It's interesting that when someone first gets into photography, they get a camera, a lens, a tripod, and maybe even a camera remote, but neglect to get a flash.
After all, light is critical to photography, and the light emitted from the pop-up flash is certainly not the kind of light you want to use.
What's more, unless you learn how to use light - both in natural and artificial forms - how can you expect to create the best images?
With that in mind, let's explore a few ways that you can take control of your off-camera flash so you can start making better photos.
Step 1: Get a Trigger
Since we'll be working with the flash off-camera, we'll need a way to trigger the flash.
Wireless triggers like the one shown above will do the trick.
Just pick up one (you can find them on the cheap), attach it to your camera's hot-shoe mount, and it'll send a signal to the receiver (which is attached to the flash) whenever the shutter is triggered.
Since the flash won't be on the camera, you'll need a means of supporting it. A light stand or a tripod is ideal as they're easy to move around and adjust the height to customize the lighting.
As is the case with many budget-friendly triggers, manual flash is the only option.
That means you have to adjust the power of the flash on your own, which isn't a big deal.
Just select a power rating, take a test shot, and if there's too much light, tone it down. If there's not enough light, ramp it up!
Step 2: Dial in the Camera Settings
The next step is to get everything in the camera setup.
Start with an aperture of f/5.6, a shutter speed of 1/200 seconds, and an ISO of 200.
Granted, these settings will vary depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is the flash sync speed of your particular flash. Nevertheless, these settings should be a good starting point for most situations.
Then, get the subject into position and place the flash to the left or right of the subject, approximately three feet away.
Adjust the height of the flash so that it's about at head height and set it to half power.
Compose the shot, then fire the shutter.
If you find that the shot is overexposed, try dialing down the power of the flash. You can also decrease the ISO to correct this problem.
Conversely, if the image is underexposed, boost the flash power or increase the ISO.
Either way, leave the shutter speed alone as it will not have an impact on the intensity of the light emanating from the flash.
Lastly, set the white balance setting to Flash, that way your images have accurate colors.
Step 3: Experiment With Light
Now that we have the first photo out of the way, it's time to experiment a little.
Try moving the flash nearer the subject and then further away.
Also try varying the angle of the flash, taking some photos with it horizontal to the ground and others with it positioned increasingly upward toward the ceiling.
Move the flash lower and higher relative to the model's head as well.
And you might be wondering, can you use modifiers in full sun?
Yes, you can! Just be very careful and use High-Speed Sync on your camera and flash.
Keep the subject at close range, too, no further than 10 feet away. Set your flash to full power, 1/1 on manual, and only use a wide aperture and a fast shutter speed.
For example, the shot below was taken with a KOBRA Flash Modifier at an aperture of f/3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds.
A great way you can experiment with an off-camera flash is to play around with its intensity by using a flash modifier.
Modifiers like the KOBRA Flash Modifier shown above take light modification to another level because it has a built-in reflector that bounces light forward through its clear silicone body.
That gives you much more accurate control over how your off-camera flash looks because there are two layers of diffusion to soften the intensity of the light.
That's beneficial whether you're shooting with one off-camera flash or multiple off-camera flashes.
In fact, with a KOBRA Flash Modifier, you can get high-quality lighting even with a hot-shoe mounted flash, as you can see in the comparison of the two images above.
Again, that's because this little gadget diffuses the light in two ways, giving you clean, soft light that helps minimize shadows.
What's more, KOBRA can be used for portrait or landscape oriented shots. And since it weighs just 4.5 ounces, you don't have to worry about feeling like you're bogged down with heavy gear, either.
Perhaps my favorite part is that when you're done shooting, you can fold the flash modifier up, slide it in your bag, and when it's time to use it again, it'll return to its original shape.
In the end, having a flash modifier not only helps you get better lighting, but it also helps you be more creative. Use it off or on-camera. Use it with one flash or have a couple on hand in instances in which you have a couple of flashes going.
You can even use the KOBRA Band - the silicone attachment that grips and holds the KOBRA Flash Modifier to your flash - to hold gels as well for adding a bit of color to your shots.
So, if you're looking for a way to truly master using an off-camera flash that gives you plenty of creative latitude, I recommend you visit the KOBRA Flash Modifier Kickstarter page!