Photography Lighting Techniques

Direct Flash Glamour Shots and Beauty Portraits

Lighting Tutorial

If you have tried using direct flash without any modifiers or, even worse yet, put a speed light on top of your camera and aimed it straight at your subject, or even if you haven’t, chances are you’ve heard that direct flash is not a good idea when you’re photographing people. It’s not flattering and it causes harsh shadows. On one end, that’s true. On another, that’s bull. To prove my point, I’ll be walking you through how to do a one light direct flash glamour shot.

The Shot

As it turns out this model happens to have 63- yes, she took the time to count them- 63 bikinis in her closet. I didn’t ask her bring all 63, but I had her bring about 10 of them, all solid colors, no prints, no patterns, no florals. The pictures are about her and I decided that I’d shoot about ten frames. I’d edit it down to maybe five and assemble a composite shot with the goal being to show different personality and emotions, all in one shot. It’s a very fun way to show a model’s range.

composite image of model in different bikinis taken with direct flash

The Setup

I decided to keep it simple so I’m going to have the model pose standing against a white wall.

Model against white wall

The flash, in this case, that I’m going to use is a studio strobe. It’s placed about a foot to a foot and a half above my camera.

studio strobe direct flash above camera

I don’t want it too close to the lens because, indeed, I don’t want to have red eye, but at the same time, I don’t want it too far away from the lens because I don’t want to exaggerate the shadows. I’ll talk more about those in a minute.

Can I use speedlights?

You could do this same direct flash setup with a speed light. I would recommend getting the speed light off camera so that it’s a little further away from the lens axis, but as long as you’re able to mount your speedlight on camera and not get red eye, go for it. It will work in this scenario.

Important side note: if you’re going to use a speedlight, and if you’ll be working against a white wall like I am, the TTL is going to have a little bit of a rough time reading the exposure properly. You’ll most likely have to make some exposure compensation adjustments. The TTL is going to see all that white and it’s going to tend to close the lens down a little more than you want it to for the best exposure on your model.

Back to the Shadows

Back to the setup. I’ve got the model standing right against the white wall. It’s important to keep her against the wall because I do want to minimize shadows from the direct flash.

Model in front of white wall

Let’s talk about those shadows. I want to make it clear, the only people that ever ask me about the shadows are people like you. I’ve never had a model or a subject look at the finished picture and ask, “Is it okay that those shadows are there?” I’ve never had a subject complain about the shadows in the background. The whole idea here is to make sure that your subject looks amazing, that there is tons of personality and energy and great body language in the shot. Nobody’s going to care about those little shadows that are there.

The reason for having the light on axis, in other words right above the lens, is that it’s about a foot higher. By making sure that the subject is right against the wall, I minimize the shadows caused by the direct flash. If I bring my subject away from the wall the shadows will start to grow, and they will become more noticeable because they’ll be bigger.


I’m going to set the camera up on a tripod. I generally don’t work on a tripod, but in this scenario I want to make sure that all of the shots have the exact same perspective on the body. If I’m not careful and I’m hand holding, sometimes I shoot a little higher, sometimes I shoot a little lower, I’m going to be looking at the body from different angles, and they won’t mesh together properly in a composite. To make sure that I can’t get sloppy and to make sure that everything lines up well, it’s real simple. Put the camera on a tripod. That way every single shot is taken at the same altitude and it has the same body perspective.

Working with the Model

From there it’s simply a matter of working through the ten bikinis. For each of the bikinis I shot probably one hundred to one hundred fifty frames. The model duplicated a lot of the poses and a lot of the movements because it’s not a matter of how many different things can she do. I’m looking for five different shots when it’s over. The real key to making the pictures work is going to be to get really good facial expressions and lots of emotion.

You’ll notice in the bottom of the frame I’m using a small fan just to get a little bit of movement on her hair.

Model with fan in front of her

This girl, as you can see, has a lot of hair. While it’s beautiful, it can get in the way. That light fan pushes the hair back off of her face and it gives the hair a little bit more body, which makes it exciting and little sexier. Don’t be afraid to experiment with fans. Generally the biggest mistake you’ll make with a fan is turning it up too high.

A little tip: people with contacts will often struggle with a fan. In short, the fan dries out the contact lenses. Regardless of whether the person wears contact lenses or doesn’t, encourage your subjects to blink normally when they’re in front of the fan.

Another thing that you’ll notice in these shots is that I generally have the model’s head essentially in a box, very small turns. Nothing big or dramatic where she’s looking off or away from the camera. The reason for that is because these photographs are going in her modeling portfolio. The goal here is to sell her, to sell her personality and her ability to show lots of different emotions. By having her eyes closer to the camera I’m getting more impact from them. I’m not saying that it’s a rule that you have to have your model staring down the barrel of your lens, but hey, if they’re that beautiful, why not? In the case of these shots where I’m trying to market her, it’s imperative that I don’t lose the impact of those beautiful eyes.

There you have it! A simple, one light, direct flash glamour shot. Make sure you check out part 2 of this set where I’ll walk you through Photoshop and how I assembled the five images to make the final composite.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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