When I first began my foray into the world of photography, the thought of having to deal with off camera lighting was overwhelming and frightening! As I progressed, however, I quickly began to notice the value that lighting might add to my approach. Eventually, I took the plunge and ordered my first speed light.
The first time I took a photo using my flash that wasn’t completely washed out, the level of sharpness and the potential for complete control of my photos blew me away! Lighting is one of the most important pieces of the photographic puzzle. We fit it together to create our masterpieces (some of you do anyway…I’m still making pictures and hope to make a masterpiece someday). In fact, given that photos cannot occur without light, it is the most important piece. It provides sharpness, drama, texture, mood, and helps us show or capture motion cleanly. It can evoke an emotional response and elevate a good photo to the realm of the phenomenal. Simply put, if you are serious about being the best photographer you can be, lighting is key.
That being said, it can be pretty overwhelming if you allow it to be. My purpose is to simplify off camera flash as much as I can. There have been textbooks, websites, video and blog series all devoted to the subject of lighting and I am not going to present brand new never-before-seen concepts here. I am going to provide a simple guide that will help you get started.
What Do You Actually Need To Get Started?
Probably not as much as you think! You might have noticed that some photographers use more than one light, multiple modifiers, and have tens of thousands of dollars of equipment at their disposal. What you don’t know is that the majority of them began by working with one light. In fact, many still recommend that you begin each image with a single light and only add additional lights as you find you have the need. Beyond your primary light source, you just need a way to trigger your flash, a modifier, and something to hold it (a light stand, assistant, or your free hand).
Once you have settled on your chosen off camera flash source, you have to trigger it. You have a couple options here – wired or wireless. In the not too distant past, wired triggers were the way to go for budget conscious photographers just getting into the off camera flash game. These days, the budget argument isn’t nearly as convincing. You can find wireless radio triggers for less than you can pick up a PC sync cable hotshoe adapter and, while the PC cable and adapter may be somewhat more reliable than an inexpensive wireless trigger set, the ease of use and convenience of not being tethered to a wire connected to your camera is hard to beat. Having that freedom can inspire more creative lighting setups, placement, and lower stress levels by taking one more thing you have to worry about off your mental plate during a photo session.
Don’t Break The Bank!
Moving your flash off camera, even if you don’t have one yet, doesn’t have to be a budget busting endeavor. Take some time to consider how you are going to use your flash before making any purchases and take those considerations into account. Are you going to mainly be in a studio/controlled environment? Research a nice entry level strobe (or a more expensive one if you have the budget) and go for it! Want something portable and small? Check out some of the lower cost, manual speedlights that are out now. With a bit of research, you can find good quality, inexpensive speedlights, triggers, light stands, etc. that will last you for years without breaking your budget.
Don’t Forget a Modifier!
The larger your light source, the softer the light. Modifiers simply increase the size and change the shape of your light source. As will anything else I’ve discussed so far, you can spend as much or as little on a modifier as you would like. You can find a decent sized, diffused umbrella for incredibly cheap online or you can spend thousands of dollars on the latest softbox by one of the big manufacturers. If you are just starting out, I would recommend finding less expensive and committing to it for a period of time. By doing this, you will become much more knowledgeable about your modifier than if you run out and buy three or four different types. Once you begin to get comfortable with an umbrella, for example, and you need something in addition to it, that’s the time to start looking to into trying different modifier options. Check out some of the DIY options for an inexpensive way to try out new things before spending a lot of money on a brand name.
And Definitely Don’t Forget a Reflector!
This is perhaps one of the most versatile tools a photographer can use when discussing light. A 5-in-1 reflector gives you a white, gold, silver, and black reflector options and can also be used to diffuse a flash or sunlight. Having this on hand gives you a lot more control and more options when it comes to your lighting setups.
It seems that, in some ways, there is an evolution of thought that perhaps every photographer goes through. It starts with natural lighting, moves on to flash and then off camera flash, then loses its mind for a bit by focusing on elaborate multiple light setups, and then finally settles down to a comfortable “as many as necessary and no more” approach. If you can strive to start off in that final stage, you will be calmer, have lower blood pressure, and fewer wrinkles from stress…hopefully!
You can make lighting as complicated as you would like but at the end of the session all it boils down to is, did you get the shot? That’s what matters to you, that’s what matters to your clients. Don’t get hung up on trying to use a certain look or setup because you saw a video or read an article about someone else using it. Choose your tools carefully, learn how to use them, and apply them as just that – tools. Take time to learn as much as you can about lighting with resources like the greatly anticipated Lighting 101 DVD that will be releasing soon. Learn everything you possibly can and then apply only what you need to get the shot you envision. Approaching your off camera lighting from this perspective will help you avoid the pitfalls so many photographers fall into. Instead, you’ll focus on your art, grow as a photographer more quickly, and have a lot more fun in the process.
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CREDITS : Photographs by Michael have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.