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.
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