Off-camera flash on location – part 1

Studio photography is great fun and it’s possible to produce some fine photography with small flashes in your own home, but what happens when you get bored and fancy hanging a canvas on your wall with a bit more drama? You make the world your studio!

Armed with a camera, a small bag of lighting gear and your imagination, there’s endless fun to be had out on location. This series will give you all the tools you need to get the most from this enjoyable genre of photography.  

What is it?

Although it’s possible to use your speedlights to light objects and buildings, by far the majority of off-camera flash work involves portraiture. In essence, you use lights in the same way as in a studio, but instead of using a background such as vinyl or paper roll, you use the environment that you’re shooting in. As you can imagine this can make for much more interesting images with almost limitless storytelling potential.

The gear

The good news is that it’s possible to do this kind of work on a small budget. We would always recommend starting with one speedlight – something that you probably already own – and working up from there because, unlike in the studio, you’re going to have to balance the flash exposure with the ambient light. Don’t panic, though! This is much easier than it sounds, and we’ll walk you through the process in this series.

The rest of the gear you’ll need to give this a go is as follows:

  • Any DSLR or CSC that has a hotshoe
  • Any lens, but preferable with a focal length of at least 50mm on a full frame body or 35mm on a crop
  • A cheap set of triggers such as Yongnuo RF-603s – about £25-£30
  • A lightstand such as those sold by Konig – about £15
  • A Lightstand adaptor – between £5-£25
  • A small hotshoe softbox or shoot through umbrella – £5-£30
  • Sandbags – £10

As you can see, you don’t need to spend a fortune to try this! Shoot-through umbrellas are a popular first modifier because they’re so cheap at around a fiver, and they’re ideal for beginners. They’re a doddle to put up, give you lovely soft light and are cheap enough that your wallet doesn’t feel the pinch if they have an accident on location.

Don’t think that you can get away without the sandbags, though. You can buy photography-specific ones that you can leave empty in your gear bag and fill with rocks or earth on location. Trust us, an umbrella on a lightstand without sandbags to hold it down won’t stay standing for long!

Join us next time when we’ll discuss finding great locations for your first shoot...