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01-08-2016, 03:55 PM   #1
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Beginner flash for portraits

For a while I've been wanting to try out portrait photography, but haven't had the nerve to ask anyone to model. Now, however, I have discovered that a friend likes their vintage (e.g. '60s/'70s) outfits and is happy to model. Unfortunately, my K-30 is currently in for repair, but the silver lining is that this gives me time to plan! Having had a brief look at the Strobist I understand that I need a flash that I can operate off-camera, but my time on PF suggests that Pentax is not the easiest system for flash setups. Also, my budget is limited!

So my first question is: what flash would you recommend for a beginner with limited budget, trying their hand at portrait/fashion photography for the first time.


The next problem is that I don't have a clue about fashion or portrait photography! For the first few shoots I'm vaguely picturing outfits in the vein of those worn by Megan or Joan in Mad Men - though perhaps leaning towards the latter.

So my second question(s) is(are): What are some basic guidelines for poses/angles in portrait photography, and were there any variations in the photography techniques '60s/'70s that might help me get a similar look?


Like I said, I'm pretty clueless here. However, I have time and I am very good at reading and research. Any tips, links or names would be welcome!

01-08-2016, 04:26 PM   #2
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It really depends on what you want to do. If the subject is more the outfits, 3/4s and full body shots are good choices. I do this with my cosplay stuff. (See links in my signature.) Head and shoulders shots are popular choices too.

Really, what I recommend doing is browsing Flickr. There's sooooo many model shots out there. You can draw inspiration from them. Two of my favorites are these guys from Taiwan:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/99002729@N07
https://www.flickr.com/photos/12412796@N02

There's a dozen people on the forum here who do great work too. Look at their photos and see what you like. With models, you are limited by only your imagination, really. You can do absolutely anything. Anything. Well, anything the model is comfortable with! But I find that people who are willing to pose are willing to try your whims. Not all my poses or ideas work out and land in the delete bin.

Technique....well, I started mine doing natural light only. Until quite recently, that was mostly what I did. The photos aren't as sharp but you can do fun things. I've personally moved to off camera flashes. Big, big difference. But it's something you may not want to do until you've gotten comfortable working with people. It takes a comfort level, really, because you're kinda ordering your model around a bit. Furthermore, shooting models is actually a fairly intimate experience. You have to look over her entire body, think about what looks best, see her in ways you don't see people ordinarily. It's almost borderline creepy! Professionalism makes the difference but being timid just results in bland photos. Once you get comfortable moving people around and realizing they want you to give them instruction, tell them when they look silly, look for wardrobe and hair/makeup flaws, etc, then you can start making some real art.

As for off-camera flashes, the Cactus works really well. Adorama sells the RF60 + receiver bundle:
Cactus RF60 Wireless Flash With Wireless Flash Transceiver V6 Single DICFLACACRF60 A

The receiver alone is $70 by itself, and if you do another flash, then it's $140 for the two v6's + the cost of the flash, so you won't do better than this deal. The RF60 is powerful and very functional and flexible. I have two of them. Downside is that it is not manual, so you have to do guesswork if you don't have a lightmeter. Really depends on your model's patience.

I also recommend a softbox. Umbrellas are clunky and hard to use. I paid $15 for my softbox. You can get a stand for a similar amount of money or just use your tripod if you have one already.
01-08-2016, 04:28 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by clockworkrat Quote
but my time on PF suggests that Pentax is not the easiest system for flash setups. Also, my budget is limited!
That is not correct for your application. Pentax flash is not as sophisticated as others but I find most of the cool features never get used anyway. For simple portraits Pentax is just fine and no different than any other system.
Anyway, you have to decide if you want to go P-TTL flash or manual flash. And you have to decide if you want studio strobes (monolights) or hot shoe flashes.

In most cases, studio photographers are going to use manual because the set is fixed, the exposures are known and in many cases the strobes, reflectors and backgrounds are all fixed in place. You put the model in front of the background and shoot. Your flash settings have been tested and set beforehand.

Wedding photographers or those shooting on location may want to use P-TTL because the conditions are changing, they are moving, the model is moving and so.

If you are looking at doing straight portraits I would suggest starting with a basic manual kit such as Cactus or Yongnuo with radio triggers. These will still be useful down the road if you do go P-TTL.

You have already looked at the Strobist site, here is some more info: Introduction to Portrait Lighting

You can do portraits with a single flash, particularly if you have some window light to work with too. But a two light setup gives you more flexibility and then you can add hair lights or background lights as needed.

You should start with either umbrellas or softboxes and two light stands and two flashes with radio triggers. You can either buy a kit with all you need or buy it as you need it / learn it off ebay. Used lighting gear is mostly fine and some older gear is quite reasonable.

Here is an example of a full kit: Cactus V6 + RF60 Wireless Flash & Transceiver Studio Lighting Kit B - Cactus Store Not recommending this, just for illustration.
01-08-2016, 04:41 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by clockworkrat Quote
For a while I've been wanting to try out portrait photography, but haven't had the nerve to ask anyone to model. Now, however, I have discovered that a friend likes their vintage (e.g. '60s/'70s) outfits and is happy to model. Unfortunately, my K-30 is currently in for repair, but the silver lining is that this gives me time to plan! Having had a brief look at the Strobist I understand that I need a flash that I can operate off-camera, but my time on PF suggests that Pentax is not the easiest system for flash setups. Also, my budget is limited!

So my first question is: what flash would you recommend for a beginner with limited budget, trying their hand at portrait/fashion photography for the first time.


The next problem is that I don't have a clue about fashion or portrait photography! For the first few shoots I'm vaguely picturing outfits in the vein of those worn by Megan or Joan in Mad Men - though perhaps leaning towards the latter.

So my second question(s) is(are): What are some basic guidelines for poses/angles in portrait photography, and were there any variations in the photography techniques '60s/'70s that might help me get a similar look?


Like I said, I'm pretty clueless here. However, I have time and I am very good at reading and research. Any tips, links or names would be welcome!
if you use you tube search westcott at b&h...the video titled how to harness the power of portable flash is excellent for beginning portraiture...about an hour long

01-08-2016, 05:59 PM   #5
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If you want a good and cheap flash then buy a Yongnuo yn560iii or yn560iv, both are manual flashes but are very good and cheap, one advantage of those is that they have the triggers integrated into the flash, I recommend you to buy the yongnuo yn560tx controller for them, that way you can adjust the flash from the camera.
01-08-2016, 06:28 PM   #6
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I use a Bolt flash which is P-TTL and supposedly able to be used wirelessly (haven't ventured there yet, I have a hate-hate relationship with flash photography). I have zero complaints about it.

Its on B&H for $160.

Bolt VS-510P Wireless TTL Shoe Mount Flash for Pentax VS-510P
01-08-2016, 06:34 PM - 1 Like   #7
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I have found the cactus transceiver and flash recommended above to be outstanding in terms of price/performance. If that is beyond your budget then many older flashes can be used with cheap triggers available on ebay and similar, but these will not have the convenience of controlling flash output power from the camera position. (but please be aware that voltages in some older flashes can fry your camera, so please, please check before you go down this path.)

If you are keen to take the idea further a cheap flash/light meter is a very good investment and saves a lot of time ''chimping'' to get the exposure correct.There are countless youtube videos which will help you get to grips with flash techniques. If you can put up with the blatant plugs Joe Brady might be worth looking up.

Good luck
01-08-2016, 09:48 PM   #8
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I have an ancient flash meter I bought from Adorama as part of one of their cheap starter kits about 1981. I got one with two large and two small heads, three light stands, miles of cable, snoot, barn door, two large and two small umbrellas and a flash meter that I used last Christmas along with a couple of the heads and umbrellas. The heads were optically triggered by the on board flash. They still work, mostly. The weak part was the flash head mounts that came apart after a couple of decades.

I suggest, that for $100 or so, you can invest in an inexpensive starter kit and try it out. If you hate it, you are out $100. If you love it, gradually upgrade the gear for more power, field battery packs and so on.

01-09-2016, 02:32 AM - 2 Likes   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by clockworkrat Quote
, but my time on PF suggests that Pentax is not the easiest system for flash setups. Also, my budget is limited!
It is *very* easy to do a flash setup on Pentax, Clockworkrat, and if your budget is limited you're looking at manual flashes and they operate off generic controllers you could also use with Canon or Nikon.


Shot below is off a cheap radio unit, triggering someone else's expensive manual studio strobe.



Last edited by clackers; 01-09-2016 at 03:40 PM.
01-10-2016, 07:42 AM - 1 Like   #10
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My advice, having invested a bit in different flash types, is go totally manual from the start. A+ performance.
01-12-2016, 02:05 PM   #11
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Budget-wise Yongnuo 560IV plus radio trigger RF-603 (also from Yongnuo) is really good option, as long as you don't use K-3 II. It costs next to nothing (compared to Pentax flashguns), so you won't waste your money on expensive gear should portraits turn out to be not your thing.
01-13-2016, 08:24 AM   #12
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Although I've nothing against manual flashes, as a first flash I would rather look for a used P-TTL flash (360, 540, Metz...). You can easily find one for about the same price of a manual flash + RF triggers, a used 360 going for about 100$-150$. Don't forget that your K-30 can trigger the flash wirelessly by using the onboard flash in controler mode and works just fine for indoor work. You then have the best of both world: you can work the flash in manual mode if you wish to, but also have full P-TTL functionality, which can be quite useful. Honestly, I think everyone should have at least one P-TTL capable flash in their toolbox... It still time to complement with manual flashes afetr that if the need arise.
01-14-2016, 12:02 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by CarlJF Quote
(...) everyone should have at least one P-TTL capable flash in their toolbox.
Definitely - I've got 360, 540, and Yongnuo. A word of caution to Clockworkrat: you probably know that wireless Pentax flashguns use optical triggering, not radio one. As result, master and slave units must 'see' each other or at least 'see' stream of light from master. Usually this is not a problem in studio, but outdoor, the range turns out to be pretty short, and sunlight may prevent the remote system from operating entirely. As you see, there are pros and cons to both solutions, so in the end this is your call which way to go.
01-15-2016, 04:21 PM   #14
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I really appreciate all the tips from everyone. Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to replace my camera body before doing any lighting work.
01-16-2016, 11:32 AM   #15
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Bad news indeed, hope your next camera will be Pentax
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