Glamour Lighting SetupsSubmitted by Michael on Mon, 2010-01-18 19:03

How To Setup Flexible Portrait Lighting

Last time while visiting Beijing, I noticed that a new model joined our Chinese modelling online forum. Her name is Amelia.


I had the opportunity to do a quick little portrait shoot with her. For this photo shoot I made a simple yet flexible beauty lighting setup. The setup allows me to let the main light come from left or right at the flick of a switch. And the setup supports exchanging a black background for a white one in 15 seconds or so. I took this oportunity to explain this type of lighting setup in a video.


Press play - check it out:




Lighting Diagram for a flexible portrait photo shoot light using speedlights



(1) Model
(2) White towel
(3) DSRL, 200mm, 1/200s, f/11, ISO400
(4) Speedlight GN58, TTL, 24mm, shoot-through umbrella
(5) Speedlight GN58, Group C, ETTL +1 f-stop, 14mm
(6) windows with roller blinds
(7) Reflector with black surface
(8) Speedlight GN58, Group C, ETTL, -3  f-stops, 105mm


Model: Amelia
Styling: Nizi
Location: Hotelroom in Beijing, China
Photos: Michael Zelbel



Thanks for the video tutorials. It's exactly what I've been looking for to learn lighting. I will be trying your technique shown in this video today, but I have one question. During this shoot/tutorial, did you also have an on camera flash? You don't mention it, but while you are shooting I see a flash on your camera. Just wondering if I'll need my on camera flash for this.


great work michael, thanks for sharing.

I've just watched all your vids and have picked up a fair few tips.

Sandra, I so glad you like it! In the shoot I did use an on camera flash as a trigger for the other flashes. The on camera flash did not contribute to the exposure. You do not need it. A radio trigger or a cable to one of the other flashes would do the same job.

Having said that, on other setups I often use the on camera flash as a subtle fill in flash. When I am working with harder light and with shaddows on the subject, then the on camera flash is good at providing just enough light to rescue the shaddows from sinking into black. If you use the on camera flash for this, then in a perfect world you would use a ringflash adapter. I never do that because I am lazy and a ring flash adapter is a nightmare to handle. However, for perfect results and for complete avoidance of drop shaddows from the on camera flash light, I would need to use it.

Hey Michael,

I love following the pictures online, of course I am always open for new tips on my pics. I am looking at taking pictures of models in the near future for my own interest. Next time you are around in DE (you know what city) let me know I would like to meet up and pick your brain ;)

Talk soon,

Yep, cousin, I am now in the city we don't speak of.

Hi Michael... Firstly thank you! for the wealth of information on your website and in YouTube, I have just finished watching all your videos.

Secondly do you have a forum on your website?

And finally, I am becoming a strobist and shoot with a Canon 20D. My flash is a 420ex. I plan to buy an ST-E3 and another 420 or 430ex. I can't afford the new Odin system. Is this a good move towards getting into speedlight photography? The ST-E3 appears to offer the functionality I need from off-camera flash including ratios although the 420ex flash is an automatic only option (no manual zoom or power settings)

Many thanks once again...


GREAT! you are.

I have a question on the Canon flash system in ETTL. What happens to the Zoom on the slave flashes when doing either canon flash or radio flash, especially when the slave flashes are much closer to the subjects than the camera is to the subjects? Do the slaves "red light sides" need to be pointed at the subject for zoom to work? Or can they be pointed at the camera Master to get more consistent flash,(or towards the ceiling if you are bouncing the master)?

Cheers, and thanks for all your help, the beautiful models and the posing inspiration.

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript:

Hey photography friend! How is it going?

I am Michael Zelbel. I'm still here in Beijng.

Today is my last day. Tomorrow I will be flying back to Germany,

but today I still have one spontaneous shooting with a new model, Amelia,

she just signed up for the model forum three days ago and

I thought she got a wonderful face for a couple of portraits

and that's what we are going to shoot today: some crazy portraits.

It will be very interesting so keep on watching.

This lighting setup will be all about flexibility.

I didn'’t really plan the shooting, but I know that I just want to do some simple portrait.

But there are so many variations. I don’t know the model.

I don’t know whether face is better from this side or that side,

which means: Should have my main light coming from the right or from the left?

I don’'t know whether it’'s better to have her long black beautiful hair open

and probably place it in front of a black background or whether we should tie it up

and place her in front of a white background, we will try out and learn.

For that I need a really, really flexible setup.

And this is what I am going to do:

I will use two speedlights as my main light sources.

This is speed light A, and I will have the model sitting over here,

and I will have the speedlight a bit higher coming from this side. Like this.

Just above the table at a 45 degrees angle. That's speedlight A.

The same on the other side with speed light B.

The good thing with those speedlights is,

that I can control them from the camera or from the on-camera flash.

I can control which one of those is my main light.

I just have to dial one control and say the ratio is now 2:1,

so two times the amount of light from here and one time the amount from the left.

When I tell her to turn her nose to this side, then I just have to dial

two time the amount of light from here and one time the amount of filling light from over there,

In just on second I can change the position of my main light.

I will shoot from over there to over here.

I need to fill in from below, and for that I just put some white towel ontop of the table.

This will reflect a decent amount of light.

Voilà! Beauty light from all sides and nothing can go wrong.

ETTL - Even I cannot mess it up!

Good, now the background! Over here I have got windows.

I can let down the curtains and then it'’s a bright background, creamy white.

It’'s a really bright one, which would need some more light to appear pure white.

Or I want to have it black. Black is very simple.

I've got my big reflector.

I just put it over here, lean it against a chair,

and when I shout from over there, then now I have got a black background.

Since she has got black hair and probably I will have her wearing a black hat,

I will need some head light and for that I will use another little speed light.

I will hang it under the ceiling and zoom it to 105mm,

so it'’s emitting a very directed beam of light.

I will hang it this way around, right over here so that it will just hit her head over here.

In case I want to have the bright background,

I just have to remove this reflector, turn this speedlight around,

pull out the built in diffuser so that it zooms out to 14 mm.

Then it's emitting a very broad cone of light

to the whole window wall over there.

When I now shoot her against the light,

then this will be brightened by this speedlight.

It's set to group C, so I can control it from the camera.

To brighten up the wall I would probably dial to plus +1,  overexpose the wall by one f-stop.

To have just a bit of delineation in the hair I would  set it to -3,

to have just a little it of light over here.

It'’s just a matter of two seconds to change the setup.

Okay, now we can try out lots of things within a few minutes. Let'’s do so.

There you have it.

Just a little portrait shooting, but with quite some variation.

The speedlights, especially the ETTL element of the speedlights,

was quite helpful. It makes it a whole lot faster.

So I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you have fun with your shoots!

I hope to see you soon!

Until then, I wish you good light!

Bye bye

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