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  • Writer's pictureDharma

A simple recipe for using a strobe to light a portrait

Have all those flashes, triggers and extra electronics put you off learning about strobe photography? You're not alone. Getting started with strobe photography can seem intimidating - not just because of all of the equipment involved, but also because of the cost of purchasing all of it. But you can do a lot with just a few simple pieces of equipment and a shift in how you think about strobes.

In this post, I'm going to break down a photo, recipe-style, and tell you exactly how I lit it. It's super simple, and this is really all the gear you need to get started on making beautiful portraits with strobe lighting.

I have included some links in this post to some of the strobe equipment that I use. These links are not affiliate links and I don't receive any payment or benefit from them. I linked them purely so you know exactly what I used and how much it costs if you want to purchase it for yourself.

First, the photo:



  • Step #1: Assemble the softlighter. A softlighter is a reflective umbrella with a diffuser over the open side of the umbrella. When you shoot with a reflective umbrella, you point the strobe bulb into the umbrella (and rather counterintuitively, the strobe points away from the subject). The light bounces off the silver inside of the umbrella and back out towards the subject. The diffuser softens the light as it comes out of the umbrella. So this part is easy - just open the umbrella and stretch the diffuser over the open side.

  • Step #2: Mount the softlighter on the strobe. Again, pretty simple. Most strobes come with a small hole and a clamp for clamping an umbrella rod, so just stick the umbrella rod in the strobe's hole and tighten the clamp to secure it. You'll notice that the diffuser has a hole in the middle, with a "sock". Basically stick the strobe into the sock. It should look something like this:

  • Step #3: Position your subject. In the photo above, she wanted to sit on the couch, so I positioned her near the window for some natural light. Unfortunately it was kind of a cloudy day and somewhat dark. Thank goodness for strobes!

  • Step #4: Position the softlighter. Here's where a shift in thinking about strobes is helpful. Instead of thinking of it as a strobe, think of it as portable natural light. I wanted that natural window-light look, but I didn't have enough actual light coming through the window. So I put the softlighter in front of the window. Basically the softlighter was like my window, and the strobe was like my sunlight - the softlighter essentially helped to supplement the window light. It created a very natural look. A softlighter is an amazing and worthwhile addition to your setup because it's like having a portable window with beautiful natural light spilling through, that you can put anywhere or use at any time of the day.

  • Step #5: Adjust the subject's position. We adjusted the subject's position so she was angled towards the windows/softlighter. This allowed the light to illuminate her face and body a bit more evenly.

  • Step #6: Start shooting. We took a few shots and tried a few different positions as the subject warmed up, and once she was feeling relaxed, boom - we got the shot. It was over quite quickly, we shot for less than 20 minutes. But sometimes that's all you need.

Editing was minimal and very quick because the softlighter allowed us to create the perfect lighting in-camera, and the subject's makeup, hair, and dress were all on-point.

I hope this post inspires you to dip your foot into the world of strobe photography!


Did you experiment with strobe photography? Tagging #dharmaportraits on your Instagram photos - I'd love to see how you're using these tips to create beautiful photos.

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