What can you do with one Speedlite, a clothes steamer, a flag, and a large reflector? Well, you can create the portrait above…if you’re lucky enough to have Zack Arias standing nearby. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to be in Manhattan at the same time that Zack was teaching his OneLight workshop. If you don’t know Zack, you should. So check out Zarias.com. If you’ve not been to a OneLight workshop or watched his OneLight DVD, add these to your must-do list.

Zack’s OneLight message has heavily influenced my photography. Here are a few of his insights that resonate with me.

• Don’t believe that buying more gear will make you a better photographer. Shooting will make you a better photographer.
• Don’t buy more gear until you master the gear that you already have. Also, if you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.
• One light—in the right place and with the right modification—can create all the light you need.

About The Shoot

In the Speedliter’s Handbook I have a chapter on shooting portraits with one Speedlite. Who better to shoot as the lead-off subject than Mr. OneLight himself? So, while I was sitting in on Zack’s workshop, my eyes kept wandering over to this heavy steel door in the corner of the studio. Twelve hours after the workshop started (and several hours before it would end), I set up my gear during a break. [The following set shot was made the next morning…when the sun was back up. The shoot happened in the middle of the night. So the light you see in the portraits is 100% Speedlite.]

Always remember that the range of bright and dark tones that can be recorded by our cameras is much narrower than the range of light we can see. I knew that by lighting Zack with a Speedlite on one side that I would create a dark shadow on the other side of his face. The easy fix, I decided, would be to position the Speedlite so that a good bit of the light would fly right past Zack’s nose and into a reflector so that it could bounce into the shadows. Essentially I wanted one flash to light both sides of Zack’s face. So, as you can see above, I literally hung the 42″ gold/silver reflector on the hinge of the door. Then, to keep it at just the right angle, I conscripted the studio’s clothes steamer into the role of disk holder.

I typically think in terms of lighting the background separately from my subject. So, another key to making this photograph was to keep the Speedlite from lighting the steel door directly. I strapped a Rogue FlashBender to the side of my Speedlite as a flag. At 9″ x 11″, the large FlashBender is my first choice when I need to keep a Speedlite from spraying light everywhere.

The last bit of mod that I used was a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce. This little plastic dome helped spread the light up (where is just flew away) and down (where is created the great vignette down Zack’s jacket). Had I shot the Speedlite without the Sto-Fen, the light would have had a harder edge and the vignette would not have been so subtle.

Without the reflector, the lighting creates a much different persona.

Portions of this article excerpted from my to-be-published Speedliter’s Handbook, coming December, 2010.

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20 Responses to Speedliting Mr. OneLight

  1. Alan says:

    Nice.
    I have some of the Rogue FlashBenders and this is a great use for one.
    Need to give it a try.

    Looking forward to your book..

  2. Mike says:

    Good stuff. The addition of the trademark ZA beard to the diagram is the icing on the cake. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tina Blum says:

    Great post, Syl. Very informative, and I love the fact that your stick figure diagram included Zack's chin fuzz!

  4. Rob Acocella says:

    Very cool, and yes, perfect subject to kick off that chapter. Great shot, love the lighting.

    Like Alan, I'm looking forward to the book when it's ready.

  5. TimR says:

    The beard alone on the diagram makes this worth the read. Too funny.

  6. Jamie says:

    Great info. Thank you so much – looking to start with off camera lighting and this is a great visual. Plus, what a cool subject! :)

  7. Chase says:

    Love the info shared and the result. Thanks for putting it out to the world!

  8. monkeyinabox says:

    Syl- Great write up. The "beard fuzz" in the bottom equipment diagram is golden!

  9. Nikki says:

    Great tutorial. Think I need a couple of those FlashBenders. Very cool.

  10. t.linn says:

    Great article. Love the "beard" on Zach in the diagram!

  11. Jason Blake says:

    Syl, love the write up! Can’t wait for the book!

  12. dennisoder says:

    Book on Pre-order. Would love to know camera and flash settings! I definitely need to shoot with my flash benders more!!

  13. George Van Buren says:

    I don't see a cable to your flash; how did you fire it? The flash benders are great. Looking forward to your book.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Diagram needs to be finished. I indeed used a 30' E-TTL cable to control the Speedlite from the LCD of my camera. Of course, in homage to Zack, I ran the Speedlite in Manual.

  14. Alan B says:

    TTL or manual? Not that it matters, but lighting Zack via TTL somehow seems wrong… ;)

  15. Diane says:

    Wonderful tutorial. Can't wait for your book! Thanks!

  16. Mandie says:

    I love the little beard you drew into the diagram. Awesome!!

  17. Ness Flores says:

    Excellent tutorial. I just check your book from amazon, but it's still not yet available. Thanks

  18. […] I was itching to try something.  In what was to be a blatant rip-off respectful homage to a shoot Syl Arena did of Zack Arias, I set up my […]

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