You Gotta Start Somewhere: My First Off-Camera Flash Experience

You Gotta Start Somewhere: My First Off-Camera Flash Experience

Back in 2010, I was commissioned to do a photo of some spices for a family friend. I had never done anything like that, so I wanted to do a good job, and invested in my first off-camera flash setup. It was daunting at first, but I’ll never regret dipping my toes in the water and starting to learn about one of the most important things about being a freelance photographer: learning to control light.

It was a simple set-up, really: two Lumopro LP160 all-manual flashes, two lightweight stands with umbrella swivels, two white shoot-through umbrellas, and some Pocketwizard Plus II radio triggers. That’s it. With my trusty Nikon D300s and Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens, I set up a small camping table, put the flashes on the stands with the umbrellas pointing at the tabletop from the left and right, and started arranging the spices.

Spice Photo by Stephen Ironside / Ironside Photography

Nikon D300s, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm (36mm equivalent), f/13, 1/250, ISO 200

The hardest part of the entire shoot was probably arranging the spices. I had never really done any still life work and didn’t think of myself as being too creative with it. The lighting was the second-hardest part; although when I look back on it, I realize how simple it was.

But the real accomplishment, for me, was just the fact that I used that lighting. I went to the effort to learn something new, to try something I hadn’t tried before. Getting those flashes off-camera and learning to manipulate the light in a new way, albeit a relatively simple one, was a huge step forward in my professional career as a photographer.

If I could recommend just one thing to any new photographers out there, it would be to make that leap. Try something new with lighting, even if it’s just that first step of getting your one flash off the camera and playing with it. What you’ll learn from that experience will be invaluable to your career and boost the quality of your images more than, I’d wager, any other skill you might learn in photography. The work I generated on that first shoot with off-camera flash wasn’t spectacular, but it still holds its own today. Take the leap and try something new! You won't regret it.

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9 Comments

Thank you for sharing your experience, I'm bookmarking this for your advice and that awesome diagram!

Ricky Perrone's picture

Man, that is a terrific drawing! Haha thanks for sharing, that came out really well on a first try

Marc DeGeorge's picture

Great looking spices! Very enticing! Great job!

Mark Colangelo's picture

Good job Stephen! Can I suggest to push your white background around RGB= 245...248?

Agreed -- I decided to leave it how I edited it years ago. :)

Sounds like a textbook Strobist setup. I hope you were using Manfrotto 001(b) stands as well (I bought a pair about 2008 and still use them all the time).

Yep! I started out learning on the Strobist site. A great resource for sure.

Kim Choji's picture

Quite useful enthusiasm and will to go all the way. The drawings brought it so close. This inspires!...

william mitchell's picture

Love the lighting diagrams. Good article about a simple setup. And simple is never bad.