This guide is specifically for someone who has never attempted shooting with external lighting. That said, you more advanced shooters may still get something out of it.
Part 1: Equipment Required
I could start with techniques, opinions and whatnot but I figure since you’re not going to be taking any photos without the proper equipment, I’d start here.
- Cords and such
- Stands, Gaffer Tape, Etc.
First you’re going to need a camera with a hot shoe or pc-sync out. Yes I know it sounds obvious but just today someone asked me what “lights” I recommended for a point and shoot. I told them to buy a real camera and get back to me. I neglected to mention though that it was possible to do but I do not have any experience with it. Maybe in a future article?
Next you’ll need a light source. Since this is a beginner guide I’ll start with plain old hot-shoe flashes. Some of the best flashes ever made are Vivitar 285s. They’re cheap, durable and have been around forever. They went into production in the 70′s so there are thousands of them and easy enough to find. Make sure you get a model that is compatible with newer, low voltage, digital SLR bodies if you intend to use it on camera at some point. Wouldn’t want to fry your camera would you? I believe, but don’t hold me to it, that all 285hv’s are digital safe. I own 2 285′s and use them almost ever single time I do off camera lighting. They are always in my bag.
There are, of course, other options. Pretty much any flash with a hot shoe can be used off camera if you have the correct adapter (See cords below).
In order to get your flashes to fire at the same time your camera does you’re going to need a triggering system. I’ve found that yelling at my flashes don’t have the desired effect and rarely go off when I want them too. There are multiple ways to trigger your flashes though.
Sticking with the beginner theme I’ll start with Ebay Slaves. No they are not small children from foreign countries that trigger the flashes. They are cheap, chinease triggers sold exclusively on Ebay. My first set of triggers were Ebay Slaves and I loved them. They’re easily modified to get increased range and cheap enough that if you break them, it’s not the end of the world. I bought a transmitter and 3 receivers for about $30. Mine worked great for about 3 months triggering almost half the time! I modified the antenna which bumped me up to about 55% in the distance of 25ft and about 25% from 100ft. I actually got one to trigger about 100 yards away one time. I only attempted to use them in the cold once and they were not entirely fond of it so I didn’t try again. They were a great learning experience though which made me want to continue taking off camera photos and buy a better system. Because of their popularity they have vastly increased in quality over the past few years so keep that in mind if you decide to buy them.
There are a lot of options when you have money to burn. Of course everyone’s mind always goes to Pocket Wizards but we don’t all have that kind of money. Plus you’ve never taken off camera flash photos before. You might hate them.
Cybersyncs are easily the most cost effective solution and although they’re not super cheap at about $60 a unit, they’re still a fraction of other systems. I bought mine almost exactly a year ago and have been in love ever since. They trigger 99.9% of the time and with thousands of photos, I have yet to change the batteries. They’re compact, rugged and easy to use. There one sole purpose is to trigger those flashes. I’ve used mine in dumping snow, -10 degree temperatures and from hundreds of feet away and they’ve been great every time. Only thing you need to watch out for is accidentally triggering them with the test buttons. I won’t go into more detail in this article, just know that they are great triggers and I highly recommend them.
3. Cords and such
You’re going to need a way to get information from the trigger to the flash and to that there are multiple options. You will use a cord and connect it directly to your flash (depending on the connector) or to a hot shoe adapter which then attaches to the flash. On the 285 you will need the hot shoe adapter. Most new flashes have a pc sync though. I use a hot shoe adapter because it has a screw mount for my stands and 2 pc sync connectors. I have modified my 285′s to accept pc sync as well. If you’re unsure what cord you need leave a comment and I’ll let you know.
4. Stands, Gaffer Tape, Etc.
Flash stands are a necessity as well. I won’t go into detail but expect to pay about $30 a piece.
Another great tool to have is a Gorilla Pod. It is a flexible way to attach your flash to pretty much anything. I’ve even set them up on the ground in a pinch.
You will also want a copious amount of Gaffer tape. You never know when you might need it. I also carry electrical tape and duct tape just in case.
Going off camera is not cheap although with some research and good economic sense you won’t break the bank.
Flashes – $90 a piece
Triggers – $30 or $130 (min)
Cords/Adapters – $10 piece (for what I have)
Stands – $30 a piece
So you’re looking about about $460 for 2 Vivitar 285′s, Cybersync set, cords/adapters and stands. Don’t get discouraged though. Off camera lighting is one of the best ways to get your pictures to stand out.