A Beginner’s Guide to Working with Off-Camera Flash

off-camera flash header

Off-camera flash can feel intimidating. You need different equipment, you have to know how to set it up, and so many others things that sometimes it can feel like it isn’t worth it. And if you are shooting in natural light, and your setting is bright enough, you don’t even need flash, right? Although natural light will suffice in many settings, sometimes even what seems like the perfect natural light needs a little help! Or the lighting in your setting may be totally off, and you can’t just scrap the shot when you could fix it with a little strategic off-camera flash! With this post, we will help you get from complete novice, to someone who will feel confident they can get the most out of their flash!

Advantage of Using Off-Camera Flash

Using an off-camera flash can really give your photos an extra boost, especially portraits! Some advantages of using off-camera flash are:

• You are no longer limited to the light that is coming in the window, or to a time of day where the light is perfect. With a flash, you can now shoot at mid-day, after peak sunlight hours, or even on an overcast day!

• Using flash can help colours pop on a flat, grey, overcast day.

• By manipulating the flash and changing its position, you can get beautiful shaped light around your subject.

• You have more control over the ambient exposure (like the sky and the light on your subject).

• With an off-camera flash, you can put the light in places where a bounced flash couldn’t go, like behind the subject or an obstacle for dramatic effects.

• Off-Camera Flash allows you to add light even if there is nowhere to bounce.

Equipment You Will Need

Now that you know the advantages of using off-camera flash, let’s go over the basic equipment you will need.

1. Speedlight (Flash)


The first thing you will need is the actual flash! There are tons of options available for you to choose from, at a wide variety of price points. You can spend anywhere from as little as $50, to hundreds of dollars on a flash, so the one you choose will depend on your budget, skill level, and what you need from a flash. If you are a beginner, you are probably better off starting with a less expensive one that you can use while you are still experimenting. Once you are more experienced and know exactly what you want out of your flash, you can look into upgrading!

No matter which flash you are choosing, keep these important features in mind:

  • A rotating head so you can angle the flash in the direction you want.
  • Consider whether it has TTL (“Through The Lens”), which is an auto setting, as well as the ability to adjust the settings manually. Auto will be useful when you are just learning, but once you have the hang of it, you may want to adjust your flash manually to get the exact results you are looking for!
  • Make sure it is compatible with your camera! You don’t necessarily have to buy a flash that is the same brand as your camera, but make sure the one you are looking at is compatible before you buy.

2. Light Stand

light stand

Speedlights don’t float in the air, so you will need something to hold them up! There are a number of options you can choose from, like regular light stands, or a GorillaPod, which would allow you to mount your speedlight on a door or place it on top of something near your subject. If you have a partner, you can also mount the light on an extension pole or monopod and have them hold it above your model. This can give you more flexibility in terms of your placement, but you may not always have another person available to hold the light for you!

3. Remote Trigger

A remote trigger allows you to fire the off-camera flash. The cheapest and most reliable option is a sync cord, which connects the speedlight to your camera with a long cable. However, this can cause a tripping hazard and limit your movement.

When you use a remote trigger, the transmitter mounts on the hot shoe (square metal bracket on the top of your camera), and the receiver attaches to your flash. This allows your camera to send a signal to the flash telling it when to go off!

4. Light Shapers

speedlight softbox

Using a speedlight as a bare light source can create a harsh style of lighting. This can look goo din some situations, but is not always what you want. In order to soften and control the light, you can use a small or medium softbox. This will create a much softer, more flattering, and more realistic looking light source for your shot.

Although off-camera flash can seem intimidating at first, knowing how to use it can really take your photography up a level. There will be times when the natural light available just doesn’t cut it! Plus, great portraits really do need artificial lighting regardless of the environment. Finding great light and knowing how to use it are learned skills! And when you know how to properly use flash, natural lighting and flash can coexist beautifully in your images and really enhance them!