• Elton Cilliers

My journey into studio / flashlight portraiture

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

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So up to about 18 months ago, I had never shot in a studio environment or had any interest in studio photography. I wasn’t a fan of flash photography. I would rather crank the ISO on my camera than be forced to use a flash. All my portraiture work up to this point was taking place on location, outdoors with natural light. But then I found that it’s rather difficult to get people excited about shooting outdoors in the English winter. And so the venture into studio portraiture began.


The Beginning


So before I even dared to entertain the thought of asking someone to pay me to take studio portraits of them, I reached out to friends and family, joined a few photography/model sites and found some willing guinea pigs to be my subject matter. I arranged a few initial shoots and did a lot of ‘homework’. Watching many videos on YouTube, and what was Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) on lighting setups. Metering for portraiture, using different focal lengths, pose ideas and so forth.


My first studio shoot was like my first day of nursery school. Or that first day on the job. Excitement mixed with a sense of wanting to shit oneself. Whilst the model wasn’t a paying client, she was expecting to get some images in exchange for being a guinea pig, and I felt a lot of pressure. But within 10 minutes of working with the model, we were both totally at ease. We opted to do some lingerie/boudoir and bridal sets.


Beginner Tip: Moodboards


For anyone considering studio portraiture, or any photography involving people, don’t overly stress about memorising hundreds of poses and being able to recall them in the heat of the moment. Because unless you’re Sheldon Cooper, you’re probably not going to have much success with that approach. By all means, have a look at as many other portrait images as you can to get a sense of poses etc, but what I would suggest is to create yourself a ‘Mood board’, or several. The easiest place to create these are probably on Pinterest. So create yourself a board for ‘Male Studio Portraits’, ‘Female Studio Portraits’, ‘Couple Studio Portraits’ etc etc. And each time you see an image you like the look of, ‘Pin’ it to one of these boards. Then arrange shoots with friends and family, or even look to pay a model if you have the disposable income and work your way through as many of the mood board images you have. Initially, you may want to share the image with the model/subject to which will aid them getting into the pose. But as you accumulate shoots under your belt you want to start ‘directing’ more. If you ever plan to charge people for a photoshoot, you CANNOT interrupt the shoot after every shot to quickly check your phone or laptop for the next pose. So you want to be in a position where you can direct your model into a certain pose without a reference image.

The resting bride

‘Bridal’ image taken during my first ever ‘flashlight’ shoot. A single flashgun was used during the entire shoot.

Lessons learned from the first ‘flashlight’ shoot.

  1. Using flash lighting isn’t the end of the world

  2. Working with fellow humans isn’t half bad.

  3. You can actually get the shot you ‘want’ (try posing a lion!)

  4. My misconception of studio portraiture was narrow-minded. When I thought studio portraiture, I thought ‘high key’. Pointing 10 studio lights at a model didn’t seem like much of a photographic challenge to me. But what I picked up in my research is just how diverse studio photography can be! There is a lot of challenges available with studio lighting and I’m rather excited about trying as much as possible.

  5. That time flies!! We were only meaning to shoot for a couple of hours. 5 hours later we wrapped up!!! This is okay when it’s not a commercial shoot, but if you’re renting a studio or paying a model for their time on an hourly basis, I’d strongly suggest you set yourself some sort of timer or I promise you time will get away from you.



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