Off Camera Flash Tutorial


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:
  • Camera and lens of your choice (this photographer used a Nikon D800 with varying lenses, including a Nikon 85mm 1.8 lens, a Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens, and a Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens)
  • A Nikon SB 800 (or Canon or other camera make equivalent)
  • A Photoflex Octodome
  • Either a light stand or a hand-held pole attachment and assistant

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.



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.


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


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


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

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Using Flash to Light Up the Rain


Today’s feature is from .

Erika says:

“It poured rain for Jason and Diana’s engagement session. The type of rain that you get absolutely drenched in. Luckily, this couple looks just as good wet as they do dry.

In fact, I would venture to say they’d look good in any and all weather conditions. Thanks for toughing it out long enough for that rainbow, Jason and Diana. We can’t wait for your wedding in August.”

Erika’s Photography Tip:

As it was raining and cloudy for the majority of the session, we had to create our own light. We used speed lights to back flash the rain and the foliage around the couple.

Once the rainbow emerged, we took advantage of the nice soft natural light.







Erika used a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24mm 2.8 lens, a Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens, a Canon 85mm 1.2L lens, and a Canon 70-200mm F2.8 lens to capture these images.

Erika Jensen is a Canadian Rockies Wedding, Engagement, and Family portrait photographer. Erika and her partner, Lanny, also put on photography workshops for both wedding and portrait photographers, and you can read about their workshops here.

Need more help with using off-camera flash and flash photography? These images are gorgeous, but wouldn’t be possible without the proper mastery of flash.

To get an awesome hands-on guide for rocking flash photography, check out Simple SLR’s guide just for portrait photographers!



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How to Replicate Softbox Light by Scott Wyden Kivowitz

Today’s tutorial is from .

A softbox light is used by many professional photographers, and it can be very expensive. These tips allow you to create the look without killing your budget.

Scott says:

“If you’re like me then you enjoy soft light on the couples you are photographing. However, if you are also like me then you are not keen on carrying a softbox with you for an engagement session.

Softbox Light Tips

That is why I am here to share a tip for replicating softbox light, without that light modifier. In fact, this tip is extremely light, portable, and convenient. It does, though, need a second person to hold the new modifier.

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need:

  • Nikon D800 (or camera of your choice)
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (or lens of your choice)
  • A backlight
  • A flash
  • A PocketWizard
  • 1 TriGrip reflector from Lastolite
  • 1 Justin Spring Clamp from Manfrotto

Let’s dig in, shall we?


The photograph you see here was taken in Dumbo (Brooklyn, New York) where there is a small but beautiful park in between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

As you can see, the Manhattan Bridge is in the background, and the couple is exposed nicely.

The day I took this image I was traveling extremely light, with only one camera body, one lens, a backlight, a flash, a PocketWizard, and a couple pieces of equipment combined together to make a faux-softbox.

The faux-softbox is something I came up with (and will be explained in this tutorial) that allows me to achieve a softbox-like lighting setup simply and easily and away from the studio.

It’s composed of two different pieces of equipment, including a reflector and a spring clamp.

The reflector has to be large enough to cover the couple, but compact and light enough to travel with for the session.

For this job, I use a TriGrip reflector from Lastolite.

I choose this particular brand for two reasons. First, because you can choose from silver, gold and white reflectors.

Secondly, because it has a solid handle that your assistant can use to hold the reflector.

Typically, I’d start with the white reflector and depending on the couple’s skin tones, move to silver, if needed.

However, note that once you switch away from white to silver or gold, the effect is less like a softbox.


The second piece of equipment I use is the Justin Spring Clamp from Manfrotto.

For this situation, I clamp the tool to the grip of the reflector. And with the help of an assistant to hold your light modifier, the setup of your faux-softbox is complete and you have an easy-to-hold mashup of lighting and tools that replicate the look of a softbox.

Then once setup is taken care of, I mount a PocketWizard to the shoe mount and my LumoPro LP180 on top of that.

Be mindful when you get to the point where you’re adjusting your flash, as the flash will have to be set to a higher power than normal because it’s losing light as it fires, bounces off the reflector, and reaches the couple.

However, even with the light loss and power bump, the light is flattering, soft, and even.


Above you’ll see my assistant Gevon holding the faux-softbox for me while my wife assists with makeup.

My final piece of advice would be to make sure that the person holding the setup has a good grip for when the wind picks up.

Reflectors turn into sails when the wind hits it, and the last thing you want is for the setup to go flying somewhere into the abyss.

At the end of the day the couple was happy with their photos, they ordered many prints for themselves, for family and friends.

The last two photographs you viewed here were a taste of the fun we had with the lighting setup, backlights and mixing artificial and natural light with the beauty of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn.

If you have any questions about the lighting setup please do not hesitate to ask.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!


See more tips on Flash Photography and Lighting.



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Nighttime Couples Portraits by Heather Kanillopoolos

Hillsdale Michigan nighttime portraits streetlight

Today’s feature is from .

Heather says:

“This session was a blast! The couple were so comfortable and cuddly with some simple guidance.

We shot in a small town with a LOT of character, so I decided to use Off-Camera Flash in order to make the most of the gorgeous location and couple – not to mention the gorgeous sunset.

Most of these shots follow a VERY simple setup: one speedlight on a stand, shot through an umbrella at the couple. Another bare flash 6ft behind the couple, angled toward their elbows with very low power, to create a “rim” light.

The silhouette image in this set shows what the ambient looked like without flash (the black and white silhouette was shot with one flash: backlight only).”

Heather’s Photography Tip:

OFC (off-camera flash) is a very important tool to set you apart and give you the freedom to follow your creativity.

In order to start learning off-camera flash, you simply need (1) a flash and (2) something to tell it to fire – such as a trigger/receiver set.

(I personally like the Yongnuo 568EX II flash and the Yongnuo 622c trigger/receivers.)

Once you have your flash and receiver, I recommend the following procedure for putting your gear into practice:

  1. Set a doll or other object on the kitchen table
  2. Meter for the brightest part of the ambient- for example, the window, if there is one.
  3. Take a shot with the flash off. Your window will look great and your subject- the doll- will be way too dark.
  4. Take a guess at a flash power setting. Take the shot with flash.
  5. Check the histogram / back of the camera. Adjust the flash power to taste.
  6. Fire again.
  7. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.Repeat.Repeat.

These steps boil down to this basic mantra: “Expose for ambient in camera. Light the subject with the flash.”

While you shoot, keep in mind that the shutter speed effects the ambient but does not effect the flash, whereas the ISO and aperture will effect both the ambient and the flash.

So, for example, if the background is overexposed, drop your exposure in camera. This will mean raising the flash power to match the new settings so that the subject remains well lit.

Or, if your background is underexposed, let in more light by adjusting the shutter speed. This won’t effect the look of the flash at all.

Personally, I always suggest that you get yourself in the habit of using flash Manually (that is, choosing the settings yourself) rather than in ttl/ettl.

After a bit of practice, you’ll know intuitively the ballpark you want the settings in, and you’ll only need to tweak a bit.

Also remember that with most cameras, you must keep your shutter speed below 250 in order to use flash.


Because any faster, and the shutter is opening and closing far too fast to actually “see” the flash at all. And when that happens, you’ll often get a “bar” of black across your shot because the flash only has enough time to light a part of the room by the time the shutter closes.

So, set your camera to 200th of a second, leave it there, and try to use ISO and depth of field alone to manipulate the ambient light, at least while you’re learning.

With a basic knowledge of OCF, you can make a big jump to the next level of photography skill – and your potential clients will notice.

Hillsdale Michigan nighttime portraits sunset clouds
Hillsdale Michigan nighttime portraits backlit
Hillsdale Michigan nighttime portraits silhouette
Heather used a Canon 5dmrkiii with a Canon 24-70 2.8 lens, a Canon 85 1.8 lens, and a Canon 135 2.0 lens to capture these images.

Heather Kanillopoolos is a Lansing, Michigan Wedding photographer.

See more tips on Camera Settings, Flash Photography, and Lighting.


Need more help with using flash and speedlight? Check out this great tutorial on flash photography from Simple SLR!



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