Learning to Work with Off-Camera Flash

One of the first things that you learn when shooting portraits is that your photos improve dramatically if you can have your flash off camera. When I first started shooting portraits, I did what everyone first does and that is use the flash mounted to your camera.  This usually results in stark portraits that often look lifeless.  Having your flash off camera and not pointing straight at your subject also reduces the chance of red-eye shots occurring.

I am continuously trying to improve my photography whether it be landscapes or portraits and that means that I need to research and experiment.  Speaking to other photographers and working with them in sharing knowledge is also a great way to improve.   Most photographers I know are always willing to share their knowledge and experience.

There are a few ways to work with your flash off camera.  You can use an Off Camera Flash Cord which is a cord that is connected to your camera’s hot shoe mount and also to your flash.  This method works reasonably well particularly when you are not very far from your subject.  The cords come in a variety of lengths but you need to be careful of someone tripping over them.

Another way to shoot with off camera flash is to set-up your on-camera flash as a master and use additional off camera flashes as slaves.  Assuming that you have more than one flash then this method also works well. The master and the slave communicate using infrared light so they must also be in sight of each other without anything blocking their line of sight.

My preferred method of triggering my off camera flashes is to use an electronic trigger.  There are many brands of triggers available ranging from a very low price such as the Cowboy Studio Wireless triggers to a few hundred dollars each such as the Pocket Wizards that I use.  There are a lot of different brands between these two and I am unable to vouch for them as I have not used them.

Electronic triggers open up a world of possibilities as you no longer need line of site between your camera and your flash. I can have my flash set up behind a wall to light my subject and still be able to trigger it from my camera.

You need both a transmitter on your camera and a receiver for each flash that you wish to use which can increase your costs.

If you use your flash off camera it enables you to direct the light, fill in shadows or create shadows to accentuate certain parts of an image.

The sample photos that are shown in this post are from a shoot with Candace Featherstone.  We both used the shoot to experiment with different ideas that we had and it was a very enjoyable and worthwhile shoot for both of us.

Candace Featherstone

The above image was shot in an old dairy without much natural light available.  I used a flash mounted on a light stand to my right and you can see that by having the flash to the side it has created shadows making the image more interesting.

Candace Featherstone 2

Again in the above image of Candy I positioned my flash to my right which created a more interesting image than if I had had my flash on camera.

It is also important to experiment with different levels of flash output to see how it impacts on the subject.

An important point to note is that your shutter speed determines how much your background is exposed whilst your flash output determines the amount of light on your subject.  You can effectively darken your background and light your subject to focus the viewers eyes on the subject.

Below are a few more sample images from the same shoot

Candace Featherstone 3


Candace Featherstone 4

Candace Featherstone 5

 The majority of the above images were shot using a white shoot through umbrella to spread the light evenly and to also soften it.

If you would like to see more images from the shoot then head over to my flickr set and if you have any questions that I might be able to help you with then feel free to send me an email using the contact me page.