boston portrait photographer: blonde woman outdoors wearing black jacket over black dress

Portrait Photography With Liz and Speedlights

Published on


in ,

4.7 3 votes
Blog Post Rating

I got together with my friend Liz for some portrait photography therapy back in October of this year. I’d been wanting to get back to my photography roots, back from my days at the newspaper. Travel light, set up fast, shoot fast, tear down, leave, edit only the absolute bare minimum necessary, and deliver a photo package as if I were on a deadline. Keep it simple and honest by using only Lightroom, but without using NIK or any other plugins for my typical strong-contrast, and punchy edits.

We decided to meet up at her place and head down to the Pedestrian Bridge in Providence, RI for some sunset portraits. I did pack my full set up so I could make whatever decisions I needed to once we got there. You know the cliche: it’s always better to have it but not need it than not have it but need it.

First decision

What photography gear to bring

After arriving and grabbing the first on-street parking spot I could find, I realized that I’d have to lug gear about 500 meters to the bridge itself and I did not want to take multiple trips to my vehicle and back. That immediately ruled out my heavier Promaster light-stands, larger light modifiers, Scatterflash, tripod, and my hard-case with two full Godox AD200 kits.

What I was left with was a backpack containing my full camera and lens kit (three primes, one zoom, three Godox manual-only speedlights, batteries, radio trigger, gels, a black foamie thing, and various useful odds and ends) and two seriously portable light-stands and speedlight mounts stuffed into one light-stand bag.

Yeah, it absolutely was turning into a back-to-my-roots on-location portrait session. One backpack, one lightstand bag, and one trip.

Second Decision

Where to set up for portraits

Once we got there, I had to figure out the direction of sunlight and how I wanted to light Liz’s portraits, and where to set up. In the end, in order to not to get in everyone’s way, I decided to set up right at the start of the bridge. This gave us a sunset sky against the Providence skyline to use as a backdrop if we wanted, depending on the direction we faced.

Third Decision

Lighting outdoor portraits with speedlights

I wanted to keep my lighting simple so I used two bare speedlights to cross light with. I wanted to emphasize cool shadows and a cool sky while contrasting it with a warmed-up Liz, so the key-light had a full CTO gel on it, the kicker had a 1/2 CTB gel on it, and the camera was set to Tungsten white-balance. Since I do like to draw people’s attention to faces, I kept my speedlights set at a 200mm zoom so Liz was lit only from her chest, up.

As for specific settings? It’s not important. I just dropped ambient by about a stop-and-a-half to two stops, keyed Liz and kicked about a stop below key.

Portrait Photography Session

The test shot

This was the first photo we took for our portrait session. You can see the blue hues in the shadows. This was because telling the camera to correct for Tungsten lighting means everything shifts towards the cooler end of the warm-cool spectrum. The 1/2 strength CTB (color temperature: blue) gel adds even more blue hues to whatever it backlights, in this case, Liz’s hair.

The narrow throw from CTOed key-light (color temperature: orange) gel counteracts the “corrected” blue shift back and lights whatever it hits back to “normal” color. Because of the narrow throw, the center mark of the flash hit Liz squarely in the chest. A little off aim, but it works perfectly here.

I’ll tell you a little secret. My “test shots” are almost never just for confirming settings because I often get the best results when the person I’m photographing is relaxed because they don’t feel they have to be under any pressure to pose in any particular way.

Portraits on the Pedestrian Bridge

Just at the entrance to the bridge was what looked like a small fry-grill and ice-cream stand built into a shipping container with some nifty mural art on it that we passed when we started setting up. I thought it would make a cool background for the next location.

Lighting was simple: same two speedlights and the same gels with the same camera white balance settings. Again, the camera was set to Tungsten and exposure was set to be about 1.5-2 stops below ambient and the kicker set about a stop below key.

This time, I wanted to light the backdrop with the kicker light so I angled it to rake across from camera-left (look at the vertical highlights on the mural) while still keeping enough light feathered toward Liz to help give some blue-ish separation highlights to her black jacket.

Portraits behind the ice cream stand

Finally, we decided to remain behind the ice-cream stand and just turn around to get more of the sky and river behind Liz. Same speedlights and gels, same camera settings, etc. If you look closely, you can see a very subtle blue rim-light around Liz that helps give visual separation from the shadows.

But just barely.

Portraits at the riverfront


Once we finished shooting Liz’s portraits, it was a quick tear down, pack up, and walk back to the car. All told, I believe we were on-location for no more than forty-five minutes, from start to finish. We grabbed a quick bite, dropped her back off, and headed home. We took maybe 50-60 photos, and I edited and delivered maybe 15 photos, total. Culled through photos, selected my favorites and then quickly edited them in Lightroom for contrast, crop, general exposure, and light tweaks to white-balance in about two hours.

This was a fun on-location portrait photography session that really helped me get back to the basics! While at the newspaper, I had to travel light, come up with a plan on the spot based on what the environment was giving me, shoot fast, pack up, process photos, and deliver quickly.

At the Pedestrian Bridge, as I described earlier, it was the same thing, produce and deliver quickly, and I think we pulled it off successfully. It really helps when you have good chemistry with the person you’re photographing, as Liz and I work together for therapeutic reasons, regularly. Yes, producing content (external link) for our respective websites is a bonus, but these days, it’s hardly the prime focus and I’m always happy to spend time with a good friend!

This particular portrait session really helped to get me motivated and excited to shift my “style” a little bit. I’ll be writing about the next two portrait sessions, soon, and you’ll see how they both built up from this basic foundation. Moving forward, I am planning to continue this trend and sticking with basic lighting techniques, rather than trying to over complicate them just because I can.

Check back soon, and drop a comment below to say hi, if you like!

About the author

4.7 3 votes
Blog Post Rating
Self-explanatory, isn't it?..

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Adrian Feliciano
Please leave your thoughts in the commentsx