Using Multiple Flashes – Evolution of a Shot

helicopter-5Lately I have become addicted to using more and more speedlites on my shoots in order to have complete control of the lighting that I want to achieve. Products like my wireless flash triggers and YN560 flashes have finally made having 2,3 or even 4 speedlites actually affordable. In this article we will look at one simple example of a shot that I wanted to get but simply wasn’t really possible (in-camera) to do with a single light.

During this article we will start with an on-camera flash and build up to a three-light setup.

On-Camera Flash

helicopter-1This first shot here is what I would expect from a simple on-camera lighting setup. We get a nice even lighting, plenty of detail, but the floor and background are easily visible. These example images are not cropped or adjusted and yes, with some fair amount of Photoshop work, this could be turned into a decent image. The goal though is to minimize post-production and get the effect that we want in-camera. This shot was taken with a Large Rouge Flashbender on top of the flash to provide a larger, diffused lighting source.

helicopter-2In this second image the only change was that the Rouge Flashbender was removed and the light was bounced off the white ceiling. This did a great job at killing the floor and background lighting while maintaining some specular highlights. Because of the overhead lighting we lost the tail rotor completely, detail in the fuselage, and detail in the lower part of the canopy. The flash was set at 1/8th power.

On the plus side we also lost some harsh specular highlights in in the canopy that we didn’t want. At this point I thought we had a good baseline to start adding in some additional lights.

Light Number 2

helicopter-3The second light to be added was for the rear of the helicopter. This was another YN560 fitted with a Harbor Digital Designs 1/8†Quickspot to keep the light from spreading onto the table or background. This really kicked up the light on the back of the helicopter and added some nice detail lighting to the tail boom and rear assembly.  The flash was set to 1/32 power, any more and it would have overpowered the subject .

At this point I felt we were really getting close but I didn’t like the lack of detail on the bottom of the canopy and you couldn’t really read the text on the canopy either.

Light Number 3

helicopter-4The third light was added just left of the camera and fitted with a Harbor Digital Designs 1/4†Quickspot so I could get just a little more spread without much light contamination. The flash was also a YN560 and was set to 1/128th power. This provided a nice little kicker light on the front of the canopy and light the bottom section of the canopy nicely to really make the letters pop.

This is the part where I start to get all OCD about the lighting and although I was actually right were I wanted I get compelled to keep tweaking and tweaking but I fought the urge this time because the point isn’t always about getting the shot perfect in-camera, it really should be about minimizing your work overall.

The Final Image

As I said, I actually stopped with the last image because while I could have spent another 20 minutes tweaking the lights to get exactly what I wanted, I also could spend 2 minutes in Lightroom and get the same result. Taking the last image into Lightroom 3.3, some Clarity was added, a little Vibrance, a post-crop Vignette, and then the Local Adjust Brush set to -30 Exposure was quickly drawn to minimize the line you could see between the table and the background.



All of the images shown in the article were shot with the following settings:

  • ISO 800
  • 1/60th Shutter Speed
  • F/8 Aperture


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Lighting is not magic and it really isn’t that hard either once you start practicing different techniques and lighting setups. If it seems frustrating at first just remember to stick to the basics. Build up from one light source at a time in order to see the effects of each light as you go to make sure you know what light is doing what.

While I do try to get as close as possible to the final image in-camera there is also a point of diminishing returns when it comes to how perfect you can get something. If this wasn’t true we would have no use for tools like Lightroom or Photoshop. Sometimes it is best to spend a few moments in post-production versus spending many more in studio.

Equipment Used

Camera Canon 50D
Flashes YN560
Triggers Blackbelt Wireless Triggers
Modifiers Harbor Digital Designs Quickspot
Rouge Flashbenders


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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2 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    Great tutorial thanks. Out of interest, how have you managed to mount a flash on top of the blackbelt wireless trigger as they don't have a hot shoe connector?

    • kgarrison says:

      My bad, I was actually testing the next generation of triggers when I did this shoot. With the current ones you would need to have a 3rd lightstand next to the camera or use the flash in the hot shoe and fire the existing Blackbelt triggers using the PC Sync port.

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