One Speedlite Portrait

Sometimes its not practical to bring in three or four lights, stands, modifiers etc.

I had that situation recently at an awards dinner. The kids were getting scholarships. (more below if interested.)

What they wanted was a quick head shot of the recipients and if they chose, a shot with their parents.

First challenge was finding a convenient location to setup. That also dictated what could be done with lighting.

I ended up with a small section of wall with a wall and french doors camera right.

Camera left was a wall of windows facing a southerly sky. So the sunlight was not directly into the area.

To add a bit of additional nastiness, there was a wall sconce just out of the frame camera left.

I could get the subject about 4 feet from the wall without getting too much into the traffic pattern in the area.

Shot with a Canon 5DIII ISO 800, 1/160, with 24-70mm F2.8 II with aperture at F5.6. I was relying on the room light for fill.

Setup a single shoot through umbrella with a 600EX-RT mounted. It was fired by an STE3 in ETTL mode.

The three light sources caused some color balance challenges but things worked out OK.


Here is a lighting diagram;




Here is one of the head shots.  Its most important to get skin tones that are reasonable. Usually that can be accomplished by using something in the image that is expected to be white. In his case the shirt collar. I’ve found that its most important to get the subject comfortable with a natural expression on the face. I do that by engaging in conversation and if necessary doing something goofy to get a smiling reaction. I gave up telling people to smile long ago.


With this young woman it was difficult getting skin that wasn’t a bit red. She was light skinned and had been out in the sun so we got what we got.



Can portraits be made with a single umbrella? For sure. It takes some planning to make sure there is adequate fill. It might also be useful to have a fill reflector.

The main take away from this is that one speedlite and an umbrella will get the job done.

Good Shooting



This was an awards dinner to honor the scholarship recipients by a local country club. About 8 years ago the membership setup a scholarship foundation to award scholarships, based on need, to employees and their children. Most of the recipients are summer staff working in the clubhouse, as caddies, or in the pool area as life guards etc. Hearing what these kids have accomplished and are planning was an inspiration. It was also gratifying to hear that the members have contributed nearly a million dollars into a scholarship endowment and, at this dinner, presented nearly $100,000 in scholarships to about 30 kids.