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Shaping Hard Light from a Small Off-Camera Flash for Dramatic Portraits

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I love hard light. I love the shadows it creates and the colors it brings out. I also love the convenience it affords. I work exclusively with small flash, and by using predominantly hard light in my images, I am able to travel extremely light, as I need few to zero modifiers.

In the above episode (#4) of my Studio Anywhere video series, I explore several different scenarios using hard light.

In the first scenario, I am using a homemade snoot that is two feet long. I also placed a “cookie” covering the opening, leaving only a narrow, horizontal opening for light to escape. The added length of the snoot allows the line of light that escapes to be especially defined, as the cookie is further away from the flash. The closer the cookie is to the flash, the softer the edges of the light will be.

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In the second scenario, I made a quick gobo — meaning anything that “goes between” the light and the subject — out of cinefoil. I gelled one light cyan and bounced it into the wall in front of the model, underexposing it a stop or two. I added a second light, gelled red, and placed it several feet away from the cinefoil gobo, which was as close to the model as I could get it without seeing it in the frame. Having a bit of distance between the light and the gobo in combination with the gobo being close to the subject allows for more defined shadows and light on the subject.

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In the final scenario, I modified the opening on the gobo, making a larger rectangle opening. I placed one flash beside the model, aiming into the white backdrop behind her, and a second flash, firing through the gobo. I wanted to create a hard line of light across her face and torso, allowed parts of her to go the silhouette. Note that both lights were set to the same output.

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P.S. If you enjoyed the video and this post, make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel or follow me on Instagram to stay up to date. Also, check out my book, Studio Anywhere, for more tips on shooting with minimal gear in unconventional locations.


About the author: Nick Fancher is a Columbus, Ohio-based portrait and commerce photographer. This latest 100 Portraits project can be followed on Instagram at @100_portraits. You can find more of his work and writing on his website and blog.

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