Glamour Lighting SetupsSubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2010-09-09 08:49

Hard lighting with off camera flash

After seeing the Pretty Flash Kit post here on SmokingStrobes, some of our cousins have asked me various questions regarding the use of hard light. Well, let me give myself a little caveat: hard light is most of the time NOT what you want to have in beauty photography.

Even if you want it, then usually you want to limit the use of hard light to something like a kicker beam of light which is shining over your models shoulder from behind. Hard light is so much harder to master compared to soft light. When you use hard light, then the exact position of your lightsource relative to your model is super important for the result. Zero tollerance. Softlight will usually give the model plenty of freedom to move around the scene.

Did I convince you to stay away from hard light? No? You are a die hard? Ok, ok, if you really really want to then of course you always can go crazy on hard light. You can even light your complete beauty scene with bare speedlights if you want to. Let me give you one example of how I am doing such crazy stuff. Watch today’s video.

The reasons I stayed away from using my beloved umbrellas for this particular scene were:

  1. I wanted to underline the subtle “action” character of the scene. I felt like hard light transports that better.
  2. The room was extremely small for such a scene with multiple models and umbrellas would have eaten up valuable space
  3. I wanted the light to hit the models hard but then fall off extremely fast so that furniture and walls are pretty dark

One cool thing that the zoom head of my speedlights enable me to do: I can really control where the light is going and what is sinking into shade. In this scene I feature 3 models in a small hotel room. And I want the models to pop out by lighting them while I want the furniture, which is just centimeters away from them, to sink into darkness. It should feel a little bit mysteriously. Speedlights allow me to do that.

The heads of the speedlights are gel’d with CTO gels because in the I am shooting mixed light since I have the tungsten lamp on the wall in the background.

Did I mention that I really love the zoom heads of speedlights?

I wish you good light!
-- Michael

Hey Michael,
The video download doesn't seem to be working. Btw, I love your behind the scene tutorials. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Mike, thanks a lot for the flowers and for the heads up. There was an issue with the server. It's fixed now.

I only shot with naked flashes on backlight or kicker lights, to enhance volumes of the body...
It seems to me a little strange, this way of lighting...
Live long an prosper.

I fully agree. For me too, backlight or kicker lights is the prime use of bare flashes. Or occasions where my flashes are far away from my model. In this cases the diffuser does not add benefit anymore and just sucks power.

It always amazes me what you do with such simple lighting techniques. It puts to shame those that use tons of expensive gear to get the same old boring shots all the time.
Thank you for your videos.


Thank you for your kind words, Bob. I mean, if people really love to play with big gear, if that is the fun part in their hobby, then they should absolutely do it. What I want to do is to encourage people who can't afford big gear or who don't want to carry it, to still approach shooting big scenes if they like to - because it's possible and it's fun.

Thanks for fixing the links. I'm also curious why you decide to censor your images? I don't believe there is anything wrong with artistic nudity or nudity for that matter. Just curious if there were a place where I can view the photos on this site without the grey bars.

I asked myself this, too. If the answer is the models want it so, I would agree. If not...
Anyway, I would not understand that models can pose on nudity and deny permission to publish their uncensored photos.
Live long and prosper.

Hi Mike! I fully agree. I too believe there is nothing wrong with nudity. I believe that it does not even need to be artistic. I think in general nudity and being natural is perfectly alright.

However, I add the censor bars because from the statistics I see that people arrive on this website from all sorts of links on other websites, on twitter, facebook and on google. I know that a lot of people are offended by nudity for cultural, religious or whatever reasons. I do respect that and consequently I don't confront them with nudity right upfront.
Part of why I do this blog is that I would like to show my readers that nude photography is a really awesome hobby. It's a lot of fun and it makes a lot of people happy. Not only the viewers and the photographers, if done right, then it also makes models proud. But, even though I've got an even much more hedonistic background, I'm not about "hammering" that into anybodies head. I rather give a little taste of what it is all about.I want to let them decide themselves wether they like to see more or not.

Pretty soon I will have my portfolio website online. On that website I won't censor photos because I guess it usually won't be found in search. People who surf there usually expect to see nudity. That's why I am not going to censor any images on that website.

Sorry, for the late reply. I uploaded them to http://michaelzelbel.deviantart.com

Love your lighting diagram. Moody pics, too.


Thanks Ted! I had a look at Guess The Lighting - it really rocks!

lol crazy concept :) but again a nice tutorial with a funny note

I love the humor as well as the information in you videos

I really appreciate your tutorials (especially the videos). They're really inspiring me to focus more on good technique and having fun with photo shoots rather than worrying about my lack of fancy equipment.

Thank you very much for your tutorials, they have really helped me to become more efficient and accurate with my lighting. BUt I do have a question, I have a model that I'm shooting on Thursday, her usual photographer is Bob Coulter and she would like some photos in his style. I have been trying to figure out how he illuminates his models. He usually works in hotel rooms and from what I can tell he uses the available light from the lamps in the room and I think he might be using a snoot to illuminate his models. I was wondering if you could take a look at his photos and give me some insight on how he does his lighting. Thank you so very much, any help would be appreciated.

HIs website is crazybabe.com

Hi dggraphics,

yes, the light from the lamps is visible and quite some hard light besides that. If I would want to make such a light, then I would set my camera to

1/125 sec
f/ 5.6
Whitebalance according to taste, somewhere between tungston and daylight

This way the lamps in the room contribute nicely to the atmosphere, but they won't play the major role. You don't give up your control to available light, you still give your flashes something to lighten up. OK, the flashes:

  • Main light
    A bare speedlight on lightstand that is just a little bit higher than the model. Zoom the speedlight to 50mm, ask your model every now and then to point her nose towards the light. Let it contribute 2/3rd of the overall light
  • Fill light
    I'd use my on camera speedlight as a fill, pointing under the ceiling of the hotel room. Let the fill contribute 1/3rd of the overall light.
  • Kicker Light
    The photos on that website don't use a kicker light, but hey, the goal is to make better photos, isn't it? So use a third speedlight to rimlight your model from somewhere behind her. Maybe put it onto a lightstand that is not visible in the frame. Take the power of this speedlight way back, so that it does not flare too much.

I suggest you use a CTO gel on all speedlights to match the Tungston character of the lamps in the room. 

Snoots are not needed for this light.

I wish you a spectacular shoot. Link a result in here if you like.

Good light!
-- Michael



Thanks a lot Vextaposition! You got exactly the attitude it takes to get to the next level!

While I like how soft light makes skin look, I love how hard light seems to bring out color and eye details.

One way I can achieve great head shots is using a ring light. This seems to make eyes pop, and due to axial nature of the light/lens arrangment, eliminates many skin issues.

You can see a before and after post processing example of a shot with hard ring flash here:

Ring Flash Head Glamour Head Shot Example

Very good work Yucel!
How did you find a model with two eyecolors? Awesome!

Thanks Michael, I found her at a shoot out that was put on by one of my models. We clicked, pun intended,and I noticed the eyes when I was touching up shots from the original shoot.

Then we did the shoot with the pics you see in my Arizona studios.

Where did you get the horse mask from? It looks very intriguing and I don't think I have seen anything like it before. It helped create a great series.

Cousin Harry, here in Germany we celebrate Carnival every year. I got the mask from a carnival costume shop. I thought: Wouldn't it be intersting to let Asian models play with that funny German stuff? However, because the mask was looking a bit tooooo funny, I wrapped it into nylon pantyhose, which also adds a little bit of mystery - at least I hope so.

Very Cool!

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