Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash
Off-camera flash is a lighting technique in which a special portable flashgun or speedlight is used to take full control over the intensity of light and the direction of the light. This is one of those techniques that should be understood by all professional photographers, and today we’re going to show you the ropes and explain the equipment needed and how to get started with off-camera flash.
First of all, off-camera flash is great because there are times when natural light simply doesn’t work for the photo you’re taking. If you need more light to make a photo come to life, or if you understand how to work with the available light to enhance images using flash, this is a powerful technique.
Off-camera flash can be used in the day, in direct sunlight, and at night. There are more speedlights, flash triggers, and flash accessories available now than ever before, and a lot of them at affordable prices. This means off-camera flash is becoming more popular with enthusiasts and amateurs, allowing anyone to get the equipment they need to really control their lighting.
What is Off-Camera Flash For?
Off-camera flash is used for lighting. It’s all about light. Instead of mounting the speedlight directly to your camera and using the dedicated flash – and rather than pointing the light directly where the camera’s facing, you put your speedlight where you feel is better in relation to your subject and surroundings.
In other words, off-camera flash is for dramatic effect. Having the flash attached to your camera can be an effective method of taking pictures, but being able to place a bright source of light at any location opens up a door of possibilities. You can create portraits with more depth, you can have different intensities, and you can really take more professional photos. You can also be significantly more creative when it comes to taking pictures and portraits.
What Are the Advantages of Off-Camera Flash?
Using off-camera flash has a lot of benefits. You’re never limited to natural light or time of day. You can shoot at any time, even when it’s cloudy or dark, and still have the perfect lighting. You can shape the light however you want around your subject, you can correct bad lighting by using your own, and you have full control over ambient exposure.
So long as you have an imagination, the advantages of off-camera flash are endless. You can add light to places light wouldn’t normally go, you can make colors pop on a drab day, and you can generally have more fun playing with different lighting options.
What Equipment Do I Need for Off-Camera Flash?
The most important piece of equipment for off-camera flash is the flash itself. These are also known as speedlights. They come in a wide range of prices, with the cheapest being about $30 and some of the most expensive being upwards of $600. And just like with all your other equipment, the higher the price, the more reliable the flash is going to be.
In general, we don’t recommend purchasing a budget speedlight. It’s simply not going to work as intended and could do more harm than good to your photographs.
When picking out a flash, be sure to look for a rotating head, make sure it’s compatible with whichever camera you’ll be using the most, and make sure it comes with a reasonable warranty in case something goes wrong.
Next, you need a wireless trigger and receiver set. Considering your flash might be 20 feet away, you can’t exactly press it manually as you’re taking pictures. The wireless trigger and receiver are used to connect the flash to your camera so that when you hit the shutter button, the flash goes off when it’s supposed to.
There are several different types of triggers and receivers. The most expensive ones will allow you to change the settings without actually walking over to your flash. These are great. However, a simple trigger and receiver that does its job are really all you need.
It’s also important that you make sure you have batteries! Flash sucks batteries dry quickly, so be sure to invest in extra batteries and chargers where possible, especially if you’re doing full-day photoshoots.
Last but certainly not least, you need a specialized mount to keep the flash on. This type of stand is called an umbrella mount. The mount should screw directly onto your stand, along with the trigger. Assuming you already have a quality stand, the mount is all you need to connect the new flash and make it stable.
What Are the Best Off-Camera Flash Settings?
There is no perfect setting when it comes to off-camera flash. Every situation is going to be different. You need to think about the exposure in your background, the exposure of your flash, how much ambient light is needed in the frame, and how much light you want to add. Then you need to think about shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. All these different variables go into your settings before taking a picture.
There are three main settings to think about. First is sync speed. Always be sure to set your shutter speed no less than one stop lower than the maximum sync of your flash. Every flash has a maximum sync speed, usually something like 1/250.
The next thing to think about is shutter speed. This is what controls ambient light. It doesn’t actually affect the power of your flash. A slower shutter speed will allow more light into your camera while a faster shutter speed will darken the picture. Consider how much ambient light you want and how powerful your flash is before playing with the shutter speed.
Finally, ISO and aperture need to be set. The aperture will control how intense the light from your flash is. A lower aperture will yield more power. If you find the flash is too bright, simply increase your aperture number.
The ISO setting should be the last one tweaked. If you need a more powerful flash, try increasing your ISO. The ISO can be turned up or down to change the intensity of the flash.
How to Read a Speedlight
Just like your camera, there are different modes on your flash. Every speedlight should have a screen on it that tells you what settings are active, from your mode to your exposure compensation, and from your zoom to your aperture.
The first thing to be aware of is the different modes. TTL, or ‘Through the Lens’ is when you get a pre-flash. This means your flash will go off once to assess the situation and see how much light it needs to output. This is a great mode to have active if you’re not sure how much light is needed, or if the ambient light is changing as the pictures are being taken. For example, if your subject is moving or if the distances are changing. The flash will do the thinking for you.
You can turn off TTL mode and put it into manual. This leaves it up to you to decide how much light will be emitted from the flash. Normal ranges are between 1/1 and 1/128, with 1/1 being the most powerful and 1/128 being the least powerful. Manual gives you full control over the intensity of the flash.
Next is the exposure compensation. You can adjust this setting depending on how much light is needed. The exposure compensation is usually adjusted in stop increments which either half or double the amount of light produced.
Another important number on your speedlight is the zoom. The zoom setting here has to do with the size of the beam of light from the flash. Normally, your camera automatically sets the zoom on your flash. If you want to change it manually, you can choose to have a wider or narrower beam, with a narrower beam being more powerful and able to reach farther.
The last setting is the aperture. This is a secondary way of controlling how much light is emitted from your flash. If you lower the F-stop number, your flash will have more power.
If you want to be more creative while taking photos, a speedlight is critical. Learning how to master off-camera flash gives you way more options when it comes to how you illuminate your photos. Off-camera flash keeps your photos bright and energetic on dark days. It gives you a reliable source of light regardless of what setting you’re in. It also allows you to change the direction of the light source as you see fit.
To get started with an off-camera flash, all you need is a reliable speedlight, a trigger, and receiver, and a mount to affix it to your stand. The settings are easy to get used to, and once you learn how to bounce light off surfaces to create various effects, you’ll have way more fun taking photographs.
Plus, speedlights are pretty affordable and widely available! Nothing is stopping you from picking up a speedlight before the end of the day and starting a practice photoshoot tonight!
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