Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So you want to start using an off camera flash...

In this tutorial. I will go over all the basics of off camera strobe lighting and how everything works together. While this may seem rudimentary for most photographers, this is a major contributor to why allot of people don't buy lighting gear. After the next few posts, you will see how easy it is and hopefully be ready to dive in head first.

The term "flash" will always imply the light source is a speed light not physically atached to the camera.

This is a great learning experience for me since literally less than a year ago. I didn't own a single off camera light source. I have had the pleasure of learning from some really talented photographers. I will try my best to make mention of all these people at one time or another and give you a link so you can check them out yourselves.

There are three ways to trigger a flash:

Wired connection:
This method is achieved by connecting a physical cable from the camera to the flash. There are a few ways to do this:
Using a 'PC' port on your camera to connect to the 'PC' jack on your flash. (the PC out jack is usually only an option for higher end DSLR's)

A standard PC to PC cable:

If your camera doesn't have a PC jack. You will need a hotshoe adapter that essentially gives you a PC jack on your camera. All you have to do is slide this adapter into your hotshoe and then plug your PC cable into the adapter.

A PC to hotshoe connection: (Nikon model AS-15)

Pros: Inexpensive. You can 'cheat your camera into thinking there isn't a flash attached (depending on the connection) and sync your flash at speeds up to 1/4000 or higher.
Cons: Cords to trip over, limited by length of cable, can only transmit ttl information to the flash w/ a specially designed cable (which are neither cheap nor long)

Most of the time these devices are referred to as 'optical slaves' they can also be called, 'peanuts' or 'optical triggers'. These devices have a light sensing diode on them that triggers a flash when it 'sees' a pulse of bright light. The easiest and most basic way to use this is set up your flash w/ a peanut and just fire your on camera flash to trigger the peanut.

A 'Peanut' (Nissin Brand w/ PC connection on the back)

Pros: Inexpensive, simple to use, no cords to trip on.
Cons: Almost impossible to use in a bright light environment, has to 'see' the pulse of light to trigger a flash, cannot transmit ttl information to the flash.

This is the preferred method for professional photographers. There are two types of wireless transmission. Radio frequency & Infrared Transmission.

Radio frequency:
The Gold standard is Pocket Wizards (PW's) which we will discuss in a later post along w/ more cost effective wireless setups. You connect a transmitter to your hotshoe of the camera, then connect the receiver to a flash using a sync cable (provided w/ wireless package)

Pocket Wizard II's (this model is both a transmitter and reciever {called a transciever})

Pros: Maximum range of 1600' (I've triggered a flash at over 2200' w/ PW's), no cords, multiple radio channels in case you are working w/ multiple photogs in the same proximity. You can also trigger flashes around corners and through walls.
Cons: Certain brands (namely PW's)can be very expensive (you get what you pay for though), cannot transmit ttl information to the flash, max sync speed of 1/500 (even though I frequently sync at twice that speed reliably).

The Infrared transmitter:
This is usually built into most pro level DSLR's. It is a cost effective way to start up your lighting setup.
I consulted w/ a Photographer that goes by the alias of
LiquidAir. He mentioned the following about IR transmitters:
"Canon, Nikon and Quantum each have a wireless system which transmits TTL metering information. The Canon system is optical and proprietary to the Canon cameras and flashes. The Nikon system is similar and also proprietary to Nikon gear. The Quantum system is radio based and proprietary to Quantum flashes, but it works with both Canon and Nikon cameras."

Sorry no picture right now.
Pros: You CAN transmit ttl information to the flashes, no cords
Cons: Your flash has to be in a "line of sight" w/ your camera to trigger the flash, limited range, you HAVE TO buy your companies proprietary gear and can't easily migrate over to a third party flash solution.

In the next post, I will show you how to physically connect your strobes using the three types of connections I just mentioned. This will also show you what components you need to set up a basic lighting kit so when youorder your equipment, you'll know you didn't forget anything.

If you would like to see anything on this or future posts in more detail. Just shoot me an email and I will add it to my blog list for future publishing.


Anonymous said...

This is a great beginning. I can already see the hints of good structure and lots of good, down-to-earth information that's not going to blow a lot of readers right our the water.

Really looking forward to additional postings.

Kristen said...

Jon, this is really cool. I even found it interesting! Miss you.

Ed said...

Jon...came across your site from dgrin...keep up the great work on this. It is starting out at the basic level which quite a lot of us are still at...thanks for putting this together...consider it bookmarked!!!!

Terentia said...

Thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

follow up with another email after a few days
Microsoft Office
often acknowledging that maybe the person
Office 2010
didn't get my message due to email trouble on my
Microsoft Office 2010
end (which, when I was in graduate school, was
Office 2010 key
For repeat offenders, I just use the phone whenever
Office 2010 download
Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.
Office 2010 Professional
I will be checking back for any new articles
I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing. Find your great Travel News and sing the songs at Free Song Lyric or you can watch the drama at
Microsoft outlook
Outlook 2010
Thanks for kindly sharing it with us. Very well done indeed
Windows 7
Microsoft outlook 2010

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I like your categorization of different solutions. The recent technological advance, however, calls for a little edition of your post. Now IR wireless solution called Radio Popper can carry TTL signal too. I haven't tried it myself so would like to hear from people who have used it.