pro with the Westcott 36 Rapid Box Xl. The camera used was a Nikon D850 with the Nikon 105mm F1.4.

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35 Comments

Previous comments
Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

Interestingly for me transition was opposite. I started my photography journey from passion to a portrait strobbing and slowly move towards natural light. Where adding artificial light to a scene is for sure fun and interesting it does slow me down in my creation. Limiting myself via actual light direction makes me more focused on using what I have and how to control it. It is also very challenging (but possible) to have a realistic and natural effects. As long as you're not going for a plastic/commercial look you have to start using a huge diffusers that are bit hard to move around in outdoor. Of course if you have a few assistants that helps you with moving things and bit extra of time it's always fun. Keep in mind that in dark conditions human pupil gets huge and flash duration is too small to make it smaller. Just 2 cents from my side.

Craig Beckta's picture

Hey Pawel, thanks for sharing your perspective.

Richard Twigg's picture

Photographers are creating amazing work in all kinds of light all the time.

I use flashes and reflectors because I typically don't get to choose where and when I shoot. If the light isn't good where and when my client wants the pictures, I have to make it good.

Craig Beckta's picture

If you would like to see some behind the scenes footage from some of the images in the article above, you can check out the video that relates to the article here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHo69jBsCtw

Seven reasons why portraits of women get more views on photography sites than portraits of men.