Lighting 101 - Understanding Your Flash

(Photo by Strobist reader GreggBK)

I am assuming you already have a camera and a lens. And for off-camera lighting, your flash needs to be detachable. (I.e., it can't be built in, or a "pop-up" flash.) Most detachable flashes are fine for off-camera lighting. If you have those items, you have already bought the expensive part. The rest is cheap.

And if you don't yet have a flash, I'll point you to a modestly priced flash that is ideal for studio-style lighting.

The Bare Essentials

Take a look at your flash and see if it has a manual mode ("M") that allows you to work at different power settings—i.e., full power, ½ power, ¼ power, etc. If it is detachable, and has a manual mode with different power settings, your flash will be fine for now.

Most detachable flashes have a manual capability. And that's the only thing that is mandatory, because you are going to learn how to light in manual mode. 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.

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


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