How to use a speedlight or strobe off the camera

How to use a speedlight or strobe off the camera

Have you ever found yourself wanting to shoot with your flash off the camera, but not sure where to start or maybe wondering why would you even bother?

If you are wondering why do people bother, simply because when your flash is on the camera, unless you are bouncing it off something like a wall or the roof you are going to get really hard light on your subject and even if you are bouncing it off a surface you will most likely still have flat and ultimately boring looking image.

Take the flash off the camera, move it to the side of your subject, maybe add a reflector and all of a sudden you have highlights, shadows and light fall off, which effectively means you now have a pro looking shot!

OK so now the flash is off the camera but how do you get it to fire?

And what if you like using TTL how can you do that when the flash is off the camera?

If you don’t know what TTL means, it means “through the lens”, in other words what ever your camera is seeing through the lens at your current focal length, that will be used to calculate what power your flash will need to fire at to correctly expose the current scene.

This takes all the guess work “and sometimes the fun” out of your shot, but if that’s what you like to do, your two options for doing this with the flash off the camera are:

  • get a radio trigger that supports TTL for your flash “this is strangely also most likely the cheaper option”
  • or if you have two flash units you can use one on the camera and one off the camera. For the flash on the camera set the flash to master mode. for the flash off the camera set it to slave mode “if you not sure how to do this, just look in the manual or use your friend google to find how to do this for your model of flash” Once you have set this up, when you take your shot the master will send information to the slave on when to fire and at what intensity.

The image below is of two low cost radio transceivers, transceivers have the ability to act as the trigger or the slave. These things can come in all shapes and sizes and also the price can vary dramatically, note as I said the below triggers are low cost and would not support TTL.

So how do setup your flash if you use a trigger that does not support TTL, in other words a trigger that can’t tell your flash what power to fire at?

There are a few methods to do this, one would include buying a light meter which most people don’t bother with now days.

A cheaper solution is to use chimping!

Do do some chimping attach the trigger to the camera and receiver on the flash.

Set your flash to manual mode and set the power to half.

Take a test shot and see how it is exposed, if the image is too dark, increase the flash output by one stop, if the image is too bright decrease the output by one stop.

Although this method is known as chimping don’t let the name get you down, in time you will be able to look at the lighting conditions in a scene and know how much power to give the flash before you even fire the first shot.

TIP: When you are using your flash off camera, try adding a shoot through or bounce back umbrella or even mini softbox to the flash. This will soften the light and create much more flattering images of your subjects.

For some lighting setups using just one light, take a look at my previous blog post one light setups

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