Home photography ideas: 1 flash, 4 great kids portrait setups

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By now you've probably shot in every area, from every angle both inside and outside your house. So how can you transform your home into a setting that looks straight out of a magazine, to take portraits of your kids with a wonderful editorial style?

The answer is simple: add a touch of flash! It's amazing how truly transformative the addition of flash can be in terms of radically changing not only the look of your subject, but also the appearance of your environment. 

Even if you don't have the most photogenic home, a humble speed light can give it a commercial-looking feel. And of course, the primary purpose of supplemental light is to make your subject look their best – and flash will do that, too!

Commercial photographer Chris Ord shares four single-light setups you can use at home to take simple but stunning portraits of your little ones (or, indeed, anyone in your household) with minimal fuss and maximum impact.

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Single speed light setup 1: Kitchen blinds

By sitting the subject on a kitchen counter, next to a window covered by blinds, you can achieve a great gobo effect by placing your bare-headed flash outside and firing through. The hard, contrasty light will create stunning dark shadows, and a reflector is used to bounce some of the light back towards the subject. If you don't have one, you can always improvise by wrapping a white t-shirt around a cardboard box (as shown in the pic above)! 

You can shoot using standard shutter sync speeds (which in this case would be around 1/200 sec, f/6.3, ISO100), but if you employ high speed sync you can achieve shallow depth of field, with settings of 1/2000 sec, f/1.8, ISO100. 

Single speed light setup 2: "Golden hour" look

You can simulate a golden hour sunset look using your speed light by simply adding a color temperature orange (CTO) gel, and angling it down from a high angle to mimic the position of the sun. Allow the edge of the flash to flare into the top of the frame, and do a little warming in post production, to 'sell' the illusion. 

Here the gate behind the subject has been opened, and again by using high speed sync a sense of depth is created within the image. The photograph was shot at 1/800 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100.

Single speed light setup 3: Dappled light effect

An authentic dappled lighting effect  can be achieved by positioning your flash at a high angle to fire through leaves, as the sun would. Here the actual sun is being used as a second light source, acting as a rim and hair light by positioning the subject with his back to it. The trick here is to expose for this ambient light, and then balance the flash accordingly. High speed sync again enables the background to be blurred, which removes clutter and isolates the subject, shooting at 1/3200, f/2, ISO100. 

Single speed light setup 4: Beautiful backlighting

While the other images can all be achieved using standard flash sync speeds, this one is definitely a special effect made possible by high speed sync. By shooting at a superfast 1/800 sec shutter speed, the ambient light is completely killed and the subject is only illuminated by the flash – positioned directly behind the subject's body to produce a kiss of light to outline him. 

This creates beautiful profile silhouettes, and the image can be taken to the next level by adding a dandelion – when blown, the seeds are also backlit and capture the light beautifully. Shot at 1/8000, f/1.8, ISO100. 

Read more: 

The best flashgun: the best strobe units for Canon cameras, Nikon and more
The best flash triggers: wireless control for off-camera flashguns
The best flash diffusers, softboxes and modifiers for your speedlight

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.