1.Set your Speedlite to fire on manual power
There is nothing scary about firing your flash on manual.
In the film days, you needed another piece of equipment–a flash meter.
With the near instant feedback and histograms in today’s cameras, figuring out exposure on manual is easy.
Dividing the Guide Number by the flash-to-subject distance will give you a good ballpark number for the aperture setting.
(Guide Numbers are always given in ISO 100, so you can easily find it’s equivalent for any ISO)
I usually set the flash to 1/8th power and sometimes even 1/16th power.
This reduces the flash-to-subject distance and allows my Speedlites to recycle fast so that if you’re after quick changes in expression, they keep up.
2.Take pictures of your lighting setup
The idea here is to help you recall when a particular setup worked well.
Having some behind-the-scene pictures will come in handy down the road when you want to re-create the same look.
Every time you change the position of the light, shoot the overall setup.
That will help you remember what you did that was different.
You want to have happy accidents by experimenting but you also want to learn from them.
3.Practice in different locations
It’s far too easy to get complacent and shoot in the same place to the point that your light stand has a permanent position on the ground.
Think of those photo studios from the past when you had to go for a headshot or passport photo.
Those are set up for one purpose only–fast and in and out mugshots.
Since you want to create more than mugshots, to get proficient, it’s always best to setup and tear down.
Don’t get lazy.
You will be surprised how much difference subtle light changes can make.
Shooting on location will make you more aware of available light.
When you can reproduce a ‘look’ you want at will, you can say you have mastered that style of lighting.
4.Photograph anyone who’s willing to pose
It’s easy to make good looking people look good.
“Real people” don’t come with an entourage of makeup artists and stylists.
It is only through making mistakes like over-looking details when you make pictures that you actually learn.
These can be including in your composition poorly manicured hands, uncoordinated outfits and subjects with too much bling or jewelry.
Less than perfect bodies can be hidden by wardrobe choices and lighting.
These are all important details you pick up only through making mistakes by including them in your pictures.
5.Keep your lighting simple
If that means using just available light, so be it.
Just because you have 5 or 6 Speedlights, it doesn’t mean you have to use them all.
Remember if you shoot in early morning or late evening, you can always use sunlight or available light as your main, fill light or hairlight, as long as you use a gel over the flash to match the color temperature.
Add another light as you get better and slowly built on that.
Adding lights willy-nilly without regard to whether the light is spilling all over can cast unwanted shadows in important areas ruining your composition.
Sometimes this can even create confusion especially if there are 3 or more catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
6.Don’t be Afraid to Experiment
All those fancy terms you hear “Butterfly Lighting,” “Rembrandt” Lighting,” “Broad Lighting,” etc are terms used for light placement to achieve a certain shadow or look on your subject’s face.
Just remember, you are not photographing a dead lifeless mannequin.
Shoot a couple of shots without your flash and then shoot with your flash.
Mouseover the image above to see the subtle difference.
Compare the two side-by-side, look at the EXIF information.
Never delete the images in your camera.
Do so only after you study them on your computer.
Otherwise yoou forfeit a chance to learn something.
7. Study Beautiful Portraits You See
The next time you come across a beautiful portrait, see if you can deconstruct the lighting setup.
Then pay attention to the subject’s facial shape.
The shape of the face and choice of lighting was no accident.