Flash Triggers for Using On-Camera Flashes Off-Camera


It might be easier just to stick with natural lighting for portraiture, but there are times when a portrait needs more mood than the standard light or on-camera flash can provide. The on-camera flash is a great and portable way to brighten up a scene, whether it’s in the studio or on location. Combining it with a wireless flash trigger opens up many doors for creativity and allows a photographer more control over the results. 


Wireless flash triggers are usually configured in two parts: a transmitter, which is mounted on the camera—most often in the hot shoe—and a receiver, which is connected to the flash. First and foremost, make sure that both have fresh batteries, because low power can be the cause of misfires. 

Make sure to turn on the trigger and receiver before the camera or flash. Once everything is on, select a channel to use and make sure the transmitter and receiver are both on that channel. With all your gear set up, it’s time to check your connection. Many transmitters will have a green and red indicator light that will let you know if the connection is successful. Many will have a “test” or “pilot” button, as well. 

Adjust your camera settings as needed to enable flash in the same way you would with an on-camera flash. If you’re able to take a photo with the flash firing properly, you’re ready to compose your shot and set the correct exposure. 


The off-camera flash can be used in a similar way to studio lights. Simply adjust the flash angle and height in reference to your model to create a variety of different lighting effects. Go ahead and experiment with different angles and heights to get more comfortable and confident with this new system. The camera’s aperture will control the flash exposure, and the shutter speed will regulate the amount of ambient light striking the sensor or film. 

To achieve a simple fill light, the flash should be on a light stand at a relatively far distance from your model so that it covers a large area. It should point straight toward your model and can be adjusted based on how the shadows define the face. By filling the shadow areas slightly, you’ll shoot clearer images with more balanced lighting. To create a rim light, place the flash indirectly behind your model, in an outdoor setting. Using the sun as the main light source, the flash then creates the rim light. This luminous effect highlights the subject’s edges and adds more texture to the final photo. 


In addition to more creative freedom, one of the greatest advantages of the off-camera flash is that you are presented with multiple options for different types of light modifiers. When it comes to light modifiers, bigger is usually better for softer, more even lighting. While it’s possible to use a smaller modifier with on-camera flash, with an off-camera flash, you can use a larger diffuser to soften light even more. You can also use modifiers such as a grid to regulate the spread of light. 

It’s also important to make sure you’re set up for different light modifiers. An umbrella mount will accept an umbrella shaft and enable adjustment of the light’s angle on a stand. Using the appropriate mount bracket will allow a softbox to be attached to a flash. 

With such a variety of different lighting setups, flash settings, and light modifiers, the possibilities are endless when working with this system. Once you become more comfortable working with your off-camera flash setup, you can gradually add a second or third flash, or even mimic that same effect with a reflector.  


Practicing with friends and family will help you become more confident in using new equipment and different lighting setups. Make sure to continue to experiment with various angles, heights, and positions and note how the shadows change. As it is with mastering everything else, practice always makes perfect. 

Did you find these tips useful? Let us know in the Comments section, below!


Thanks for a great article and interesting read. It clears up some issues I have understanding off-camera flash

Levi, we're glad this information added to your understanding! Thanks for reading and good luck using off-camera flash.

I'm glad to see this article, Marjorie. Flash is by far the area of photography where I need help. There's a cartoon meme I saw about this, the meme where Batman slaps Robin if you know that one? Robin says "I just prefer the look of available light…" and Batman says "Admit you don't understand flash!"

I'm a reluctant product photographer who has no clue how to use off-camera fill flash. (This was never supposed to be my job; I was hired to run the website. But I can't get better until I admit my problem, you know?) My boss splashed out on a /magical/ Ortery light box (from B&H!) that's about the size of a dorm fridge. I put our products in there, crank up the continuous LED lights, focus-stack a few frames, stuff looks great. Boss is happy.

Some of our products don't fit in the Ortery, so then I'm at the mercy of big white dropcloths and reflectors in the parking lot. If a windy day topples my reflectors, or if noon sunlight puts harsh light on the products, I'm sunk. I bought a decent 3rd-party flash and transmitter with my own money, but my results can be very hit-or-miss.

I think a lot goes on in this sentence up above: "The camera’s aperture will control the flash exposure, and the shutter speed will regulate the amount of ambient light striking the sensor or film." I know the "triangle" of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. But when I have an off-camera flash, I now have a "rectangle" and I seldom get it right. Any shutter speed faster than 1/180s and my camera refuses to take the shot. I have a third-party flash that is fully compatible with my DSLR…so long as I mount the flash on the camera hot shoe. But when I break out the wireless transmitter? My DSLR smiles and nods politely, but it does not understand the conversation those two are having. Perhaps because I went with third-party flash and transmitter, some of the wireless flash info doesn't appear in my EXIF data, so I can't always retrace my steps!

Every new piece of equipment is an adjustment; it took me many tries to dial in /exactly/ the right white balance for the Ortery box, for example. But off-camera flash has so many parts, and some of those parts can be ten feet away from me during a shoot.

Hi Artie,

Third party flashes/triggers have improved a lot over the years but sometimes they don’t unlock all of the TTL functions you would get with an on-brand camera. Luckily, if you are working primarily with still life/studio setups, you can build up your lighting from scratch and set your flash to manual mode. It isn’t nearly as scary as it might sound. Most product/studio photographers shoot entirely manual because it provides consistent, repeatable results whereas leaning on TTL can give you different exposures based off of your camera’s metering, making your work in post a lot more arduous to match images later on.  

A light meter is your best bet to nail your exposure but if you don’t want to splurge on one, you could trial and error with the power settings of your flash. Also, you will likely want to invest in a softbox for your flash to shape the light to look more natural for your products. You may also want to check out this article for a little more info: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/buying-guide/guide-camera-flash


I hope this is helpful!