Friday, March 13, 2009

Free Photo Tip Friday 3-13-09

Hello again, welcome to BrewyetPhoto's.....(say with a loud booming Monster Truck Announcer voice!!) FREE PHOTO TIPS FRIDAY..FRIDAY...FRIDAY..!!!!!!! It's the photography tips blog where you always get what you paid for!

Today I'll be talking about Off Camera Flash.

OK, enough of this selfish hype and useless banter. Lets get to talking about camera gear and stuff. Here I goes! Photography is ALL ABOUT LIGHT! Yes, I'm hollering. If you don't control light, your pictures will just be snapshots. On-camera flash has it's purpose. I use it often. (I'm not talking about the little pop up flash that's built into the camera.) When walking around shooting, by all means, use on camera flash. Get a good flash that mounts into the hot shoe of your camera. It will improve your photos by light years. (a little flash pun....) But, today, I want to talk more about taking the flash off of the camera to add more of a dimensional quality to your photos. There are SO many ways to do this, but I'm going to keep it simple and use Plain Old English, heretofore known as POE. For more in-depth info on this subject, pack a lunch and a blanket, and spend days reading The Strobist 101. This guy is the Yoda of Off Camera Flash.

Off camera lighting used to scare the daylights (pun intended..hehe) out of me. I thought it was some kind of weird voodoo that only master photographers could do. Well I was wrong. Because if Tom could do it, I knew it wasn't just a Master Photographer thing. (LOL Tom, just a joke!! Tom is a Yoda of many photography things as well.) Anyway, all it takes to do off camera flash is: (1) a flash,(2) a flash modifier, (3) a way to trigger the flash, (4)a flash holder and (5) a light stand.

(1)Flash: The flash can be anything from a cheap Vivitar 285HV to a more expensive Canon 580EXII. Or, anything in between. Important things to note when looking for a flash to use are, how does the flash trigger? Does it have a PC terminal, Hot shoe only, or an optical slave trigger? I prefer using the PC terminal method....because that's what my flashes have.

(2) Flash Modifiers: Basically, a flash modifier is something that "modifies" the light coming from your flash.....duhh. Straight on flash is harsh and directional. It causes harsh shadows and red eye and ugly shiny spots on people's faces. Modifiers soften the light so that it is more pleasing. They also diffuse the light to spread it around more so that shadows are softened and less noticeable. There are more diffusers on the market than Carter has Liver pills! (Whatever the heck that means....) The biggest portable modifier is the umbrella. There are different kinds and sizes of umbrellas. I use 42 incher that can be used as a shoot through or bounce. If you don't want to mount an umbrella on top of your camera, there are other options. See below for more examples of flash modifiers.

(3) Triggers: This is how you make the flash fire. You can use a cord that goes from your camera to the flash. (Not recommended due to trips on cords, tangled mess, can only use one flash, etc....) The best way is to use a wireless remote trigger. This consists of a transmitter that fits on your camera and a receiver that hooks up to the flash. There are MANY styles of remote triggers. The most expensive ones are made by PocketWizzard these are the cat's meow, but, they'll make your wallet skinny. The cheapest ones are made by Cactus. (These are labeled, "PovertyWizzards") I use some that are in between. They are made by Alien Bees. They are professional quality and won't break the bank. Sure, pocketwizzards can trigger your flash from 1600 feet away, but, I'm usually a little closer that that to my flash! :-)

(4)Flash Holder: There are many kinds! Look HERE for a page to B&H Photo. I would spend more or less money depending on how much you plan on using them.

(5)Light Stand: Again, depending on how much you use em, the price range is wide. HERE are the ones that I use. HERE is an El-cheapo version.

The Alien Bee receiver. This is the side that plugs into the flash unit.

Here is the transmitter.

I typically use the umbrella setup when shooting group shots at weddings and such. They provide a wide and even lighting. I can light up a big group with just two of these setups, and I don't have to drag out my big studio lights.

Snapshots of a typical off-camera setup:

Flash Modifiers: These modifiers are mainly used while the flash is mounted to the camera and you are walking around with it. But, you can also use them for off camera use. Like when the wind is blowing too hard to use an umbrella or when you are just shooting one person.

The Lightsphere: GREAT modifier! I use this one when I have low ceilings to bounce off of. It provides beautiful soft light. But, it's really bulky in the camera bag. (People always ask me at weddings, "Ma, wat dat ting is on dat flash der?")
The Omnibounce: One word for ya, Cheap. But, it works good for certain things. I use this one mainly when shooting outdoors with my 70-200 lens. With this diffuser on, I can point the flash directly at the subject to provide some fill light.
Demb Flip-It: I use the jumbo model. This is a GREAT diffuser for use when there is no ceiling (outdoors) or when the ceiling is really high. That big ole white thing tilts so you can force more or less light onto your subject.
Here are some examples photos using off camera flash. These types of photos are impossible to get with just a flash on the camera. The light would be too directional and harsh.
Two flash setup with the Lightsphere on one and the Flip-It one the other.

This one was a two umbrella setup.
Flip-It on a light stand
Used big reflector as modifier. (Paul is sometimes my "Voice Activated Light Stand")... get this shot.

Just remember that I have only scratched the surface of this subject with this post. We could break down this subject into a year's worth of blog posts. But, hopefully I took the voodoo out of this subject just a little. So, go out and buy some gear and give it a try! Your pictures will only get better for it. As always, PLEASE leave some comments in the section below. And sign up to follow the blog, just in case I have something really important to say....yea right! Have a GREAT weekend....Chris


  1. Quality Post Chris, Lots of good info presented in an entertaining fashion. Makes me want to go spend some more money! Have you seen the new TTL Pocketwizards?

  2. Thanks Tom, you know as well as I that this is only the surface of this game. But, a couple people have been asking questions, so I figured I'd share. The new PW's are so tempting!! I show do want some! But, I'm trying to do more with what I already have, and try to save some $$. Thanks...Chris

  3. yeah thanx mr genius now you goin to make me be broke but happy broke ! haha

  4. Holy Wow... that was a great read. I have to agree with the above comments... you are gunna kill my pocketbook if i keep readig this blog.