Here you will learn how to shoot creative flash-lit portraits in four easy steps
All the shots taken in this tutorial were shot with a Fujifilm X-T1, 56mm APD lens and EF-42 flashgun. In normal use, when the EF-42 is mounted on the camera’s hotshoe there is communication between the two. As soon as the flashgun is separated from the camera, that link is severed. To get around this problem, you’ll need a remote trigger, of which a variety of third-party options is available. Triggers come in pairs and function wirelessly over many metres. The transmitter unit is fixed into the camera’s hotshoe while the receiver is connected to the flashgun. When you’re working with the flash off camera, you should use the manual (M) exposure mode so you have total control of the camera’s shutter speed. Correct flash operation is only possible at the camera’s flash synchronisation speed or slower. The Fujifilm X-T1 synchronises with flash at a shutter speed of 1/180sec or slower – the 1/180sec speed on the shutter speed is marked with an X on the shutter speed dial to indicate this. Use a shutter speed faster than this and the flash will be incorrectly exposed.
With this portrait, camera settings of 1/110sec at f/2.5 were needed to reveal the subject’s face using ambient (available) light only. Going to the other extreme we took a meter reading with the camera from the sky – this was 1/180sec at f/3.6 – and took another shot (below). This totally silhouetted our subject, but recorded the sky accurately. For a dramatic portrait we need to stick with this exposure and then add some flash to reveal the subject.
The flashgun can be held in position by an assistant, or placed on a tripod or lighting stand, then you’ll need to vary the position and power output to get the best result. To prove why taking the flash off camera is a good idea, we started by taking a straight flash shot with the EF-42 slipped into the camera’s hotshoe and the TTL setting. Our subject is correctly exposed, but the light is harsh, the background is too dark and the sky lacks depth and colour.
With the flashgun attached to the wireless triggers, it has to be used manually with a power output to suit the flash-to-subject distance. With experience you’ll be able to estimate the required output, but initially you can shoot and review the result before fine-tuning the flash output. Keeping the same exposure for the sky from Step 1, we started at 1/16 output (main image) but the result was too weak. Changing the output to 1/2 power (inset) gives too much light, resulting in overexposure of our subject’s face.
Adjusting the flash output again to 1/4 power produces the right result with our subject correctly lit, some detail in the background and colour and depth in the sky. Simple!