How to Use Off Camera Flash for Daytime Portraits!

It’s no secret that photographers often despise having to take portraits under harsh midday sunlight.  The midday sunlight can be harsh, cause unwanted shadows and simply make it hard on your subjects to be comfortable and not squint in every photo.  When working out in the sun with little cover for shade you have two primary ways to take on the sun.  First, you should expose for your subjects faces and overexpose the sky or background and second, you can use flash or reflectors to fill in shadows on their faces and retain the vibrant colors within the sky or background.  The problem is quite often when using off camera flash for daytime portraits or using reflectors, an assistant is required to lend a helping hand and help light the subjects without being in the shot…

In this written & video tutorial I am going to show you how to use off camera flash for daytime portraits without needing any assistant to help.  It is surprisingly very simple – so read on!

Before we jump into “how” I want to make sure everyone understands the “why”.  To help truly understand the “why”, realize that this image is exactly how your very own eyes would have seen the scene.  Our human eyes don’t add fill flash having both subjects and backgrounds properly exposed – they expose for one or the other.  Keep that idea in your mind in everyday life and understand how similar our own eyes are relative to our cameras, it’ll help you understand light and how to manipulate it to get the desired results you want.

Whether you prefer to shoot natural light or not, it is important to know exactly how to make amazing photos within any type of lighting situation.

The image on the left is without any flash being used and the image on the right is to show how the photo would look if using natural light only, exposing for their faces.  Notice the photo on the right looking “natural” but yet the overall photo loosing some of its vibrancy.
How to use off camera flash for daytime portraits_0000

Now that we understand the “why” lets jump into the “how”…

Step 1 – Get Proper Camera Settings for Background- When using flash, the key is to remember the primary reason for using off camera flash is to fill in the shadows and thus retain color and detail in the sky or background.  So to put that idea into practice, step 1 is to get a proper exposure for the ambient lighting, which during the day, is most often, the sky.  If you are using on-camera flash, your camera likely has a setting called “hi-speed flash sync” in which you can shoot as you would normally shoot without flash and have no issues.  However, when using off camera flash for daytime portraits, most radio flash triggers, have a maximum flash sync speed of around 1/200th of a second.  Simply put, you can’t shoot faster than 1/200th.  So to control that limitation, you should first adjust your ISO to as low as possible and then simply adjust your aperture while pointing the camera at the sky or background your exposing for until you are at or less than your max sync speed.  Definitely have your camera in full manual or even shutter priority mode to ensure that your shutter speed is fixed.
Off Camera Flash Techniques Tips Tutorials

Step 2 – Add Flash for Subjects – Now that you have your camera settings set, you need to add flash onto your subjects to illuminate them.  Note – the actual power required from your speedlight / flash will vary depending on numerous variables like – how intense the sun is that day, location of sun, distance to subjects etc…  You’ll have to take a couple test shots to decide how much flash power is required.  As you’ll see in my example, my flash was set to manual mode and 1/32 power.  Notice that in my photo, I wanted to incorporate the entire scene, a wide and expansive view, and I’d have no place to hide a flash – so I placed the flash down on the grass right in front of them, knowing I’d simply remove it later once in Lightroom.
Off Camera Flash Daytime - Before After Flash

Step 3 – Editing within Lightroom – Once in Lightroom the photo editing process will be business as usual, with the only exception being you will likely have to remove the flash from the photo if you want to take a wide angle off camera flash shot as I did.  But as you’ll see in the video below, that is an easy 30 second process.  For my own editing steps within my photo see the following steps “A through D”.
A – Original image straight from camera
Using Off Camera Flash for Portraits without Assistants

B – Apply preset – “Crisp, Clean, Color” applied
Off Camera flash tutorial - daytime portraits

C – Remove flash from photo using Spot Removal Tool
How to use the spot removal tool in lightroom 5

D – Straighten horizon using Crop Tool
How to straighten horizon using crop tool in lightroom 5

…and here is the final resulting image using the quick steps outlined above.  The result is a properly exposed sky & subjects and a unique capture in the sense that its a wide angle portrait showing off the gorgeous landscapes and blue sky while still having them lit perfectly.  All it took was 30 seconds in Lightroom 5 to remove the flash and put one of my favorite presets on!
How to use off camera flash daytime portraits_0001Another off camera flash daytime portrait from a different vantage point…
How to use off camera flash daytime portraits_0002I sure hope that this quick tutorial shows you exactly how to use off camera flash for daytime portraits in the sun, and even do so without the help of any assistant!  Whether you prefer to shoot natural light or not, it is important to know exactly how to make amazing photos within any type of lighting situation.  If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out some of our additional off camera flash technique tutorials linked below and also get a set of our free Lightroom presets collection linked below!

Key Resources:
Simple Off Camera Flash Techniques for Stunning Wedding Photos
Cole’s Classroom – Lightroom Preset Collection Download (Free)
Gear Used for Above Photo Shoot (links to product):
D800, 50 1.4G lens, SB-700 flash, Phottix Strato II Triggers