Behind the photo: Shooting One Strobe Portraits on the Fly

5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8, 1/125 @ f/3.5. Model: Taravat Makeup: Mika

Another moody & cold day for shooting outdoors. This was my first of three shoots I did yesterday. My model was freezing so we huddled in a back alley which was slightly warmer than the wind tunnel where we first started shooting. Nothing more glamorous than shooting in a back alley :/

I was using a really basic one strobe set-up: The 430EX strobe was set to Manual, 35mm, 1/8th power and was triggered using the Alien Bees Cyber Syncs. I softened the light by using a shoot-through umbrella. This set-up which works well if you are shooting outside on the fly and you can’t carry a lot of gear because you put your back out the week before :-/

*Runaway* one strobe set-up

I was almost ready to give up on the shoot at this point because there was no light and we were both shaking from the cold. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming slowly towards us. I asked Taravat give me a lost/mysterious expression and I snapped this. It was the last shot of the photo shoot and told such a story — almost like a scene from a movie.

Everytime I stick with a shoot to the bitter end, I always get an unexpected shot that I hadn’t planned. And often the last shots I shoot are the best.

What I’ve learnt from these shoots is that you never get a second chance to capture a spontaneous moment, so shoot furiously until your hands are numb and your legs are shaking and you know you’ve got the shot. Trust me, it is worth it to have no regrets with your photography.

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  • Reply
    April 5, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Mysterious, I like it. I also enjoy your description of the setups. I wonder, does your blog have any information on the setups usually involved with the creation of movies or films clips? (Or do you know any people particularly good with this type of thing). Thanks!

  • Reply
    April 5, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    Thank you for your inspiration. I too was trying to take some one-light portraits of my little boy yesterday. I had gotten very frustrated during the shoot and wanted to quit. I stuck it out as long as the kids were letting me and my last shot was the best. I tried to figure out how to paste it here, but here is the link.

    Thanks again,

  • Reply
    Dave Tyrer
    April 5, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Thanks Lisa…great article. Your blogs are such a help to a beginner like me wanting to photograph people. I’m going through the same things now that you obviously went through in your early stages.

    Do you have any tips for actually getting people to photograph?

  • Reply
    April 6, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    Sweet shot, great bokeh!! I love one-light setups in general. I use it a lot myself; mostly 18inch BD with a reflector to control the edge light. Most of the time the later pictures during a session are my best. It’s like warming up for a sprint.

    Thank you for sharing Lisa, keep on the good work.


  • Reply
    Rich Charpentier
    April 8, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    Great post Lisa! Since I gave myself the task of really learning portable flash this year I’ve been playing with one and two speedlite setups. Last weekend I had a great time shooting with a friend who was patient all day. The results surprised me, and now I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

    The final product from your shoot is great!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    Hello! I’m getting into the strobist world and it is such a great way to improve our photography. thanks for letting know your lighting parameters. I do love the series you are doing with Pete, those blue tones. If you ever give us some examples of your post-processing techniques it will be so helpful and much appreciated :)
    P.S. We are waiting for a self-portrait of yours soon!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    does your light stand fit inside ur bag, or u carry it separately?

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    April 14, 2010 at 1:01 AM

    @Adam: best sources for video info:

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    April 14, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    @mark: Nope. I carry a huge hockey duffle bag with all my stands and umbrellas.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    April 14, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    @Eli: thanks! i don’t have a remote trigger for my camera, so i’m not able to do self-portraits until i go buy one. thanks for reminding me! i’ll get one tomorrow!

    @Rich Charpentier: Awesome! Link me to your shots. :)

    @Dennis: i find it almost impossible to shoot and hold a bounce at the same time. i need bigger hands :P

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    April 14, 2010 at 1:19 AM

    @Dave Tyrer: take pictures of your friends and family first and once they are sick of it try asking their extended network of friends. offer to take shots for people’s facebook profiles (most people will gladly accept! :)

  • Reply
    Todd Klassy
    April 14, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    Nice portrait. Good work.

  • Reply
    Wendy Solomon
    April 14, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Great article. I know what you mean about those spontaneous moments, and to keep clicking. Often we get the best shot at the end of the shoot!

  • Reply
    April 17, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    fotos otimas

  • Reply
    Chris Christie
    April 19, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    Hi Lisa,

    I totally agree about getting better shots towards the end of a shoot. I generally find a lot of people even professional models, take time to ‘warm up’ to a shoot. Even ones I’ve worked with previously. I also find that listening to the models input during a shoot (I actively ask them for input as I find they sometimes have done shoots or ideas I hadn’t done previously and they can bring something unique to a shoot)

    occasionally I’ve found that a shoot has evolved from the initial ideas to something bigger and better, but that its not immediately evident. Perseverance is the key especially on days like you describe, cold and freezing lol

  • Reply
    May 15, 2010 at 6:01 PM

    My last shots are always the best too. I just found your site, very good, I’ll be back :)

  • Reply
    15 Photography Project Ideas to keep you shooting every day! | | Photography tips & inspiration
    January 21, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    […] am most passionate about taking portraits. From candid street photos shots, to strobe light lit creatives, to magic hour back lit shots, the possibilities are endless. The only problem is you need a […]

  • Reply
    January 21, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    Do you have any brilliant tricks for making the eyes “pop” like that in the editing phase?

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    January 22, 2011 at 1:07 AM

    @Lola — add a curves layer in PS and drag the mids up then hit command-i to inverse the layer and paint it over the irises of the eyes. use a screen blending mode for more impact. ;)

  • Reply
    James Taylor
    February 11, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Lisa, do you have a photo of your Hockey Bag & Strobist gear?

    I think that’s a perfect solution & easily attainable.


  • Reply
    May 20, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Excellent shot. Found this searching “shooting w/ one strobe” as my Alien just now arrived today.

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