Lighting 101 - Understanding Your Flash

(Photo by Strobist reader GreggBK)

Let's talk about the basic gear you'll need to learn how to light, beginning with your flash. Generally, most people at this point will have a digital camera, a lens or two and a flash that mounts to the top of the camera. (I.e., not the built-in or pop-up kind.)

If so, you have already own the expensive part of what you'll need. The remaining gear required to use that flash off-camera is surprisingly, refreshingly inexpensive.

But before we get to that, let's take a moment and talk about your flash.

The Bare Essentials

So, here's what your flash absolutely has to have: The ability to work in manual mode, and to do so at different power settings. (I.e., full power, ½ power, ¼ power, etc.)

And that's it.

Most flashes, including the one you probably already have, include that capability. And that's the only thing that is mandatory. If your flash has that, skip buying another flash for right now until you have a chance to play with the gear you already have. Moving into off-camera lighting is going to be very inexpensive for you.

So take a moment to figure out if your flash can go into manual mode, or "M" and vary the power setting into fractional amounts. If your flash has manual setting that you can vary, you are all set.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your flash is more than, say, 10-15 years old, do a little research to make sure it is safe to directly hook up to a modern digital camera. Some old flashes can fry the electronics of a digital camera. And once that little bit of magic smoke escapes your camera, it is almost impossible to get it back in…

If You Do Need a Flash

If you don't have a flash I recommend the much-loved LumoPro LP180, seen above, for more reasons than it makes sense to state in this short space. You can read much more about it, here.

Suffice to say that the LP180 is specifically designed for lighting photographers, built like a tank and has a whole slew of unique features. It is also very well-made, sporting double the warranty (at under half the price) of the Nikon and Canon offerings.

NOTE: If you do not have a flash, hold off on purchasing one until you have read about the other gear you'll need on the next page. It makes sense to buy everything together, as they are cheaper as a kit.

That's everything you need to know about your flash for right now. Next, we'll learn about the gear you'll need to turn it into your own little portable lighting studio…

NEXT: Your Studio-to-Go: A Basic Kit


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Save Money: Browse MPEX Weekly Strobist Deals