Shoemount Flash Portraits On-Location

Sk Location Thumb


  • Canon 6D Camera body
  • 17-40 Canon EF f4 L lens
  • 100mm Canon EF f2.8 Macro lens
  • 70-200 f2.8 EF L lens
  • 2-Photttix Mitros + shoe mount flash units for Canon
  • Phottix Odin 1.5 TCU Wireless Trigger for Canon
  • Sekonic Flash Master L-358 meter
  • Manfrotto Compact Carbon Fiber Tripod with Gitzo Magnesium Ball Head
  • 2 Photoflex Rock Steady Sandbags
  • OctoDome White Portable Speedlight Kit

I was excited to hear that Photoflex has introduced a new travel kit that includes the new OctoDome White: Extra Small soft boxes, as most of my current work is for location corporate and editorial portraits. The lure of a compact two-light kit that I could use with my hot-shoe flashes drove me to test it right away with my style of location portraits.

For most of my location portraits, I need to be able to set-up quickly and have the portability to easily move my equipment from location to location. I normally don’t use an assistant, so having the ability to pack and travel with a small compact system makes my job less stressful. It also let’s me focus on the main goal, creating fantastic location portraits for my subject.

For most of my location portraits assignments I am usually asked to do one or more of the following:

  • Indoor job station photo
  • Indoor headshot
  • Outdoor photo either relating to their job or hobby
  • Outdoor headshot

I don’t like to practice with or learn new equipment with a paying client, so I chose to test my new OctoDome White Kit with a non-paying subject. My friend, Glenn McDowell, who is an outstanding still and video photographer, agreed to sit for me while I tested the light modifiers. My goal was to use the kit in the same type of environments I will be facing for my paying clients.

The OctoDome White Portable Speedlight Kit includes two OctoDome: White Extra Small soft boxes, 2 compact light stands, 2 sets of connectors for your shoemount flash and a case. Everything I need to light subjects on-location in one convenient bag.

Room Scene/Work Station Shot:

For the first portrait of Glenn at his desk I am using my 100mm lens on my full frame Canon 6D. The main (key) light is set on the shelving unit to light Glenn’s face. I faced the fill light away from the side of Glenn’s face to give a soft bounce off the ceiling and opposite white wall.

Below is a shot with just the main/key light.

The example below is a shot with just the fill light. You can see how the fill light adds detail to the side of Glenn’s face and also adds some light to the background behind Glenn. I decided to close the black blinds behind Glenn, since I felt the look out of the window took the viewer away from Glenn’s face.

Here is the final image with both lights.

I used both of my shoe mount flashes on Manual, so that I could easily increase or decrease the flash intensity of each light.

To get the monitor screen on Glenn’s desk to look right I needed to drag my shutter at 1/15 second. This requires using a tripod to keep from moving the camera during exposure. Remember, the flash intensity determines the f-stop required for proper exposure. The shutter speed can be used to increase the amount of ambient (natural light) for the exposure. My exposure for the final image was f8 at 1/15 second using ISO 400.

Indoor Headshot:

For headshot images I made two changes. First I changed my lens shutter speed to 1/125 since I did not need to expose for the monitor screen. I also redirected my fill light towards the shadow side of Glenn’s face.

Below is a shot with just the main/key light.

Here is an example with both the fill and main light.

Here is a tighter finished version with both lights.

Once the lighting is set-up and tested, it is easy to do different crops without changing anything.

Outdoor Full-length Portrait:

For this shot I wanted to show Glenn flying his drone. He uses it for his still and video business, but it is also a hobby for him. I chose my Canon 17-40mm f4 zoom lens for the flexibility of shooting at different wide focal lengths without changing my lens.

First I picked my location and did a test shot of the background with no lights. My goal was to determine the natural light exposure needed to show the trees and sky properly. I used this as my basis for setting up my flash settings.

My main light is set a little above Glenn and lights both Glenn and his drone. The second light is placed much lower and on the shadow side. It is used to light his lower body and the ground and background around him. Both lights were set to provide equal exposure. My exposure was f11 at 1/125 ISO 800, which matched the trees and sky. I am shooting at f11 to get enough depth of field, so everything from Glenn to the drone is in focus.

Below is a shot using just the ambient natural light.

The shot below is using the lower light only.

Here is a shot with just the higher (main) light.

Here is the final shot with both lights.

Again, my f-stop is determining the exposure on Glenn and the scene. My shutter speed is controlling how much ambient natural light is coming into the scene. My natural light exposure is aimed at exposing properly for the trees and sky. The shutter speed was 1/125 second, which allowed the drone’s props to blur slightly and show movement.

Once the lighting and exposure is established, it is easy to shoot variations.

Outdoor Three-Quarter Portrait:

For this series I wanted to find a clean background to put out of focus. I wanted a location where I could blend the natural light with my flash. My goal was to find a location that had a strong top and backlight that I could use to blend with the flash.

First I needed to determine the amount of natural light for the background and natural rim light on Glenn. Here is a series of exposures that show different amounts of natural light. Each exposure is 1/3 of a stop difference. They go from 1/60 to 1/125 second.

I chose to underexpose the background about 1/3 of a stop so it would be darker than the flash exposure on Glenn’s face. In this case I ended up shooting at f4 at 1/100 second using ISO 200. The f4 aperture allows me to keep the subject in focus and the background out of focus. I have zoomed the lens out to the maximum of 200mm also help throw the background out of focus.

Once I dialed in my natural light exposure, I set up my main light. Next I placed my side kicker light to create a more three dimensional lighting pattern on Glenn’s face. I do a lot of conversions to black and white where I need the additional contrast of the kicker light.

Below is the final look using two lights balanced with the available natural light.

Below is a desaturated version.

And here is a true black and white.

Again, once the lighting is set-up, it is easy to create a series of portraits without changing the lighting pattern.

For the shots with Glenn holding his drone, I moved the kicker light and used it as a fill light on the shadow side of his face.

By this time the sunlight on the trees was gone and the background was exposed about 2/3 below the flash. When I added the drone as a prop I needed more depth-of-field so that Glenn and the drone were both in focus. I went from f4 to f8 by changing my ISO from 200 to 800. This gave me the two additional f-stops needed. My exposure was f8 at 1/100 second at ISO 800.

After working with my new OctoDome White Portable Speedlight Kit, I am confident I can achieve professional grade location portraits. The small size and easy set-up make this kit my go-to lighting solution for many location portrait jobs.

I also like the quality of light these extra small white OctoDomes create. The recessed front diffuser makes it easy to feather the light and removing the front and internal baffle gives you the option of creating a harder light source for glamour or fashion shoots.

Written and photographed by Steve Kurtz.

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