Off camera Flash (OCF) photography is one of my favorite areas of photography.

I love that with a flash you can create simple light to mimic the soft natural light coming through a window, the dramatic light of a sunny afternoon outdoors and everything in-between.

When you have the skills to use OCF you never have to worry about what the light will be like where you will be shooting because you know you can bring some good light with you. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but making beautiful images in a windowless room with fluorescent strip lights overhead is definitely a challenge.

I believe every photographer, especially those who photograph people, should have the ability and skillset to use flash when needed to capture the type of image they wish to create.

Instead of saying “I hate the look of flash”, learn how to use it in a way that fits your style and your vision for what you would like to create and then when you are in a situation with light that doesn’t meet your standards, you won’t have to worry, because  you can create your own.

Setting Up Your Flash Equipment

I understand that OCF can be very intimidating to jump into. It seems complicated but it is really quite simple to learn the basics.

First, you will need to gather your equipment.

The image above shows some of the basic gear that I use when using flash for portrait photography.

  • A flash unit (you could use a speedlite or a strobe).
  • A swivel umbrella bracket.
  • A light stand.
  • A modifier.

In the image above a modifier, known as a shoot through umbrella is shown.  I wanted to feature this modifier because it is the least expensive but will get you started in creating beautiful portraits.

When setting up your gear remember the words to the child ‘s classic song, “the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone…”

Connect your flash to your umbrella adapter by using the cold shoe to mount and lock your flash in place.

Connect your umbrella adapter to your light stand by placing it over the stud and tightening the knob. You can see the golden stud in the image above. Your light stand may come with them if not be sure to order some.

Slide the shaft of the umbrella through the umbrella mount and tighten the knob so that it does not slide back out.

You have finished your basic setup, now you need to enable your flash to fire.

FIRING YOUR FLASH

You have several options on how to fire your flash.

  • If you are on a tight budget and your camera has a pop-up flash, you may be able to use it to fire your OCF. My camera does not have that option so I have never used this technique, but here is a link to a post explaining how to do it.
  • You could buy a sync cord. These cords come in various lengths and connect your camera to the flash.  I personally dislike using these because they limit movement, pull out of the camera easily and are a tripping hazard for you and your subject (or children wandering through your space).
  • You can use a wireless remote system to fire your flash.

My preferred method is to use the wireless remote system. In order to do this, you will need a transmitter and a receiver for your flash and camera. There is a multitude of these available for practically any DSLR camera.

For the budget minded you could try the cactus triggers through ebay. This is what I started with but I quickly upgraded to a different system as I found they were very unreliable and cheaply made.

I have heard great things about the Yongnuo system and I was going to purchase this for myself until I came across my current system.

If you have the budget for it, Pocketwizards are considered top of the line in the industry and offer a variety of features. I have used these on occasion and liked the ease of use and abilities it offers.

For the past 10 years, I used the CyberSync system from Paul C Buff and was very happy with their products and their incredible customer service. Recently, I began to feel a bit restricted by their products and after a lot of research switched to the FlashPoint system.

I now use the Flashpoint transciever to control my flashes and I and I enjoy it’s simple layout, practical design and extra contorl it gives me.

Summary

You will need to invest a small amount into your flash system but when comparing it to a new lens or camera body, it really is a manageable sum and will offer you endless opportunities to crafting the light you need when you want it.

Once again, here is the gear list and budget friendly links to help you get started:

A shoot through umbrella for under $15

Umbrella bracket for under $10 

Lightstand for under $60

Depending on your budget and level of commitment you could look at a variety of flashes.

The Yongnuo Flash system could be a great place to start when paired with a compatible transmitter. You can purchase the flash and transmitter for under $110. Be sure and research what products will be compatible with your specific camera.

I would recommend you do your own research into the above equipment to find out what is the best fit for you and your specific needs. If you are savvy you could get started for around $200.

If you have been bitten by the flash bug and have not yet heard about Strobist then go check it out immediately to learn about all things flash. This is the resource that got me started and was imperative in my early flash education.

In my next post, I will go into creating images using a flash and a shoot-thru umbrella.

I hope this helps you jump into OCF photography, I don’t think you will ever regret it!

 

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