This is the optimum way to fire multiple flashes off-camera

Multiple lights were used for this portrait: one for the main light on the model, another for the hair light through the smoke. (Image credit: Brian Worley)

Speed lights are used to illuminate subjects in the dark, but this is only the most basic way to work. Once the flash is taken off-camera, the position of the light becomes important – and the notion that other lights are used to accentuate other parts of the scene is helpful, too. 

With multiple flashes, you need to decide how to control the lights. A sender unit on the camera gives freedom to control several flashes separately using groups. Whichever method you choose, it is always good to build lighting setups one light at a time. 

Fortunately, automatic E-TTL flash is designed to work with multiple flashes. Each unit needs to be assigned to one of three groups, and the groups controlled in relation to each other. 

With two groups, A and B, the camera and flash system measures the light contribution of each group and automatically adjusts power levels to achieve your chosen ratio. Auto E-TTL flash is ideal for quick setups, or where the subject may be in a different position over a series of shots. 

About Canon Pro: Brian Worley

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(Image credit: Brian Worley)

Brian is a freelance photographer and photo tutor, based in Oxfordshire. He has unrivaled EOS DSLR knowledge, after working for Canon for over 15 years, and is on hand to answer all the EOS and photographic queries in Canon-centric magazine PhotoPlus.
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For precise control you should use manual flash exposure. Just because you decide the power of the flash, you can still decide the power of up to three groups of speed lights and change it from the camera menu or the sender unit on your camera. 

Some wireless radio units make additional flexible group modes available, enabling you to control up to five separate groups while individually setting them for manual exposure, E-TTL automatic exposure or switching them off. 

If you were lighting people at a party, you might want to use E-TTL for the main light, but manual for a separate light that is illuminating a background behind them. With the ability to switch a group on or off, you can pre-configure multiple lighting setups and rapidly switch between them. 

Just keep in mind that group mode requires the most concentration and button presses, so it isn’t always ideal!

When working with multiple lights, it’s common to assign them to groups and control them separately. Ratio control can balance up to three groups of Speedlites. (Image credit: Brian Worley)
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PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine is the world’s only 100% Canon-focused title on the newsstand. Launched in 2007, for 14 years it has delivered news, reviews, buying guides, features, inspirational projects and tutorials on cameras, lenses, tripods, gimbals, filters, lighting and all manner of photography equipment. 

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