Flash photography made easy: how to use off-camera flash
In this section we’ll explore how to use off-camera flash and suggest several different easy flash set-ups and illustrate their effects in a free to download photography cheat sheet.
Remove your flashgun from your camera and you’ll have the flexibility to fire it from a distance, catapulting your creative repertoire of flash techniques to dizzy new heights.
Like many of the flash photography techniques discussed in this feature, this is not nearly as complicated as it might at first sound – so persevere for the best results!
There are several ways of triggering your flash – some new cameras have the option to fire remotely without the use of a cable, thanks to functions like the Commander mode on the Nikon D300.
If you don’t have this functionality, a cable will do the job just as well, and can be picked up relatively cheaply. Here, we used an SC-17 cable with our Nikon kit, which allowed us to comfortably hold the flash at arm’s length.
By using a cable, you keep full connectivity with the camera, so the flashgun will still function in full TTL (through the lens) metering mode.
How to position your off-camera flash
Positioning the flash away from the camera allows you to create more directional side lighting, which can add drama and also give the impression that a more expensive studio lighting set-up was used.
For the dramatic shot at the top of this page, we decided to switch to Manual mode on both the camera and flash – the automatic modes are good, but they don’t give you total control over the finished effect.
For the image to work, we wanted the background to be dark and moody, so we used Manual mode to select a fast shutter speed, which in turn slightly under-exposed the background. We then set the flashgun to half power to light our model.
The combination of a wide lens, low-angle of view, dramatic side-lighting, and a dark and moody background has created a striking portrait with a professional finish.
Keep it steady
Shooting with your camera in one hand and a flashgun in the other can be a little awkward at first, and without autofocus it would be nearly impossible.
Like most core camera skills, this will take time to master. In this situation a tripod was impractical, so Ed used the arm holding the flash as a rest, which helped to keep the camera steady.
Off-camera flash photography cheat sheet: changing the direction
Using the flash off-camera means that it can be extended to a number of positions for different effects.
Look at the images in our flash photography cheat sheet below and note how positioning the light to either side, above or below the subject can create very different shots – some more flattering than others.
To see the larger version of this cheat sheet, simply click on the infographic or drag and drop it to your desktop.