Photography cheat sheet: off-camera flash

infographic on using a flashgun off camera
(Image credit: Future)

Now that the ISO sensitivity on modern mirrorless camera (opens in new tab)s is so good, you might be wondering, what is flash, and is it still useful for photography? (opens in new tab) Working with flash allows you to change the direction of the light, control where the shadows fall, and use an array of modifiers to make the light source less (or more) obvious.

There's nothing wrong with using a flashgun on the hot shoe of your camera, but if you move your light source off-camera this gives you a myriad of new creative options to try.

There are two ways to use your camera flash off-camera: tether your flashgun to your camera’s hot shoe using a cable, or use a two-part ‘master’ and ‘slave’ wireless flash system. The simplest is the traditional sync cable that provides a physical connection between the camera’s hot shoe and the best flashgun or strobe. The problem here is that these cables aren’t typically very long, and there’s a risk of yanking over flashguns and lighting stands if you move the camera.

Natural light vs flash – which is better?

Wireless flash triggers can offer more flexibility without the trip hazard. It’s a two-part system, with a ‘master’ and one or more ‘slave’ units. The slaves are typically triggered by infrared light, although this requires a line of sight between the master transmitter and a slave’s receiver. Radio control is reserved for higher-end lights; it doesn’t require a line of sight, so you can conceal slave units behind objects or in modifiers.

Wireless has evolved hugely since the days of cheap and cheerful optical flash triggers that made a flashgun fire when they detected light from another flashgun. These days, wireless flash comes in infrared or radio, both of which offer more control over your remote flashguns.

Below, we've created an infographic that you can save and refer back to.

Photography cheat sheet: Using off-camera flash

We've put together this simple infographic/cheat sheet explaining the elements that go into using off-camera flash. Why not open it up in a full window, or save it to your camera roll for reference later? (Image credit: Future)

Make sure to keep us bookmarked for more great photography cheat sheets (opens in new tab).

You might also like to read: the exposure triangle explained (opens in new tab), how to understand f-stops (opens in new tab), and our general Photography tips (opens in new tab) and tricks.

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Lauren Scott
Managing Editor

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.