Flash Photography for Beginners: Intro to Off-Camera Flash

Last week, I posted an article about how to create amazing portraits with on-camera flash. My hope was to help anyone who was on the fence about shooting with flash feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to shoot with flash. Granted, shooting with on-camera flash has its caveats, so in this article, I am going to go over some of the benefits of shooting with off-camera flash.

Long gone are the days of needing expensive and confusing gear to trigger your flash off-camera. In the days before radio triggers, the only way to fire your flash off-camera was with a sync cable. What is a sync cable you ask? Well, it’s a cable that connects your flash to your camera, allowing you to fire your flash as far away as the cable will let you reach. In my career, I have never used a sync cable, and to be completely honest, I probably never will. 

Radio triggers are the way to go if you’re looking to get into off-camera flash. Similarly to the way a two-way radio works, a radio trigger uses radio waves that allow your camera and flash to communicate, resulting in your flash firing off-camera. In all honesty, I don't really know the exact science behind how a radio trigger works, and I really don't need to. All I need to know is how to work the one I’m using. That being said, radio triggers come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, so typically the more you spend, the less chance you have of your flash not firing when you need it to. Trigger systems can range from a generic $15 unit to the extremely reliable and durable Pocket Wizard systems that are in the $200-$300 range, depending on how many lights you need to trigger.

In the above video, I used a combination of the Yongnuo 560IV flash, which has a built-in receiver, and the Yongnuo 560-TX transmitter, which triggers the speedlight via the internal receiver. One of my favorite features of the Yongnuo flash and trigger combination is that I can adjust the power of the flash from the transmitter on my camera so I don't have to go to the back of the flash to manually adjust it. This saves a ton of time and allows me to work at a much faster pace.

One of the biggest advantages of shooting with flash off-camera is having the freedom to move around and compose your shot. The biggest problem with on-camera flash is that whenever you move around to recompose your image, you probably moved closer or further away from the wall you were using to bounce the flash. Every time you move, you need to adjust the flash power to compensate for your position. When you shoot with off-camera flash, you can leave your light in the same spot and move around while shooting without any restrictions. In the video above, I use the same techniques from the on-camera flash article and explain the benefits of using the flash off-camera. Using this method, you can still create some really great images on an extremely small budget.

Below are just a few examples of images that were created using a single flash triggered off-camera and bounced off the surfaces around me.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Jeff Carpenter is a portrait and lifestyle photographer based out of Nashville, TN. He has a formal education in audio production but fell in love with the visual arts after taking a mandatory photography class in his last semester in college. The rest is history!

Log in or register to post comments

Love how those images turned out! Great educational series!