Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Stunning Photos!
If you’re reading this you likely are a little intimidated by using off-camera flash and trust me, I’ve been there. But I promise it’s nothing to be afraid of and this quick off-camera flash tutorial will get you on the right track.
I primarily am a wedding photographer so all of my examples will be related to weddings however the concepts and principles are totally universal and will work for just about anything when using off-camera flash.
For most of the wedding day, I’m a natural-light shooter. But there are times that adding a flash is necessary outdoors and once it gets dark, there’s no escaping it’s necessity.
Many natural light shooters are timid to take on off-camera flash, but if you’re shooting in sunlight at all – whether it be full sun or by back-lighting your subjects using the sun, you’re already well on your way! You’ve already mastered using the sun as your off camera light source.
My Off-Camera Flash Equipment
There are three primary times when I use off-camera flash. In all of these instances I am using 580exII flashes with pocket wizards to fire flashes or more recently I’ve purchased the Canon 600 EX RT flashes which have a built in transmitter. The look of the photos is the same with either set-up, but I LOVE the 600 EX RT flashes because there’s one less moving part (no need for the pocket wizard), they have NEVER failed to fire, and I can change the settings on my off-camera flash from the flash I have mounted on my camera instead of going back and forth to my light stand to change the settings on the off-camera flash.
My Off-Camera Flash Setup
My set up is to have one of the flashes mounted on my camera, and one on a light stand. For the sake of this post, I will refer to the flash on my camera as Flash A and the flash on my light stand as Flash B. When using off-camera flash with the 600 EX RT system, I always have a flash mounted on my camera because I use it to trigger the other flash. Also, I am able to turn off Flash A from actually firing any light if I only want to use the off-camera light source.
Using Off-Camera Flash for Family Portraits
I often use flash for family photos since they’re the most formal photographs I take during the day and I want to make sure that they’re very evenly lit. But straight flash pointed at people from Flash A alone can look flat and boring. In these family photos, I am firing both Flash A and Flash B. The shot above shows my set up. In not so tight quarters, I can even move the flash a little farther away from myself to the left. I use Flash B firing more light than Flash A so that the off camera light is brighter and more dramatic whereas flash A is just filling in shadows. This gives me more dimension in the shadow area and a less-flat looking image:
Having two flashes firing is also critical sometimes when photographing groups during the day with a bright beach background. One flash is often not enough light to balance the super bright background. In any scenario while shooting family photos, I meter and expose for the background. With my camera in manual with an exposure that will give me a nice background exposure, I use the flashes to light the subjects. For this beach photo family photo, I am shooting at ISO 100, 1/200 of a second and f/8. Flash A and B are both on full power to balance that harsh sun behind the subject. If my flash power were any lower, my subjects would be very under-exposed since I need a camera exposure for the bright, bright background.
Using Off-Camera Flash at Night
Night shots are an awesome ending to a wedding album. I have two methods for shooting night shots. One has a very similar set up to my family photo setup where Flash B is beside me or in front of the couple but much further off to the side of me but still lighting the couple from the front. I turn flash A off altogether.
In below photo, Flash B is about 20 feet camera right. You can tell by the shadows on the left side of the groom.
I am a sucker for back-lit night shots, though! To achieve this look, it’s important to have Flash B completely hidden behind the couple. If the flash fires and I can see the actual flash with my lens, I will get a crazy lens-flare mess. I often direct the couple to stand very close together so their bodes are touching so I don’t get flare from Flash B going right into my lens through a gap in-between the couples bodies. I want the light to just hit the back of them. This helps hide my stand, too! Because of this, I keep the light stand relatively low. It’s usually about the height of the middle of the subjects torso or mid back height and pointed directly at the couple. You can experiment with moving flash B closer or further from the subject for different results. I usually start with Flash B about 10 feet away from the couple directly behind them. I do not fire Flash A at all. My Canon 5D Mark III does well in low light with noise, so I shoot at fairly high ISOs. If your camera doesn’t do so well with noise, stay with a lower ISO and use a slower shutter speed and a tripod if necessary.
More Off-Camera Flash Examples
(Below) ISO 3200, f/4, 1/80th of a second Flash power 1/8
(Above) ISO 6400, f/2.8, 1/25 flash power 1/8th
Here’s an example of a couple standing in the same scene. I tried lighting them from the front as well as the back. I prefer the back-lit look for this scene. In both photos, I am only using flash B.
Lastly, I will use off-camera flash for dancing photos at the reception to maintain the ambiance of the dance floor. When indoors, I use flash A and flash B together. I bounce flash A off of the ceiling to maintain a tiny bit of fill flash and use flash B on a higher power than flash A to give me some dramatic lighting. When I am photographing outdoor receptions, I point flash A directly at the subject on a much lower power than Flash B which is on the side of the dance floor and my main light source.
In this first photo, Flash B is on the edge of the dance floor behind the boy in the striped shirt.
In some scenarios, I will turn off flash A and only shoot reception moments with flash B. I wanted to take a photo of this dance performance so that my angle felt like that of a guest actually watching the performance. I didn’t want to use Flash A or it would have illuminated the heads of the people in front of me. Flash B is off to the right hand side, pointed at the dancer.
Using off-camera flash requires experimenting. You will need to tweak the exact settings with each set up. You can practice in your own backyard by lighting a tree or your BBQ or whatever is out there! Like all things photography related, it becomes much easier with practice!
Looking for more help with using your flash? Try these free tutorials:
The 11 Best Off-Camera Flash Tutorials on the Web!
How to Use Off-Camera Flash for Daytime Portraits
The Premier On-Camera Flash Technique Everyone Needs to Know
How to Use Your Speedlight Flash (Video)
Suggested Camera Settings for Taking Photos Indoors with Flash! (Video)
I hope these off-camera flash tips & tricks showing how I utilize off-camera flash on the wedding day are of help to you and you can start adding some off-camera flash into your shots and give your clients some jaw dropping dramatic shots that they weren’t expecting!
Now it’s your turn, are you or are you not already using off-camera flash? Got any tips to share? Let me know in the comments down below!