How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

The best portrait is the one you can take wherever you want and whenever you need it. Knowing how to use strobes in daylight is the best quality of a professional portrait photographer!

If I were you I wouldlearn how to manage the strobes lights, especially in portrait photography. I believe that technique, if you are a professional or you would like to become one, is the most important feature that you can learn.

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

First, Let's Analyze The Ambient Light

We have two kinds of lights to consider, natural light or artificial light. We could have both or only one of them. The important thing is to pose the subject at the best point in the right direction!

Natural Light (Sunlight And All Its Reflections Or Diffusions)

When we have a direct natural light we usually must place it behind the subject. It's always harder or brighter than the key light thus we can't use it for the front of the subject. Practically we have to consider it as a backlight or rim light. The same thing when we have reflection and diffusion lights, even if sometimes they are good, they move too fast to manage!

Artificial Light (Spotlights, Neon, Lamps)

To be honest,there are never good artificial lights for a portrait. Therefore, we only have topay attention that there aren't bad shadows on the face, even better not have any artificial ambient light on a subject, so we could manage it totally with strobes.

How To Shoot With Strobes Without Distorting The Ambient Light

I think that a good professional environmental portrait should be as natural as possible, we mustn't shoot like a fashion set!

As far as I am concerned, I never took pictures in high-speed sync in portrait photography. I usually set shutter speed in sync with strobe so that we have the best light at max power if I need it.

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

Lighting And Gear Needed In Portrait Photography

  • Strobes and Modifiers: We absolutely must have two battery-powered monolights, I often use two400 watts or two600 watts withProfoto Mount Adapter. With strobes, we also need two modifiers: a smaller one for backlight and a larger one for main light.
  • Neutral Density Filters for the lens: They are indispensable when we have bright lights, we can reduce shutter speed for correct sync with our strobe. I useND 2 orND 3 stop filters reduction, sometimes even the polarizer filter.
  • Neutral Density gel for strobe:No, I'm not crazy! Sometimes we have to take pictures without the sun and very low ambient lights, so we have to reduce the power of our strobe. In these cases, I putNeutral density gel handmade caps on my strobe, so I can take shots even with high ISO.
  • Lens:I love to use my35mm 1.4 when the setting is wide. However, I often use50mm 1.2, rarely the85mm 1.4, the subject is too decontextualized.

Using Strobes In Daylight

It is said that with nice sun and nice daylight the strobe light is not necessary, maybe in most cases is correct, but if you want to become a professional portrait photographer you have to dress your subject with the best light he needs. This technique will improve your photography!

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

Main Light

First of all, I put myND 4 stop on my lens. This Neutral Density filter will decrease the light that will pass through the lens, which gives you the possibility to work with sync shutter speed, big aperture (if you want), and all the powers of your strobes light that you want.

Now you can manage the light on your subject, often I use anOctabox as a key light. It has a soft light and gives nice reflections on the eyes. You have to put it with the correct angle respect the face, this is most important to highlight the strengths and hide the flaws. Pay attention, the main light must be ever a strobe light, start with a low ambient light on the subject is fundamental.

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

Edge Light

If you are a contrast lover, you have to use an edge light positioned behind the subject. Sometimes, when it is possible, directly with the light of the sun and sometimes we have to use a secondary strobe light with double power compared to the main light. In this case, using hard light, withReflector or with a smallSoftbox, is better. We can recreate nice sunlight.

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

Camera Settings

Obviously I start with aperture value, I have to decide how important the background will have. Big aperture if you want more subject, small aperture if you want to give relevance to the background too. In portrait photography, this choice can change the message.

Knowing our camera is important. If you want to use your strobe with the maximum potentiality and the better light, you must know the right shutter speed sync of your camera.

For example, in myCanon 1DX Mark III, shutter speed sync is 1/250 but other cameras have 1/200, 1/125, etc

I usually work ever with shutter speed sync when there are strobes light, also in low natural light.

I prefer to raise the ISO rather than move setting time.


Each Photographer has his technique, if you want to convey your style through portrait photography, you must use all the resources you have available.

Using power strobe in daylight or direct sun can give you an advantage over the competitors.

So, Remember this:

Check the light,start to use ND filters(when the light is too bright,)manage correctly shutter speed and ISO, find the rightposition, and the best power of your strobes. After that... shot, shot, shot!

How to Use Strobe Lights in Daylight Portrait

Hi, my name is Wilson Santinelli

I specialize in corporate photography and commercial photography in all their forms: Food Photography, Reportage, Events, Portraits, content for websites and e-commerce, Still life, fashion, and advertising.

My slogan. Photography as a form of language, lifestyle.

Perception of a mood.

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