Off Camera Flash Settings Without a Light Meter: The Breakdown with Miguel Quiles

In this episode of The Breakdown, I’m going to talk to you guys about how I set up my lights in the studio without a light meter. Welcome back to The Breakdown, my name is Miguel Quiles, and I’m here in the studio today with Emily, and today I want to talk to you guys about a question that I get all the time, in the comments section, which is how did I determine what my power settings are from my light, and so what I’m going to do today is I’m going to break down exactly how I arrived at my settings, without having to use a light meter. Before we get started, let me explain to you everything that I’m using here to take these photos. So today I have the Sony A7RIII with me, i have it paired up with their battery grip, which is super handy, and super useful, when you have to take portrait style photos. Makes it much easier for you to hold the camera. I’ve got the Sony 85 mm f/1.8. One question that I get pretty often in the comments section, people will ask why am I am using the 85 f/1.8, if I have the 85 G Master, and to be quite honest with you, the reason is that sometimes you get lazy in the studio. You don’t want to hold a heavier lens the whole day the 85 f/1.8 is much smaller, it’s much lighter, and usually if I’m not as tired, that can be a lot more creative. So in professional scenarios, if I’m working with a client, I would probably default to using the 85 f/1.4, but in this case, I love the 1.8 because it’s very sharp, it gives me very comparable results, but it’s much lighter, and I’m using the Profoto air remote, so this is what I’m going to be using to take all of the photos for this tutorial, and let’s go ahead, and let’s talk about the lighting, and what we’re using for our light shapers. Let’s walk through the lighting setup, that we’re going to use for today, and for all of these shots, I’m using a Profoto D2 and that Profoto D2 is going to be my main light. I have it set to channel A, so that I’m able to control it from the remote. It’s paired up with a Profoto 5 ft octa. This is probably one of my favorite light shapers, especially to use in the studio because honestly, you can make anybody look good with a 5-ft octa, so chances are if you see a majority of my work… probably eighty 85% percent was lit with this size of modifier. Now if you’re watching this, and you’re saying, oh you know he’s using a Profoto light, I can’t afford that right now. Please understand that all of the stuff that I’m showing you right now, you could do with whatever lights it is that you choose. There’s gonna be pros and cons as far as color temperature. As far as power output, all that’s gonna be different however you could take a speedlight. In this case if it’s a five-foot octa, you’re probably going to need a bunch of speed lights, you might need three or four to equal the type of output that you’re getting from this strobe. the recycle time might not be as fast, but you can use whatever strobes, whatever flashes that you choose to use, or whatever it is that you own! Just try to set up something comparable to this, and you’re going to see that the results are going to be in the same ballpark. Now for the fill light we’re actually using another Profoto D2, and then the softbox, that we’re using it’s actually a one by six strip bank from Profoto, and I really love using this because you actually get this like really beautiful catch light in the bottom of the eye. And with this Avenger c-stand, I could position this fill light to basically either be very bright in the catch light, or kind of move it down to where you don’t see it impacting the photo as much. Now the question that I’m getting all the time is, with these two lights, how do I arrive at my settings if I’m not using the light meter? So now that you understand what it is that I’m using, we’re going to talk about how I dial in those settings to my own taste, and how you guys are able to do it as well! Let’s go ahead, and figure out how we’re going to dial in this recipe, this lighting recipe. So the first thing that I always do when I’m shooting in the studio, is my very first photo. I’m taking it with the strobes turned off, and what I’m attempting to do, is I’m trying to take a photo in the studio where all of these lights that are in here, are not impacting the exposure. So there’s two ways to be able to do that, technically, there’s more, there’s three ways maybe, even four, I don’t know! The main ways that you’re going to be able to do this are going to be by, controlling your aperture, your shutter speed, your ISO, and you could also the fourth way, is by using neutral density filters to be able to control the exposure. That way, but that’s a little more complicated than what we’re going to talk about today. Instead we’re going to use high speed sync to be able to control our exposure in this room, and also to be able to shoot wide open with our aperture. Now I’m going to shoot these photos at f/3.5 for the aperture, and I chose that aperture because I want to make sure that her skin texture is nice and sharp and in detail. That her eyes are sharp and in focus, but then her hair and everything else basically will blend, and just blur away into the background, and that the background will have a nice blur as well. At f/3.5 I’m going to be ensured that all of that’s going to be in focus. Now if I’ve dialed in that aperture, the only other things that I’m going to be able to change is my shutter speed, and my ISO so what I’m going to do is, using the Sony camera it makes it kind of easy because I could see the exposure in the viewfinder. What I’m going to do is, I’m going to try to get the scene to be completely dark to where this light that’s in the studio, is not actually lighting the photo! So I’m going to try first and I’m going to try a high shutter speed. We’re going to try 1,5000th of a second and I’m able to do this because the strobes have high-speed sync. So this is one thing you want to keep in mind, if you have strobes that don’t have high speed sync, you’re going to be shooting at a higher aperture. Maybe an f/8, and it’ll work perfectly fine. So we’re going to try 1/5000th thousandth of a second, and the goal here is to have a photograph, where you’re not able to see the model at all, and I know it sounds kind of counterintuitive, but what we’re trying to do is basically light her with just these light shaping tools. I don’t want the light from the studio, I don’t want all these back lights because I can’t control them. They’re a different color temperature, but I can’t control these, I can move them closer, move them away, put them to the right, to the left. I have a lot of control. So this first photograph I’m looking at, and at 1/5000th of a second you really can’t see her. It doesn’t look like too much ambient light is actually exposing her, but I’m going to take a chance here. I’m just going to go ahead and go up to 1/6400th of a second. Take another photograph here, perfect, and I’m always shooting tethered in the studio. One of the big reasons is that it’s much easier for me to evaluate these things. If I see it on a big screen as opposed to trying to look at it on the smaller monitor at 1/6400th of a second f/ 3.5, ISO 200, I have a completely dark image. Completely underexposed, you can’t see the model at all. Once we have this baseline I’m going to go ahead, and turn on my lights and the first thing that I’m going to do. I’m actually going to go ahead, and just try to dial in the main light, and try to get that to look proper. Then I’m going to dial in the power for this bill light, then I’m going to turn them both on at the same time, and see how they blend together. So let’s go ahead, and let’s get the main light dialed in, so what I’ve done. All I’ve done is just turn on this light. The bottom light is not on, so we’re going to take a test shot here, and as far as how I arrived at the settings, ’cause this is a very common question that I get. I just dial the settings to where.. I think they might need to be! Over time as you do this more and more, you’re going to notice that you’re going to get very lucky! That you just turn on the lights, you dial in a power setting that you think is going to be correct, and nine times out of ten you’re in the ballpark, so I’m taking this first photograph. It’s a little bit underexposed, so what I’m going to do is, I can look at it and tell that it’s probably about two stops underexposed. So I’m just going to go ahead on the remote take the main light up to +2, and then I’m going to go ahead and take another photograph. Very good, and now the main light is looking… just wait for this to transfer – it’s looking pretty good. So the main light looks fantastic, and all I did was just raise it up two stops. Now if you take this photograph and you notice that at two stops, is still under exposed once again dial the power up on your main light until you get the exposure correct. Now that we have the main light set up, I’m going to turn off the main light and we’re going to turn on our fill light. And you could actually just go ahead and test push the test button to make sure that it’s going off, and so we’re going to go ahead now, and we’re going to check out the fill flash… to make sure it’s in the right position, and that it has the right power. There we go, and I guess I didn’t mention this earlier, but our settings in the camera are not going to change! Once we figured out what that proper setting is in the studio to negate the ambient light. We’re not going to play with our settings. From that point forward the only adjustments that we’re making are to the power level of our strobes, now the fill light in this case is very, very underexposed. It’s not doing very much, I’m gonna go ahead, and I’m going to raise that two stops, and again I’ve arrived at that by pure guesstimation. Right you could get a light meter, you could light meter this. You could be done, but a light meter could cost you seven or eight hundred bucks. If you’re on a budget, and you just want to learn lighting. You don’t have to have a light meter to do studio lighting, you could just guess and get to your proper exposure. So here, great so now the fill light is looking pretty good. I raised that up two stops and theoretically when I turn on this main light, and the two blend together we should be in business. So let’s turn on our main light, test them out again. I haven’t changed the settings at all. We’re going to take a photo, looks pretty good! We”re seeing a nice blend between the main light, and the fill light. So now that we have that I’m going to go ahead and start shooting, and try to get some good poses, and good expressions. So everyone, that is how I dial in my settings when I’m shooting off camera flash in the studio. Hope you guys found this useful. If you’re here watching this right now, make sure that you give Emily a follow on Instagram. We’ll put that in the description below, and any questions that you guys have. Please leave them in the comments section. I do read them, and I do try to reply back, and if the question is really good, I may end up doing a follow-up video answering those questions, in a future episode of A Breakdown… So thank you guys so much for watching make sure that you subscribe to AdoramaTV while you’re here and also check out the Adorama Learning Center because they have a lot more content there for you to dig through. Thank you so much again for watching The Breakdown and I will see you all in the next episode. Bye everybody.

53 thoughts on “Off Camera Flash Settings Without a Light Meter: The Breakdown with Miguel Quiles

  1. I'm new to Sony. What settings are you using in camera? Ambient and flash? How are u setting your white balance? Are u using portrait mode? I have three 60 GN speedlites by godox. I'll have a 300 WS strobe tomorrow. And thanks the video is great!!

  2. Thank you so much. As someone who is new to studio lighting, it answered a lot of my questions. Most of this is what I already thought, but it was super helpful to have someone reiterate and reinforce the information. I found it super useful to know once you have killed the ambient light, to only adjust the strobe power. Much appreciated. This short video has potentially helped me to avoid some silly mistakes on my upcoming shoot.

  3. Good informative video. While I see your point that you can certainly come up with a correct exposure by trial & error, it involves a lot of unnecessary time in the studio. It's certainly the ONLY way to go when you don't have a meter. But you can buy a new Sekonic L-308S-U for under $200. Ideal flash & ambient meter for the studio. It makes life so much easier on so many levels. And if you happen to shoot with Paul C. Buff strobes, their control module also houses a flash meter!

  4. The whaffle and deviation outweighs the info given and all the while the geezer is talking codswallop the poor girl is stood their idle, bored and trying to look interested. So much spurious and irrelevant content I lost interest after our man here said a "lot o people ask me" and then embarks on yet another whaffling inconsequential de-tour. Exhausted at this I reached for the mouse and stopped the vid. See Robert Hall's outpourings for how to stay on the goddamn point. Verbal diarrhea is not a virtue.

  5. When would you use grids on your modifiers using this setup and is there a youtube video on it…please share link in reply to this comment…how would you use this setup for a large group with two body length reflectors flagging each side?

  6. Helpful video Miquel. I'm setting up a home studio and this knowledge will definitely come in handy once I start shooting portraits. Thanks!

  7. For beginners: the part that (I feel) got left out was deciding what exposure contribution the fill light has. Visually we can see that it is not 'fully exposed' as is the main light; but, the 'ratio' or a discussion on why there's a difference between the lights would have been a helpful addition to your tutorial.

  8. 9:00 That really, really, really should have been mentioned earlier. It makes understanding what is about to happen difficult to understand.

  9. Thank you for a great tutorial! I know this was posted a while ago but hopefully you can answer anyway. Is it possible to do off camera flash with speedlights and with high speed sync? I know it works on camera but Im not sure how to apply it when using of camera. I Shoot with Canon 5D mark III, canon 430ex III and an octabox from Godot. Usually its not a problem and I can work around it but I still feel like I want to be able to shoot at lower fstops like 2.8 or 3.5.

  10. Light meters are convenient but ultimately you are not shooting for your meter settings, you are shooting shooting to create your vision. The important thing is to get out there and through trial and error learn what artistic vision you want.

  11. Thank You Miguel…. Very informative…. Thank you for taking the time …. I also use the "Shot Result Preview" on a custom button so when a trigger is on your Sony camera (a7iii) you can see the real time exposure.

  12. Hi! Do you shoot with your lens in manual or autofocus??? How do you focus in dark? Please answer to this question! Thank you so much!)))

  13. For the stand with the D2 and 5ft Octa: did you pair it with a mini boom (Kupo, Avenger, Matthews,) or did you have to go bigger with a Junior boom to rig it safely?

  14. What sort of metering mode should be used, spot, evaluative or center-weighted? Do these modes even matter in manual?

  15. Pfft well done but you should have titled the video strobe chimping 101. TTL is the candy way to go. Key in group A fill in group B set your ratio on the remote I usually set my flash exp comp in camera to +2/3 for studio portraits. Camera in manual set your iso shutter/ aperture combo wherever you want and let the TTL do its magic. No Meters involved no chimping, no guessing at initial settings needed, just a few quick settings on your camera and flash remote.

  16. Would the same tutorial instructuons apply if you were outside? Or is there a different or better process of doing this.? I need some basic guidance please. I had to step away for a few years from learning what i knew before and im completely lost regarding lighting. I now own a D750 and a dual S1 HSS light kit and im having a heck of a time trying to figure this out again. Im willing to connect with anyone who can help stamp this in my head.
    Its taking me too long to set up and troubleshoot when im doing my shots. I know it has to be simple. I just need that spark from someone. Thank you.

  17. My mentor, 30+ years in photography, let all of his flashes to the lowesr power-settings so that he doesn’t have to wait for recycling time. Period.
    That being said, he uses 4K watts strobes, and he’s the type to have 4 of those to lit a group (well he did up to 200 people not kidding) and hire an assistant to hold a small strobe for events.
    But that’s what he told me to do and that make sense to me. He does hwve a flash meter, but no light-meter.

  18. Very useful…But I would suggest the video could address: white balance, positions of main and fill and how it would affect the output. also the distance for the model and the background is also important,.

  19. Hi Miguel thanks for the video very interesting I want to know what I need consider to select the type and size of light modifier for in location out of studio photography …. thanks in advance

  20. If you can afford Profoto you can afford a light meter. By the way, in studio work, why would anyone use HSS? And higher ISO just could mean that image is cheap. The base ISO to shoot looks more professional. Lastly, by the time he began shooting without the light meter, he spent longer, thus the subject waiting. This is a problem because it means to the subject you have no idea what you’re doing and time goes by faster. In conclusion, you may end up short and a lost client all for not having a light meter that’s worth less than $200 dollars.

  21. This background music…I actually went outside looking for the icecream truck and came back really disappointed…😅 Great breakdown!

  22. My light meter came with my first flash kit and is 20 years old. It just sits there, I honestly do not even know how it would help me. It takes just as long to guess the light.

  23. I have a question. When I lose all the ambient light my camera can’t find a focus point. How do I fix this?

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