Off Camera Flash Tutorial

MomentsinLightPhotographyHoustonfamilyphoto

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.8
Focal Length: 85mm
Shutter Speed: 1/50
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 160

For this tutorial, the photographer recommends the following equipment:

Sometimes the difference between a stunning portrait and one that falls a little short is just a small pop of light. Whether you are working outdoors or indoors, combining natural light with off camera flash to highlight your subject can take an image to the next level.

Sometimes, all you need is a reflector to pop more light onto your subject in order to make them stand out from the background. A lot of natural light photographers do this, and it can definitely do the trick.

But it doesn’t work in all cases, like on cloudy days where there is no real sun to reflect, or in cases where your composition doesn’t allow the sun to hit the reflector at the right angle, or where the reflection is too bright and hurts your subject’s eyes. And even though I always bring a reflector with me, I still like to have something else in my arsenal in case it’s not enough.

That’s where off-camera flash comes in.

Using off camera flash, or OCF, can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be once you understand the basic concepts and how to modify the light to get your desired effect. In this article, I’ll go over some of the tips and setups that will help you tackle OCF like a pro.

Off Camera Flash – Make It Natural

The main rule about off-camera flash is to make it look as natural as possible. The best portraits that pull it off effectively are those where you can’t tell that anything was used.

In order to make the flash as natural looking as possible, I like to use a diffuser on the flash. Diffusers, if you haven’t use one before, soften the harshness of the flash and the shadows created by the flash.

There are a plethora of flash diffusers on the market, but the one that I like the best for portraits is the Photoflex Octodome. They come in various sizes, but for portraits of one or two people the small one is great and very portable.

After placing the speedlight/flash (I use a Nikon SB 800) in the Octodome, attach it to either a light stand or, if you have an assistant, a hand-held pole attachment. The latter can be more ideal because it allows for more flexibility with the direction of the light, as an assistant is able to move and adjust it as needed.

Once it’s set up, I like to position it at a 45 degree angle anywhere from a foot to a few feet away from the subject depending on how much light is needed (see below) – the closer to the subject it is, the brighter your subject will be.

pull-back-shot

Settings

Now that everything is positioned correctly, I use a flash trigger to trigger the flash from my camera and use manual mode on both flash and camera.

As a general starting point for camera settings, I set the flash to ¼ power. I then set the correct exposure for my image without flash, and then I underexpose my image by about one stop by adjusting the shutter speed.

Underexposing like this will underexpose your subject so that the flash can provide the additional light needed on your subject without being overpowering.

Now that everything is set up and my settings are locked in, I take the photo and then analyze the image on the camera display. If I want more light then I set the power of the OCF to a higher setting, such as ½ power.

Conversely, if the image is too bright then I adjust it to a lower power, around maybe 1/8 power. If I find that I need just a minor tweak I adjust the shutter speed up or down 1/3 stop.

Taking a few shots to perfect the light will really benefit you in the long run because after you have found the best combination of ambient light and flash for your setup, you can lock it in for as many poses as you like a long as you stay in the same lighting situation and at approximately the same distance from the flash and your subject.

Restrictions to OCF

One thing to keep in mind is that the sync speed of your flash is generally about 1/250th of a second. What this means is that if you go higher than 1/250 of a second shutter speed, the flash will not sync with your shutter and not let the right amount of light in.

So, due to this restriction, the flash is best used indoors, on cloudy days, or in shady areas where it’s not so bright that the shutter speed needs to be set really high when using low apertures.

There are solutions for this as well (such as neutral density filters) but to keep things simple when first learning this technique, stay in environments that tend to be less bright.

It takes a little while to get the hang of balancing the ambient light with the flash but once you get to a point where you can get a great exposure within a few shots you will fall in love difference it makes in your portraits.

Most of us do not want to dwell in the super technical, but hopefully by practicing these few easy steps you will have another tool that you can use confidently to create the images that you envision.

The images below (along with the one at the top) are a few different examples of using off camera flash in different lighting situations. In all of these images I balanced the ambient light with a flash with an Octodome diffuser.

MomentsinLightPhotographyHoustonfamilyportraits

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.8
Focal Length: 85mm
Shutter Speed: 1/50
Aperture: f/3.2
ISO: 250

MomentsinLightPhotographymaternityphotoHouston

Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
Focal Length: 35mm
Shutter Speed: 1/50
Aperture: f/3.2
ISO: 320

MomentsinLightPhotographyTheWoodlandsfamilyphoto

Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.8
Focal Length: 85mm
Shutter Speed: 1/50
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 160

Click here to see more tips on Lighting and Flash.

 

 

Thank you for using the links above, as they help us earn a commission and support the site, keeping it free for everyone.

Comments

comments

Get Free Email Updates!

Get weekly updates & photography tips delivered straight to your inbox!

We will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Related Post

About Stephanie Hart

Stephanie Hart is the owner of Moments in Light Photography in Houston specializing in maternity, newborn and baby photography.