Getting Started with Off-Camera Flash

February 18, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

From there, a world of creativity opens up to you! If you set your camera to underexpose on purpose – by dialling in -2 stops of underexposure, for instance – then the background will be dark. But if you then expose your subject with a flash, they will be exposed correctly. This can give stunning results and is a technique used by many pro photographers.

Of course, as you become more advanced the best way is to set the exposure on the camera manually then manually adjust the power level of the flash to get the desired effect. This means you can make the background as light or dark as possible, and change the exposure on the subject easily, too. With practice and a bit of experience, this can become second nature and will give a new level of consistency to your results.

The benefits of setting everything manually means not only are you in control of exposure, but you don’t need to rely on manufacturers’ own wireless systems which use infra red and therefore have limited range and need line of sight between the flash and camera. Now, you can use radio triggers which are available to suit every pocket.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

A transmitter sits on the camera hotshoe and when you push the shutter sends a signal to a receiver mounted onto the flashgun. It’s as simple as that.

Triggering more than one gun does require additional receivers, though. Although some flashguns – like many modern Nikon units – have a built-in optical slave so as soon as they detect a flash going off, they go off too.

When you’re working manually, all there is to adjust on the flash is the power level and the zoom of the head. This enables you to alter the pattern of the beam.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

The real benefit of using off-camera flash is to modify the light, by shining it through one of the commercially available accessories. Photographic umbrellas are available in lots of sizes and materials and provide a much softer and flattering light source than a bare flash head. Softboxes also give soft light, and control the spread of light better than an umbrella.

To channel the light into precise areas – ideal for rimlighting a subject or lighting the hair – then the flash light has to shone through an accessory like a snoot or a honeycomb grid. And for real drama, if you put a coloured gel in front of the flash, the light takes on the colour of the gel. This can give really stunning and unusual effects.

GettingsStarted with  Off-Camera Flash

Taking your flash off camera is lots of fun, gives great results and can become addictive! You have been warned!

If you want to learn how to use your flash off-camera for great effects, the British-based Phototraining Co run several courses suitable for all levels of photographer. Their website is or email [email protected]

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