An Intro To Off Camera Lighting

An Introduction to using off camera lighting

If you have followed this site for awhile you know how much of a fan I am of off camera lighting. I really do hate to place my flash on camera and will only do so in certain situations where I am moving around a lot (like covering the entire reception and moving from table to table at a wedding). When you take your flash off camera you start to create more dimension in your images and the creative possibilities are endless. For weddings I use off camera lighting as much as possible and am still able to setup shots very quickly and be mobile by using small speedlights. If you know your subjects will be in a contained area like the first dance for a bride and groom it’s the perfect opportunity to take that flash off the camera and start to get more creative shots.

If you are new to off camera lighting and don’t even know where to start here are some key things you will need to know (or gear you need) to get started.

  • 1. Start with a simple cord
  • – The easiest thing to do when starting out is simply buy a extension cord for your flash that will allow you to still have your flash plugged into your camera but gives you control to move it a few feet away from the camera. By using a off camera shoe cord you can basically move your flash a few feet off camera. You can basically just hold your flash with one arm and start to see the big different that makes in the image. This is a great way to start to see the difference that moving your flash a few feet off the camera axis can have. It’s also a really inexpensive way to start to get that flash off camera, you can pick up a simple off camera cord on Amazon for about $20 here.

  • 2. Types of light to use
  • – If you are a canon or nikon user both companies make decent flashes like the Canon 580 Ex II. These aren’t the most powerful flashes in the world and do have a pretty advanced ETTL system to automatically calculate exposure for you. They are fairly expensive though and if you want 3 lights to get creative with can set you back a good amount of money. For a nice manual flash I have used the Vivitar 285 units for years now and do really like these for the price. One good thing about learning to use off camera lighting with manual lights is it forces you to change the power of the lights up and down to get the exact results you are looking for and really think about the ratio of light. With ETTL sometimes we can get lazy and just accept the light that the flash automatically pushes out. Check out a review we did on the Vivitar 285 flashes.

    shoe clamp

    shoe mount clamp

  • 3. Light stands and clamps
  • – Once you start using a few lights for a location shoot you also want to have some portable light stands to use to position your lights. Since these flashes are lightweight you can get away with a 7 foot light stand that is fairly inexpensive. These usually run anywhere from $20-$40 and will do the job just fine. What you also will need though is a shoe mount clamp to connect your flash to the light stand. These also run about $20 and look for one like this Photoflex shoe mount clamp that have a hole to attach an umbrella.

  • 4. Softening light with a softbox
  • – I am a huge fan of softboxes for my monolights that I use. Although monolights are great for portraits and fairly portable they don’t travel as well as a nice small speedlight. But over the past few years there have been a lot more manufactures making attachements and accessories for speedlights and you can now get portable, small softboxes for any small flash like the Canon 580’s. Photoflex makes a great small softbox that even comes in a kit with a shoe mount, connector and stand. You can check this out here for more info: Photoflex Litedome Small Softbox Kit. Even though these softboxes are small they still aren’t cheap, if you are looking for a more affordable way to soften your light then an umbrella is always a good tool to have. An umbrella is usually under $20 and a nice white umbrella can give you a nice soft light to your images.

  • 5. Using wireless triggers
  • pocketwizard

    pocketwizard Flex TT5

    Once you have your lights setup off camera on a stand with some diffusion if needed you are almost ready to shoot. The only thing left to do is wirelessly connect your camera to the flash units so they all fire when needed. This is when a good radio trigger will come in handy and might be one of the more costly parts about shooting off camera flash. There are many different varieties out there but the one that I suggest is the PocketWizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 (amazon link). There are some great advantages to using these and you can read a little more about them in this article I wrote: Pocketwizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 review

    Thats just a brief outline of some of the tools needed for using off camera flash for your photography. Stay tuned for some more in depth articles and real life examples coming in the future! You can always subscribe to our posts at the top right of the page by putting in your email address to receive updates, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all updates. And as always if you have any questions just leave a comment below or on our Facebook wall!

    Once you have your flash off camera then it’s time to get creative! Also check out a few of our other off camera lighting articles here:

    Creative lighting for first dance photos

    Using off camera lighting for wedding photography

    Off camera lighting

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    off camera wedding lighting

    creative wedding lighting

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    Author: Mark

    Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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