Flash Options for Dramatic Portraits

For several years I’ve been working on my personal style and I’ve always wanted to create dramatic, artistic photos, the ones with colorful skies and the subject lit up. To create these photos, you need a lighting system that’s portable and powerful. Today I did some experimenting with several of my lights to see which might be the best flash for dramatic portraits.

What I’m looking for

There are a few different criteria that I considered: power, recycle time, portability, and quality of light. Sometimes I take photos at sunset and sometimes I take photos during peak sun time. Power is a necessity when it comes to overpowering the sun. If the flash doesn’t have enough power, it’s no good. The sunny 16 rule says that to get the correct exposure in midday sun you need ISO 100, 1/125th shutter speed, and f16 aperture. A flash has to be pretty strong for that. Recycle time is pretty important as well. If I have to wait 45 seconds to shoot again, the subject is going to get annoyed and I’m going to miss the perfect moment. Often I will go to multiple locations, and the locations might be far from my car. This means I could be walking some distance, so the portability of the system can make my life a lot easier. I don’t mind carrying something heavy, but I’d much rather carry something light. The last area is quality of light. Depending on the flash and the modifier, the light will look different on the subject. The light might look harsh and leave dark shadows or it could be soft.

Flash Options for Dramatic Portraits

I am by no means an expert on flashes, and there are probably a hundred different options out there. I only tested the options I already own to see if they will work. I looked at the Nikon Sb-910, the Quantum Qflash T4d, the White Lightning Ultrazap 1600, and a Profoto Acute B head on a Hensel Porty battery.

For the tests, I used two different modifiers that I commonly use: a white shoot thru umbrella and an octabox. The umbrella worked with all of the flashes, but I could only use the octa on the White Lightning and the Profoto. I actually used two different octal. The White Lightning octa was three feet in diameter while the Profoto octa was five feet in diameter.

I tested each flash at minimal power and at full power to get an idea of what they could do. I wanted to see if they had enough power to get exposure but also if I could lower the power when I had some light.

Next blog, I’ll show the results from my little test and give my opinion on the best flash for dramatic portraits.

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