Ep 218: How to work with speedlights for beginners intermediates and pros

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or pro – there is something for you in this episode. We talk about speedlights and how a simple little light can make ALL the difference. You’ll discover how to get started, easy hacks to bring your images to life – and savvy techniques that can replicate sunsets, window lighting and more.

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Show Notes

Why speedlight?

  • Great light is the basis of good photography but if you only shoot with daylight you limit your options for shooting.
  • Many photographers are put off from using flash because it looks shite.
  • When flash is used in the wrong way it can look harsh and fake and kills the vibe of an image.
  • Too much flash can completely blow out the subtle details of any setting
  • Fill flash is often used in a heavy handed manner that makes the portrait look fake
  • Fill flash has a neutral colour and this can also add to the fake look.
  • However with a few simple tweaks speedlight can open up a whole new world of photography and give you infinite options for shooting when good light calls in sick.

Speedlights are:

  • Portable
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Can be used at low power to add light to small area
  • Can be used at full power to overpower the sun
  • The spread of the light can also be controlled by adjusting the zoom of the flash or it’s focal length

Here is a detailed tutorial on flash focal length https://community.ginamilicia.com/gina_tutorials/how-to-control-flash-focal-length-using-speedlights/

The basics

  • Speedlights come in budget, fancy and uber fancy: $80- $800; 80 ws to 200ws
  • Battery or rechargeable batteries.
  • On or off camera
  • They are sophisticated and can be used in fully auto mode (TTL) or Manual mode. TTL is conservative and often the flash output is too basic or middle of the road.
  • Getting your flash off camera is the best way to control your lighting and get creative

Basic setup

  • 1 x speedlight
  • Triggers
  • Some cameras have built in triggers. Some have a single trigger that gives you the option to control the power setting. Budget triggers ($20-30) also work.

Type of light

  • A speedlight without a modifier is naked flash. Naked flash is hard light. Hardlight is very similar to bright sunlight on a cloudless day.
  • Adding a modifier to the flash gives you the ability to shape and control your light
  • A softbox or diffuser acts much like adding clouds to sun
  • Contrast is controlled by adding fill
  • This can be achieved by increasing or decreasing the amount of fill light
  • Fill light can be added by lowering the shutter speed, increasing ISO
  • By adding a reflector or additional speedlight.

Things to watch for

  • The harder the light, the harder the shadows
  • Anything in front of the light (like a nose) will cause shadows
  • Changing the angle and diffusion of the light will minimise shadows
  • The temperature of flash is neutral
  • Adding a ¼ CTO will give a slightly warmer light that looks less obvious
  • Good lighting doesn’t look obvious
  • Most beginners tend to overlight

My favourite styles of lighting

  • Above + reflector (butterfly lighting)
  • Feathering the light to recreate soft window light
  • Hard naked flash to recreate sunlight.
  • A dook of light to lift skintones
Decide how you want your image to look
Then add flash. Hard light will give you a sharper looking image than soft light.

Flash can also be used to add light to your background.
Cheap plastic diffusers can also be used for shooting on the run.
Cheap plastic diffusers can also be used for shooting on the run.
A white paperbag can also be used in place of a softbox
Feathering light can make your lighting look natural.
Background exposure before adding light
1 speedlight +octabox and silver reflector (butterfly style)


  • Decide how you want your image to look and expose for the background
  • Add light
  • Adjust angle of light to avoid harsh shadows
  • Adjust shutter speed to control ambient light and add or reduce fill light
  • Add reflector to control fill
  • The best way to control a speedlight is to ask an assistant to hand hold
  • The second best way is to use a lightstand or small boom
  • Use weights so the stand does not blow over
  • Feed the assistant so they don’t fall over.

Using Speedlight tutorials

How to direct and pose like a pro

About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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