One Speedlite setups for great-looking portraits1

This portrait of Colleen Ember was made with one Speedlight fired into my home made beauty dish and a single reflector. Because the light was very diffused and coming mostly from the front, there was very little else I needed to do in the way of touching up in post production.

I don’t recall when exactly I realized I didn’t have to buy every possible piece of lighting gear to create a certain image.

Whenever I came to that conclusion, it signaled I understood how to break apart and deconstruct how an image was made, especially if the image involved lighting by the photographer.

Coming up with workarounds was a necessity for me when I was in college.

Years later even after I became a staff photographer at the newspaper, I would always find workarounds.

Hey, what can I say? The bossman was always a tightwad when it came to expenses.

For this blogpost tip, when you see what I used to create a very flattering image,you will realize how well finding workarounds has served me.

Here’s the setup. Many, many thanks to Thelma Gutierrez Beltran for sharing this picture with me. Nothing sexy and fancy. Just a shiny car shade suspended between two light stands


Borrowing from the very idea that front lit objects tend to cast little or no shadows, it follows then this kind of light is women-friendly.

The thing to remember is that you should try and make the light source big so that it is also soft.

If you don’t have a beauty dish like mine, substitute with an umbrella.

You might want to invest in a boom to pull this off too.

Or else, have an assistant hold your swivel bracket, umbrella and light stand at an angle or even horizontally, so the light stand doesn’t get in camera’s way.

It’s always a good idea to take a picture of your setup.

Then change one variable at a time, and then take your picture and grab another shot of your setup changes.

It’s quite tedious in the beginning to work like this but over time, you can take this setup in your mind and place it anywhere on location.

Below is a photo by my buddy Rodrigo Peña who helped me out on my recent Small Flash Lighting workshop.

Rigo borrowed my setup on the right and photographed his very lovely wife Letty.

Letty was photographed by Rigo using my home made beauty dish and the reflector I set up. Exactly the same setup just a different model.–Photo by Rodrigo Peña

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2 thoughts on “One Speedlite setups for great-looking portraits1”

  1. Thank you Paul.

    Can you tell I am low budget? We both know if I were to market the car shade as a photo accessory I could probably charge 10x what it costs at WalMart. 😛

  2. Great stuff Peter.

    Love the use of the car reflector as a fill. Gives it a dual purpose in sunny California!! Up here? They’d just look at you weird. LOL

    Thanks again.

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