There was a time early in my photography career that I bought into the idea of becoming a natural-light photographer. In secret this idea manifested because using off-camera lighting to help shape my images meant learning about all of this crazy lighting technology. I’d rather just stick to what I was comfortable with forever and just not use it. Sound familiar?
Thankfully, I eventually expanded my knowledge of lighting equipment and by doing so, the tools available at my disposal also increased. Yes, that meant buying more gear, which was costly (and an initial deterrent), but much of that gear I still have and use during nearly every shoot that we do to this day.
It's So Easy a Seven Year Old Can Do It
Perhaps you have the dinero to put down on some fancy new lighting equipment, but aren’t confident in your ability to use it. This particular article isn’t meant to tell you what lighting equipment to purchase, instead the intent is to urge you to just purchase it. In fact, it’s so easy to use that my seven-year-old son can do it.
My son is incredibly inspired by articles about superheroes. Any time he looks over my shoulder and spies any of the cool articles that I often stumble across featuring some of his favorite action figures, he lights up and begs me for days to work with him to create new images of characters from his own collection (which has expanded in to vast array of superhero action figures that collectively add up to a value I’m not willing to think about).
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, he and I decided to set up on a table in the house and take some photos of his heroes, only this time I thought it’d be a good idea to introduce him to the off-camera lighting so many are intimidated by, and I’m glad that I did.
I invested in speedlights before any other type of lighting. While doing so I spent hours researching the latest Nikon speedlights of the time which ultimately led to me purchasing a Nikon SB-700, then two SB-910s before being introduced to Yongnuo Speedlites for a fraction of the cost. While both brands of speedlights have their advantages (price being the most obvious), the Yongnuo Speedlite proved to be much more usable for a seven year old due to the layout of the buttons. It was just easier for him to understand.
After adjusting the camera settings for him, I had him take a few shots with his subject overexposed so he would be able to dial down the power on both the speedlight and the AlienBees ABR800 ring light. It took about three times going back and forth to make adjustments before he and I were happy with the exposure and from there we didn’t need to touch the camera or light settings for the rest of the afternoon.
He’s become a bit of a creative director by now and really enjoys setting up his characters in ways he thinks are cool. Much of the time spent discussing lighting was consumed with talk of where he wanted the shadows, and how to move the lights to achieve the look he was after.
The truth is, images like the ones above don't take a lot of special equipment to create. Below is a list of the gear we used on this day and why, but it's important to note that it can be done for a lot less.
- Yongnuo Speedlight - Easy to use controls proved to be more usable for a seven year old than other speedlights I had on hand.
- AlienBees ABR-800 Ring Flash - A go-to for many of my product photographs due to its versatility and pleasantly soft light.
- PocketWizard PlusX - Simple design. I have a bunch of them and they’ve proven to work.
- Nikon D810 - In my opinion, it’s the best camera ever made.
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 - Great all around lens. It's a workhorse and produces great images.
- Tri-fold Foam-core Board and Black Poster Board - Cheap. Available. Multiple colors and functions.
- SHFiguarts Batman - My son loves Batman and we learned of these incredible detailed action figures via a previous Fstoppers article.
What's Stopping You?
My advice to anyone interested in dipping their toes into off-camera lighting would be to purchase a single speedlight, like the Yongnuo YN-560-IV, and start experimenting. You'll be able to trigger the light using its slave function and you'll quickly learn the advantages and limits to using speedlights. From there, you'll be able to determine if it's something that you want to invest more in.
Off-camera lighting can add the dramatic and creative flare to your portraits, product photography, or wedding photography that will set your images apart from those natural-light photographers out there. So what's keeping you from learning how to use it?