To create dramatic light with speedlites, you need to think about two things: where you put your flash(es) and how you control the ambient light. If you move your speedlite to the side, then you’ll be creating shadows for the camera.

Think of shadows as being the way you reveal shape and depth in a two-dimensional photo. If you use a fast shutter speed, then you’ll dim the ambient light — which increases the effect / drama of the light created by your speedlites. Compare the shot above to the shot below and you’ll see what I mean.


This past weekend, I held my Speedliter’s Intensive in the studio of the Seattle Photography Associates. SPA is the hub of a community of photographers, models, and other creatives. The gang at SPA arranged for two great models each day — which saved the attendees from being called out to model. So, as a gesture of thanks to the models, after each half-day demo session ended, I spent about 20 minutes working one-on-one with the model rather than one-plus-thirty-five-on one with the model.

I want you to meet two of my friends: Nyema Clark, who models through SPA, and Westcott’s 28″ (70cm) Apollo Softbox. The Apollo is unique in that it creates beautiful light with anywhere from one to four Speedlites mounted inside the softbox. For this quick tour round the SPA studio, I mounted three speedlites inside the Apollo. Then Nyema and I made a quick tour around the studio and hit several of the sets / random objects here and there. All of these shots were made in 20 minutes.

Again, one of the keys to creating magic light with flash is to control the ambient with your shutter speed. As you can see in the set shot above, one of the backgrounds was an old table tipped on end. By pushing the Apollo back towards the table, I was able to light both Nyema and the background with my speedlites. It took a few frames to place Nyema in just the right spot — but that’s the joy of digital, you get instant feedback.



Normally, I use the Apollo with the white diffuser panel in place. On a whim, I pulled the diffuser and moved the Apollo right above my head. By right above, I mean that the lens was pushing up on the bottom of the softbox. You can see it in the catchlight detail below. So, Bang! Pull the diffuser and you have a quasi beauty dish in 15 seconds. Such lovely light.


Remember, it’s always what’s in the frame that matters. When a photograph works, your viewer does not wonder what is just outside the frame. Take advantage of this whenever you can. For instance, the viewer does not need to know that there’s a big softbox, a sheet of steel, and a couple of grates all crammed together. This shot was made literally two steps from the shots shown just above.


For more information or to read Syl Arena’s blog, please be sure to visit his website.

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