Lighting 101: Synching Your Flash

When your flash is connected to your camera, it syncs automatically. When it is off camera, you have to take care of this yourself. And there are several ways to do it.

In the photo above, I synched everyone else's flash to my camera to to get "one of those lucky moments." Except it wasn't luck. I made it happen over and over again for this shot. More on that in a minute.

Wired Synching

One of the simplest, cheapest and most reliable ways to sync your flash off-camera is with the use of a simple wire. In photo terms, this is often called a "sync cord" or a "PC cord" (the latter initials coming from the increasingly outdated "PC" connectors that synched flashes for many years in the past.)

Synching with a wire is not se sexy as a wireless remote, but it works and does so cheaply. The only real disadvantage is that you are (literally) tethered to your flash. This will of course limit the distance that you cam move away from it. But it can also be cumbersome in a shooting environment.

That said, many photographers (myself included) both started by using a sync cord and continue to carry one as a cheap, no-batteries-needed backup.

Wireless Remotes

Up until about ten years ago, wireless remotes (or triggers) for off-camera flashes were considered luxuries that were only used by professionals. And that was because the only ones that were reliable were pretty expensive; a decent set of remotes could easily cost more than the flash itself.

The industry gold standard were remotes made by Pocket Wizard. They were expensive and worth it. I used them for over 20 years. But these days, you do not need to drop a lot of money to get a decent remote trigger for your flashes.

The Phottix Ares, pictured above, is a solid remotes and sells for under $60 a set. They have eight channels, run on (included) AA batteries, work in the 2.4GHz frequency and come with a one-year factory warranty.

(Note: these are standard hot shoe-based remotes. So if you use a Sony camera, with their non-standard hot shoes, you'll need to explore other options.)

If you progress into more complicated lighting situations, such as lighting arenas for indoor sports, there are more expensive options with more range and features. But for the majority of photographers, the Phottix Ares are a screaming bargain and will do just fine.

Sync Additional Flashes With a Slave

If you are using more than one flash, you can sync the extra flashes to your original off-camera flash with optical slaves. (An optical slave fires your flash at the exact instant it sees the light from another flash.)

Which is why, from this day forward, you should not buy a flash that does not have a built-in optical slave. It's that simple—just don't do it. You are shooting yourself in the foot if you do.

Slaves are remarkably handy. In the photo at top, I used a wireless remote for one of the flashes, but slaved all of the other peoples' flashes to that remote flash. Thus, every time I fired my camera all of their flashes fired, too.

Was it a coincidence they just happened to all be in position to create glamorous light for my two subjects? No it was not. I positioned them exactly how I wanted. It was for a live "shootout" in front of a crowd in Dubai in the UAE. You can see a full post—with video—on that here. (Link opens in a new window to preserve your L101 post thread.)

Suffice to say, having flashes with built-in slaves makes all kinds of cool things possible. I would never buy another flash that did not have a built-in slave.

Okay, we are almost done with the basic gear. Sorry to hit you with all toys and no technique, but it is good to be getting an understanding of the stuff you have coming so when it arrives you can be ready to roll.

So let's talk next for a minute about your very first light modifier…

Next: Lighting 101: Umbrellas


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