The Difference-Maker Part 2

August 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

My philosophy when I first started dabbling in photography was, "If I take enough pictures some of them have to turn out." That philosophy actually works as in, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes." It is when I started wanting to make sure I "nailed" certain shots and blurry and horrible shots were unacceptable that I got serious about figuring out lighting. Once I discovered off camera flash so many of the issues were solved. Redeye went away, I got the catchlight in the eyes, the backgrounds became more dramatic and so much more was fixed. So how do you make this magic happen for you?

This all gets a little technical and hence boring for some. Below is a list of basic equipment one needs to make off camera flash work. It is solely based on my learning and current experience level. I will do my best to show you what to do with all of the components in the next article. 

List of Recommended equipment:

1. Flash Unit $70-500

2. Trigger - Cable or Transmitter & Receiver $50-200 

3. Stand, or Monopod $20-40

4. Light Modifier $150-199

5. Light Meter $350

Flash Unit

First things first, you need a flash. My choice was a Canon 580EXii. It has proven to be a durable option even when the wind smashed it repeatedly into the concrete. I have even put a new screen into it following a crash with some rocks. And it is still reliably working. 

There is a strong case to be made for the reliability and dependability of either the Canon Speedlites or the Nikon Speedlights. However, when budget constraints force you to, there are several other brands that will provide good light for a reasonable price. Bottom line is it is difficult to tell the difference between one from the big two or an "off" brand like a LumoPro, Vivitar, Yongnuo, Metz, or Sigma, just to name a few. 



In order to have the camera talk to the flash you will need at least one of a couple options either a TTL-Off-Camera-Flash cord which you can purchase in all sorts of lengths.

Or, I found I preferred the radio signal wireless triggers from Paul C. Buff Since I purchased them several new triggers from RadioPopper and Pocket Wizard have come out that look very attractive. 

Stand or Monopod

I found I liked the freedom of having a stand to practice with and shoot alone. Since the speedlite is not heavy a light duty highly collapsible stand was the most desirable. Here is one from a reputable dealer: It collapses to a mere 19.25" long and only weighs 2.6 pounds. 


I have also found that a monopod is both useful to use on my camera when I needed added stability and to function as a "light stick" allowing an assistant to quickly position the light optimally just out of the picture. The results have been exciting.





Light Modifier

This is a highly recommended addition to the excursion into the magic of off camera flash. There are more ideas for this than you can count and opinions galore. I am not going to debate the technicality of any of it but instead will just share my favorite.

This is a hybrid of a durable umbrella and a beauty dish. While many of you may not know what those things are just let me explain that this produces a beautifully flattering light that wraps around the face and makes the skin have a nice smooth glow. Not all harsh like it tends to be from a bare bulb light.

One of the secrets of great light is the larger the light source the more flattering the light and while this is only 20" or a 26" across both easily fit through most standard doors. It renders a flatteringly smooth light.  

This can be purchased at:




Light Meter

This light meter, the L358 from Sekonic has been such a time saver and helps me be a efficient professional. Once I set up my light I then test the light by stepping to where the subject is holding this at their chin, squeezing the black button on the side and triggering the flash to get a reading for my settings.

This allows me to shoot in manual mode which keeps my settings stable and allows me to focus on the creativity of the shoot. At this point I can forget about my settings for the most part because once they are "dialed in" unless the ambient light changes Ie: the sun continues to set or  goes behind a large cloud. Afterwards when editing this saves a huge amount of time since the exposures and white balance tend to be more accurate. This particular model has been discontinued but can still be picked up on Ebay. It is the only one I have much experience with and seems to function very dependably. 


Further Info:

There is a whole online community of photographers who are heavily committed to the philosophy of small off camera flash. They are usually known as "Strobist" because many of them find their roots back to David Hobby of, a site which promotes lighting techniques, such as off-camera flash. Lighting 101 is a more in-depth teaching article. A web site that caters to this active group is Midwest Photo Exchange 




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