Lighting 101 - Understanding Your Flash

Abstract: Already own a flash? Here is how to tell if it is appropriate for off-camera lighting. [This post was updated on Feb. 5, 2020.]


(Photo by Strobist reader GreggBK)

Off-camera lighting is not for iPhone photographers. We're assuming you already have an adjustable, digital camera and a lens.

Your camera needs to have manual controls, meaning you can adjust the aperture and shutter speed independently. It also needs a standard "hot shoe" mount for attaching an external flash.

You'll need a detachable flash (i.e., not a built-in, pop-up flash.) Most, but not all, detachable flashes can be used for off-camera lighting.

If you don't yet have a detachable flash, you can skip to the next page. If you do have a flash, that's good! Let's see if it is appropriate for off-camera lighting.


The Bare Essentials: What Your Flash Needs to Have



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 your flash is detachable, and has a manual mode with different power settings, your flash likely will be fine. So, skip buying another flash for right now until you have a chance to experiment with the gear you already have. (We are not about needlessly spending money.)

You will need to get a remote trigger, so you can fire your flash when you shoot with it off-camera. For people who already own a flash, we recommend the Phottix Ares II ($79.95) remote trigger set. It is a solid, reliable remote trigger for a good price which will work on all standard hot shoe cameras.

So if you already have a good flash, skip the flash and remote trigger recommendations on the next page and pick up an Ares II remote set instead.

NOTE TO SONY USERS:

Many Sony cameras have non-standard hot shoes. Sony pulls this sort of weird crap all of the time. (Memory sticks? Beta tape, anyone?)

Fortunately, there are third party companies making good lighting gear to fit Sony's non-standard hot shoes, and we'll also address that on the next page.



That's It!

If your current flash has those basic features, Congrats! Stepping into off-camera lighting will be particularly inexpensive for you.

Now let's take a look at an idea beginner's off-camera lighting kit...


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


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