With so many options out there for off-camera flash gear, how do you know which is best for you? More importantly, how do you learn how to use it in a real life situation? Maybe my techniques and approach are just what you've been waiting for!
Do you remember the last time you were shooting at a less than ideal time of day, or maybe a less than ideal location for light? Think back to it. What did you do?
Were you a bit scared about what to do?
Did you crank the ISO and embrace the noise going for the natural look?
What about direction of light? Was it flattering for the subject?
I think back to the days before I knew much about flash and I can see a very clear and quick progression. At first, I was irritated at blurry, slow-shutter photos that never seemed to never have the right color to them. Then I realized that I could pop my built-in flash up and get crisp light on my subject, but then I had red-eye, battery drainage, and flat, boring pictures. Then I got a hot-shoe mounted flash and played around with ways to light my subject, or the room, or even both at the same time. I bought rigs to always have my flash on top of my camera even when nailing a dutch angle. I bought plastic domes to put on my flash head to make my subject look like a supermodel.
Then, one day I stumbled upon off-camera flash! No wires. No bulky brackets. Total control!
This control was a good thing, or so I thought. With all of this new found control, came new ideas, challenges, failures and successes. I would learn so much about light in such a short amount of time that it was all I would think about! I finally realized what direction of light meant, and how I can control light with my tools of the trade.
I think of off-camera flash like a hat. I wear them when I have to, or if I just feel like it at the time. Sometimes I wear it just to cover up some craziness that's going on that I can't take the time to deal with right at the moment. Sometimes I want to spruce up my look and go for something a little more fun.
In the same way, I use flash when I have to, or if I just feel like it. I don't use it all the time. In fact, I try not to use it almost at all if I can. I'm able to do that because of what I've learned about direction of light and camera settings. So when I'm adding flash, I'm really going the extra mile either creatively or technically, or I'm in a situation where I need to use it because of the lack of good available light. Something I always keep in mind when at a wedding is the experience of the couple. This means that if I think their experience is going to suffer because I'm going to be taking some time to setup an off-camera flash shot, then I will likely find another way of doing the shot, or skip it all together. If I'm really motivated about a certain shot and it needs off-camera flash, I will have my assistant set it up while I'm photographing the couple somewhere else, or give them a bit of down time together and frame it is a positive time for them instead of waiting around for their photo shoot to continue.
THE GEAR I USE
There are hundreds of options of flash triggers, speedlights, and other accessories that you could use for your off-camera lighting setup. Here are the items I use regularly at weddings:
Cactus V5 Flash Triggers (Transceivers)
Umbrella Reflector (shoot through/bounce)
I will be going over these items in detail at my next webinar on Off-Camera Flash
WHEN I OFTEN USE IT
Bride & Groom Portraits
Depending on what time of day you are doing your Bride & Groom portraits, you may want to use flash to bring out the mood of the moment. This shot was from a wedding in Cancun and we had a chance to sneak out after the ceremony for some pictures with just the two of them before their reception started. We had done a first look earlier in the day, so we had lots of Bride & Groom portraits already, but they were shot at midday. This timing allowed us to get some shots at sunset, so I setup my flash out of frame on the right and zoomed the speedlight to light them evenly without spilling unwanted streaks across the sand.
This was shot late at night in Tuscany, Italy. The reception was outdoors around a pool, so there were no ceilings or walls to bounce flash off of. I had one flash setup by the head table and one off to the side on a grassy area so that the speaking area was light with two speed lights from slight angles. Lighting in this way allows me to shoot overtop of the heads of people in the seats without lighting them up more than my subject, so your eye is drawn right to where I want it drawn to. If you had on camera flash and tried to do this shot, you would light up the people right in front of you more than the Bride and her father.
This was shot at a Vancouver, BC venue that was a large room with high ceilings. I wanted to show the ambiance of the room while keeping the focus on the father's expression, so I adjusted my settings to allow for the room to be slightly under-exposed at 1/200 shutter speed, and then added flash from the side on a stand. With this type of setup, you can get various shots all in a row by just changing your position and waiting for them to come around for the shots that you want.
This was shot at the United 2013 Conference Reception in Santa Barbara where I was teaching my system for lighting the dance floor. These fun-loving photographers gladly jumped on the dance floor and made an impromptu party in seconds! This is showcasing the 2 light setup that I run at wedding receptions where I get one of the guests to have fun with me and hold the monopod with my flash on it. This is a hit at weddings with the guests I choose, and always leads to building referral relationships with them.
UPCOMING ONLINE WORKSHOP
These all require slightly different techniques and light placement which I will be going over in detail in my upcoming online workshop - Off-Camera Flash Made Easy - on Thursday Oct 17th. For more information, please sign up for our mailing list here.