Flash! Ah ahhhhh! (vol. 2)

Last time we took the first step toward controlling the last variable in the exposure triangle. Read on for tips to use off-camera flash with some modifiers.

Sony a900; Sony HVL-F42AM; Sony 100mm 2.8 Macro; 1/125 f4 ISO 400

There are a handful of ways that you can fire a flash off-camera. Not going to get into studio lights, but here’s a quick breakdown of how you can trigger a speedlight remotely.

  • Radio triggers: A transmitter goes on your camera’s hot shoe and the receiver goes on the bottom of the flash.
  • Commander and slave: This requires 2 speedlights that are compatible. One flash (the commander) goes on the camera and the other (slave) goes wherever you want.
  • Pop up commander: Similar to the previous way, but in this case the camera has a function that will allow the pop-up flash to act as the commander and control the slave.
  • Optical slave: The speedlight has a sensor that will fire when a pop-up flash (or on-camera speedlight, or another off camera flash) fires. Note: it is also possible to purchase an optical trigger and attach it to a speedlight.

All of them are valid, but depending on your camera brand and what you already own, one method may be preferable. Once you’ve worked out how to fire that off-camera speedlight, it’s time for some fun.

Sony a900; Sony HVL-F42AM; Sony 100mm 2.8 Macro; 1/200 f2.8 ISO 400

First, let’s soften that light a bit. There is an opportunity to get creative here. Fire through an umbrella, bounce off of a reflector, bounce off a wall, fire through an old sock, even fire through a grocery bag on a stick. You’d be surprised at the difference these things make. Don’t put anything on the flash that could melt or catch fire though!

Some companies make kits that include various modifiers for speedlights, like small softboxes, diffusers, snoots, etc. I use the strobist kit from Lumiquest, but there are many other similar offerings out there. Just make sure that the method you choose to soften doesn’t interfere with the method you are using to trigger the flash. Some commander/slave setups require a direct line of sight.

The shot below was taken with the speedlight behind the car. A mini softbox was attached to the speedlight and it was triggered by a commander flash on the camera.

Sony a900; Sony HVL-F42AM; Sony 100mm 2.8 Macro; 1/200 f2.8 ISO 400

Another way to change the light is to use a gel. These are thin, colored pieces of plastic that change the color of the light emitted from a speedlight. You can use them to match the temperature of the flash to the ambient light. You can also use them to get creative effects. The first shot below is normal and the second uses a red gel.

Sony a900; Sony HVL-F42AM; Sony 100mm 2.8 Macro; 1/200 f4 ISO 400
Sony a900; Sony HVL-F42AM; Sony 100mm 2.8 Macro; 1/125 f2.8 ISO 400

Well, that does it for this round of lighting tips. You should have a nice, relatively affordable bag of tricks for artificial lighting at this point. Until next time…

Thanks for reading!

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