Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers


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All Languages. More filters. Sort order. Rose Trench rated it it was amazing Jul 20, Ramesh rated it really liked it Mar 16, Brian J Zwit rated it it was amazing Jun 27, Carolus Boromeus rated it did not like it Jul 18, Siddartha added it Jan 19, Cezar Popescu added it Jan 27, Full manual control is chic, homemade or modified gear the norm, and the use of multiple flashes a trend. This, as well as radical new approaches to design and composition, have turned the photography world upside down—as has its new crop of masters.

Real expressionism is They are literally redefining what photography means and how images are being created. As a result, a strange and wonderful mix of traditional values coming to the world of visual communication. The artists making this vision have melded their own version of flash photography with some of the most outrageous in-camera choices, tools, and accessories ever seen. Brazenly adjusting reality to meet their needs, they push the envelope of creative control by adding mood and manipulating color whenever it strikes them.

Each of these new masters shows us, on a daily basis, how important it is New and exciting tools are being used. Gallery exhibits, art shows, and photography contests are all being dominated by the flash photographer. New web sites and blogs dedicated to the off-camera flash user, and to true expressionism, continue to pop up. Online safe-houses, such as Strobist. They have truly blazed need for post-processing a unique path and ignited a passion for visual communication the world has corrections or adjustments rarely seen.

These visionaries, these explorers of light, all recognize the value diminishes. Imagine that: of seeing the world other than as it appears and are doing whatever it takes creative in-camera photogra- to keep this fledgling form of expressionism alive and safe. Where do I sign up? This image illustrates the use of a homemade light funnel. The funnel made from a potato chip canister directs a small beam of light toward a subject. Here, the new Lastolite Extending Handle is shown.

In this photo, three external flashes have been attached. The flashes are connected via PC wires and are being triggered through the use of an inexpensive Cactus brand radio transmitter. Five unmodified off-camera flashes were used in the creation of this image. The power of each flash was adjusted according to taste. Two were hand-held, two were set on small tripods, and one was placed on the ground.

Two flashes set to full power acted as the main light. Another flash, set to half power, illuminated the wall and tree. A light was added to the right side our model to add dimension to her leg and the parking meter. One last light was needed to give more interest to the wooden door in the background. The top photo was shot in full manual with all the flashes firing; the bottom image was shot in full automatic with all flashes firing. Be warned: there is a learning curve. For those who have never conquered manual control of their equipment, there will be problems.

This book will push, this book will guide— and, hopefully, this book will inspire. Push yourself and your ingenuity to the breaking point. Get to know your camera and the choices it offers—and if you want the best possible results, if you truly want your voice to come through in your images, learn to shoot in full manual mode and take responsibility for the light you capture and produce. Choose your own type of light, make your own aperture and color decisions.

Switch that lens from autofocus to manual and learn to zero-in on an idea instead of just focusing Off-camera flash photography and an expressive heart offer the photographer the options he was always looking for. It gives him a chance to be himself, to capture or create a message that only he can see and that only he can create. It makes him different, it makes him unique. It gives him a voice. Creativity is not a filter or contrast adjustment. Two flashes were used in the creation of this image. A bounce modifier was applied to the top flash, giving a broader top-light base.

The white balance was adjusted to add more red. Remember, art has no rules. There is no right or wrong way to do things. Then, push the ideas even further. You, as an off-camera flash photographer, can change equipment—along with an as- that. When you bring your own dreams and passions to the mix, this storm can find more information. Each year, manufacturers offer more and more options for flash support and light modification, so keep your eyes peeled.

Understanding the basics will get you far. The first path is an inward journey of meaning and emotion; the second path is one laden with mechanics, gadgets, and gizmos. Your choices are vast and can be a bit confusing. Depending on who you ask, you might expect to pay thousands of dollars or just a few hundred. The problem is, they are all right. Depending on what you want to accomplish, you may already have all the gear you need. If your tastes run a bit more complex, you may end up spending a few hundred dollars. Budget, ingenuity, desire, and a solid understanding of the mechanics should guide your path.

Know what you want your image to look like then buy the tool that makes it happen. With just one wired flash, the world of street photography changes. No longer are you arrested by natural light. You are unshackled—free to explore composition and design. The rule of thumb on this is Understanding the basics will take you a long way and can very quickly save you a lot of money.

The transfer of exposure and distance data manual shooter, you have no is very important to the auto-shooter; without it his images will fall apart. The sky, fers and recommends, then look for advice from friends, family, and profes- then, is the limit. You can pur- sionals. Your local camera store is a great place to start. You can even mix and Since there is no need for the flash and camera to share exposure data, there match brand names, ages, and are no communication problems to worry about. Pretty much any flash that types.

Nikon, Canon, and Pen- you can trigger off-camera will do. Important note: If you plan on connecting an older off-camera flash in perfect harmony? Older flash units produce more electricity than their newer cousins. Mismatched voltages can really ruin your day.

Treat them with care. No matter your ultimate goals, Controlling the output of the flash is a major concern for every off-camera flash photographer. Being able to quickly adjust these settings and to anticipate their effect is of major importance. Manual control of the unit is paramount. An adjustable flash head is useful as it allows the user to chose a narrow or wider beam of light. Lastly, make sure that the flash head can rotate. A flash head that tilts, moves, swivels, and bends makes this very easy.

Never tied down by shadows, glare, or slow shutter speeds, the offcamera flash photographer creates his own possibilities. In the photo to the left, we see the photographer using a wired TTL sync cord connection. A wired approach to offcamera flash photography is one of our favorite ways of connecting with the moment. The wired to trigger your off-camera option is a joy for the photographer who loves to be part of the action, while flash is in the reliability of the the wireless route gives him the chance to use a variety of lights placed at dif- connection.

When using a ferent locations. The wired route keeps the photographer up- rest assured that when he close-and-personal with his subject and forces him to adapt quickly to chang- presses the shutter button, his flash will fire. This, of course, proves invaluable when shooting things that move, jump, run, or only give you one chance at that shot of a lifetime.

The angle at which you hold the flash in relation to your subject is of the utmost importance. The slightest variation in direction changes the image and your options. Shadows will fall differently, glare can increase, apparent power output may shift, and more. Here, notice that the light coming from the flash has been modified through the use of a softbox. This tool not only diffuses the light but also enlarges it. Both are important ingredients in the total elimination of shadows on the wall directly behind the subject.

If your destination takes you near the water, outfit yourself accordingly. You have to move and anticipate when connected with a wire. You have to develop a feel for the correct flashto-subject distance and know by instinct which shutter speed will give what effect. It may prove a little tricky, however, to find the perfect wired setup for your own gear, since not all cameras and flashes have the same connections. With a little research, though, you should have no problem. Many photographers find the best wired option to be the dedicated TTL sync cord.

The sync cord directly connects your flash to the hot shoe of your camera, sending exposure and distance information back and forth. For the auto-shooter, this is a blessing; all of the aperture, shutter, and flash power output decisions are passed off to the machine. The TTL sync cord also permits manual control of the flash, giving the artist-with-a-camera full creative control, as well. With a TTL sync cord you can shoot from the hip and know the flash will fire. Plus, most TTL cords are built sturdy and come in a wide range of lengths. A Wireless Connection.

The other option to trigger your flash off-camera is a wireless one. Through the use of optical or radio signals, a photographer can fire his flashes from great distances without being physically connected. This is a wonderful alternative that allows for unhindered, creative flash work. You can explore the world of message-creation as never before, setting up multiple lights in the field and adjusting each one accordingly.

It is one of the most powerful options we, as graphic artists with cameras, have today. Again, your choices when it comes to gear type are vast—sometimes confusing—and can definitely get expensive. For those shooters who rely on automated systems, expect to pay quite a bit more. Transmitters and receivers that share distance and exposure data with the camera can sometimes The Cactus brand wireless transmitters left and receivers right are some of the most inexpensive and reliable radio triggering devices on the market today.

Manual shooters will find them wonderful to work with. Shooters relying on automatic camera modes may have problems; Cactus units do not transmit TTL information from the camera to the flash. There are four small switches at the bottom of the transmitter and the top of the receiver. Sixteen channels can be tuned according to different combinations of the switches. With a bit of ingenuity and determination any vision can be illuminated properly.

In the top photo, the photographer has equipped his extending handle with a shoot-through umbrella and small softbox. In the bottom photo, he adds a touch of light to the blowing weeds in front of him, setting his flash off with the help of an inexpensive Cactus wireless transmitter and receiver. ABOVE—An extending handle, two flashes, two softboxes, and two water-tight plastic bags allow for the creation of never-before-dared images.

Here, flash photography is taken to new heights as both the photographer and the model brave the splash and uncertainty of offcamera flash photography in the water. Cactus brand transmitters and receivers, though fragile, perform extremely well for the manual shooter and allow for very inexpensive, yet complex and extravagant lighting setups. Another option is using optical slave units to trigger the flash.

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Off-Camera Flash Systems for the Wedding Photographer | B&H Explora

An optical slave is a small electronic device that sits on the foot of your flash. This would never have been possible without the help of some of the most important accessories a photographer can have: his family and friends. Let it happen naturally. Try not to purchase any gear or equipment until you know why you need it.

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Then, and only then, should you begin investing extra money. This system, however, does have one major draw- to be. Concentrate on the back: to work, each flash must be within line-of-sight of the others. Many of the later-generation SLR cameras already feature advanced lighting systems for off-camera flash photography—they are built right into the camera and the flash. Each of these systems requires a master unit and at least one slaved flash. This is incredibly handy when multiple flashes are being used across great distances.

These systems also offer channel selection. If there is more than one offcamera flash photographer using the same advanced system, each can choose a separate channel from which to work.

ISBN 13: 9781584289920

Think hard about what you really want to do while in the field and what you are really willing to carry with you. We find that a simple extending handle with two flashes attached answers many problems that arise. There are hundreds of choices and each affords its own advantages and disadvantages.

This is where your ingenuity will come into play. Durable and lightweight light stands are a must for any off-camera flash photographer looking for a sturdy base of support. From our experience, air-cushioned stands perform the best and prove quite reliable while in the field. Never underestimate the power of two flashes pointed directly at your subject. While modification, support, and connectivity should always remain a high priority, you should never lose sight of why you are adding light in the first place.

Modification tools come in a variety of sizes and shapes, each having its own specific purpose. There are a number of manufacturers, but our personal favorite is Lumiquest. With their forward-thinking and customerresponsive design staff, they are constantly leading the way in both performance and innovation. Lumiquest makes a compact gel holder FXtra that actually attaches to the flash. A sturdy bouncer is a must-have for any good off-camera flash enthusiast.

Our personal favorite is the Lumiquest Quik Bounce as shown in these images. Its unique design has doors that can be opened to quickly allow light to shine through so that the photographer can either bounce or cut the power of the flash. No matter which modifier you use, make sure to do plenty of tests with each at home so that you will know what to expect when in the field. Remember: there is no right choice or bad decision when it comes to equipment; there are only options. Be honest about where your skill level lies and what your goals truly are.

If you need the help and are using automatic settings, look to the more expensive setups. No matter the system you choose, learn it well. Give yourself plenty of time to experience everything it offers. Discover its weaknesses and explore its strengths. Gear is secondary. It took three flashes to bring our model into the light here—but four other flashes were needed to bring detail and texture to the background. With enough practice, simple threelight setups such as this will prove easy. For the off-camera flash photographer, this rings true from his first image to his last.

This type of courage, this type of expressionism, is rare today. An off-camera flash photographer is original and each of his photos are unique. Instead of lighting subjects he illuminates ideas. This is vision, this is art—this is real message building. In the past, gaining the experience and confidence In the past, gaining the experience and confidence to pull this off took years. Varied exposure levels, distance equations, modification choices, and support issues reigned supreme. It was a daunting task and one that only the most talented photographers dared approach.

However, with the advent of the digital camera, all of that is changing. Sure, the problems of lighting, support, and modification still exist, but learning how to fix them has gotten easier. Today, we can all become the artist with an off-camera flash that we know we can be. Since he has a tool that can add light some time-tested tools to anything and from anywhere, he needs to begin seeing more than just of the trade obsolete.

Each piece of the background becomes a possible students have actually aban- target for his flash. He needs to think. He needs to question. What would happen if he were to light his background instead of his and are relying on their own subject? What if he were to modify that light, enlarging or narrowing the recollection to get the expo- beam? Advanced flash As his questions are answered, his skill level grows.

He then pushes forstudents have even shunned ward and takes apart the foreground as well, breaking it into pieces and the hand-held meter and all changing how each piece appears, asking the same questions and finding automatic modes—including new answers. As his experience builds, the number of flashes he employs those of the flash. His images begin looking like visions instead of pictures. The artist now uses everything—each piece being just as important as another. He illuminates emotions and not just things. In each image there are lines, shapes, pat- lines, shapes, patterns, terns, colors and tones.

These are the five basic graphic elements. You can modify each light, changing its size, its angle, its range, and its power output. This, then, alters how each tier looks and how it relates to the others within the frame. You should be purposeful in how these tiers work together in an image, adding and taking away data until the overall vision is exactly what you want. Start with an idea.

Know firmly what you want to say before you try The flash is positioned on top of the camera—not always the best option. Adjusting your shooting angle offers very little creative control. Bouncing your flash increases the overall size of the flash but is still quite limiting. This is not always the best option. The on-camera flash photographer could bounce his light off a much larger reflective surface; this increases the overall size of the flash but is still quite limiting right.

Freedom When a flash is allowed freedom, it can light any tier of graphic information the artist wants. He can skip the front tiers completely and light only the rear if he likes left. With more lights the artist has even more options. He can also vary the power of each flash, giving one tier even more power than the others right.

A flash can light any tier of graphic information the artist wants. With more lights, you have more options. Pick your spot based on perspective, choose your lens based on crop factor and depth of field needs. If your background is out of your physical reach, then dial in the appropriate aperture and shutter speed to make it look the way you want, mentally adjusting for extraneous mechanical or physical obstacles that may show up later. Then, slowly move forward one tier of graphic information at a time until you reach your lens.

Then, shoot. As anyone who has been shooting with multiple offcamera flashes for a while will tell you, it just takes practice, perseverance, and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. Multiple tiers of graphic information were illuminated in the series of images that appears on the next two pages. Three softboxed flashes, two snooted flashes, and two straight flashes were needed to produce the images. The two straight flashes were aimed at the falling water from each side, well behind the model. The background flowers and leaves were lit with two crossed, snooted flashes. The rear, background flashes were set to full power and the flashes lighting the rain were set to half power.


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A Three softboxed lights were used to light up our model. One was placed to the top left, providing the backlighting. Another was placed to the right and another to the left. The power was adjusted according to taste. As an artist with a camera, you have to be aware of your background options. Here, many flashes with different types of modification were required not just for our model but for the background, as well.

Seven flashes were needed to create this image. Each flash was modified in a different way; each power setting, placement location, and support option was unique. Two modified flashes were used in the creation of the top image. Each light was enlarged with the help of a bounce attachment. In the first image top , both lights have been triggered. In the second image above left , only the foreground flash was triggered. The third image above right shows what happens when no flashes are used. In the first photo above we see the result of lighting multiple tiers of graphic information.

Four flashes were used. The positions of these flashes can be seen in the photos to the right. Practice with it. Get to know the shadows your off-camera flash produces, the glare you can expect, and so on. Start with just one flash. Use a wired option to trigger it; this will produce the most reliable results.

Shoot and examine again. Spend time doing this. Become a master at wired, off-camera flash, then add another light and try to go wireless. When photographing people, keep in mind that not everyone has the same amount of time to get the image perfect as you might—so practice beforehand. Do a few test shots to make sure all the kinks are worked out. And smile when you shoot—your pictures will always come out better if you do!

Simply setting up a bunch of flashes and shooting on auto does not, and never will, guarantee success. Besides the obvious addition of three flashes, light stands, and modifiers, the photographer was also dealing with depth of field issues, perspective problems, mood creation, contrast and saturation issues, white balance and hue choices, and more. A good off-camera flash photographer has a goal. Going in, he knows what he wants his image to look like.

Options simply have to be weighed, strategies thought out, and most importantly decisions have the first time, but with to be made. Experience allows for that. Why hide from that experience? The flashes and modifiers—even the camera and lenses—are just tools that let it happen. But what happens when we change the angle of that light? The light is harsh, unpleasant, and creates a ton of glare. By moving your flash away from the subject as seen in the three small images below , a softer, more pleasing light is generated. The final image appears at the bottom of the page.

Photography is an art form, not transportation. How can someone just give those away? Where is the pride in letting a machine make Where is the pride in those decisions for you? With enough experience, anyone can visualize and be creative—and do it quickly. As photography instructors, we advise our students to be in full manual control of both their camera and flashes at all times, so that they can learn from their own mistakes.

We teach hundreds of photographers each year to do away with their automatic settings and become the artists they know they can be. And yes, it does take a while. Yes, they do make a lot of mistakes along the way. But, these mistakes are important; they afford us experience, and without experience, pride is nonexistent.

Direction & Quality of Light

A faster shutter speed cuts the amount of light, making the image appear darker. A slower shutter speed allows more light to flow through the aperture, making the image brighter. What many new off-camera flash photographers are unaware of, though, is that their shutter speed options may be limited when using their flash—whether oncamera or off. This limitation is a direct consequence of the type of shutter the camera possesses. When the shutter button is depressed, the first blade often called the front curtain begins moving across the film plane.

The second blade often called the rear curtain then follows. The amount of time between the movement of the blades depends on the shutter speed chosen. When a slow shutter speed is picked, the gap between the blades is large, often allowing the entire sensor to be hit with light at one time. If you were to use your flash with a faster shutter speed than this, then the light from the flash would not touch the portion of the scene that was being covered by the rear blade. This would make certain portions of the scene darker than everything else.

Typically, this appears as a dark band running through your images. Full coverage is afforded. Notice, too, the dark strip banding at the top of the image. The dark band now extends through most of the image. Since his subject is in a shadow as illustrated in the second image [middle left] , the addition of light is mandatory. Adding light naturally, by slowing the shutter, increases the light everywhere as seen in the third image [middle right] , making his background now unacceptable.

A flash is required. This produces a background that is far more in-focus as seen in the bottom image than was their original intent top image. As an offcamera flash artist, you should never compromise your original vision. There are ways of eliminating light without touching your aperture setting. For special effects work especially in-camera multiple exposures and collage-building this dark band is an extremely useful tool.

If larger apertures are needed, the limitation of the flash-sync speed and its reciprocal consequences may make using offer high-speed flash synchronization options. And if fast shutters are required to freeze moving subjects, then the slower flash-sync speed is also unacceptable. There are several options for beating the flash-sync problem: 1. Use a camera with an electronic shutter and manually fire the flash using inexpensive triggering devices.

Use a handful of neutral density filters to cut the light or a variable neutral density filter. Simply cross two linear polarizers. This is great news for the manual shooter but bad news for those who shoot in auto. Linear polarizers often conflict with choices the camera makes, such as exposure, white balance, and focus. Whichever approach you take, as long as it eliminates the unwanted light, is the right one.


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Option 1: High-Speed Sync. These specialized flashes produce a series of smaller continuous flashes that, in essence, fill in the missing gaps on the sensor caused by the moving shutter blades. When a flash with this capability is attached, simply activate the option in-camera and any shutter speed can be dialed in.

On Camera Flash Tips and Techniques

Please refer to your flash and camera manual for more information. Depress the H button and when a Canon camera that allows for this type of operation is attached, you can shoot with any desired shutter speed. Please refer to your flash and camera manual for more specific model information. LEFT—Using an advanced high-speed sync option will enable you to capture breathtaking flash pictures at any shutter speed. This seemingly impossible digital magic is accomplished by having the flash fire a series of smaller bursts so quickly that each part of the hidden focal plane becomes illuminated.


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High-speed sync requires a special combination of flash and camera. The high-speed sync option allows you to use any aperture setting you wish. This is quite helpful when trying to blur backgrounds and isolate subjects. Instead of compromising the integrity of the image using a smaller aperture to compensate for the longer shutter speed the high-speed sync option was called into play.

Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers
Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers Off-Camera Flash: Creative Techniques for Digital Photographers

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