Viewfinder Episode 3: The Off-Camera Flash

It’s time once again to answer a question from you the readers. In the comments of the post about ND filters Ben Priest from Ben Priest Photography asked this:

“(Could you talk about) things relating to flash gels and wireless flash use would be useful, as I have been experimenting recently with them.”

Well Ben thanks for your question, but I’m going to break this up into two posts this one will be about the wireless flash and then later we’ll talk about flash gels. So what is wireless flash, why would you want to use it, and how let’s get to it and find out.

First of all what is wireless flash. Well basically it’s pretty much what the name implies, it’s the ability to use a strobe or speedlight off camera and sync it to the shutter speed without using a pc-sync cord. This comes in handy when your controlling multiple lights at once and you want to make sure all strobes fire at once rather than trusting the slave function,. Also, it removes all the wires coming off the camera that could potentially limit your walking range away from a light source.

Transmitters can range in price from $20 USD all the way up over $200 USD depending on what kind of options you want (TTL control, multiple channels, greater range….) If your not looking for the spinning rims or the neon lights, a simple flash trigger will do nicely for your needs and will cost less than $50 bucks (mine were $25 on Ebay).

Now how do you use them is the fun part. By having your flash on a wireless trigger you can really put it any where you can dream up. Inside things, way up high shooting down or the opposite shooting up, have the light shooting from the side, anything is possible, the biggest thing here is to get that flash off the hotshoe and away from the camera. Even if it means holding it in your hand out and away from your body like an octopus.

This allows the light to look more natural and dramatic. It brings the shadows into a more useable range rather than being flat and outlining the subject like a mug shot. Plus you get rid off red eye (the photographers curse) because the light is no longer on axis with the camera. Easiest thing to remember is straight on flash, unmodified, on axis with camera = BAD harsh unflattering light and shadows. Angled off camera flash = GOOD no red eye, flattering highlights and shadows and easy to control light direction and spill.

Here’s a few examples that I’ve shot using a wireless trigger:

068pool party 204Smoke 5nathan and day 093

The best thing you can do is experiment with the setup. Get the trigger hook it to your flash and go for it. If you don’t get a TTL transmitter or own a flash with TTL control then you’ll need to manually set the flash but that’s all that bad either. Get that flash of the hot shoe and find out the remarkable world of wireless flash and be a strobist.

One final note, I learned a lot by going to where world known photographer David Hobby gives an extensive course on lighting 101 for the amazing price of FREE! I really suggest checking it out. Coming p in the next episode of Viewfinder, using gels. Stay tuned and thanks again for the question Ben.


About Mark Birks
Professional photographer specializing in fine art photography and portraiture.

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