Off Camera Flash, An Introductory Workshop

On the 9th December 2012 I Ied a very successful one day introduction to using hot shoe flash and Speedlites (Speedlights for Nikon shooters) off camera. Before me I had one of the most interested groups I have worked with for a long time. I was supported by Chloe our wonderful model, who I have to say understood my well developed and sometimes warped sense of humour!

With a one day workshop I can only cover the basics and give a taste of what can be done with these small and versatile flash units. In the morning we worked through use of simple and inexpensive light modifiers and basic manual flash studio style set-ups.

In the afternoon we moved outside to work with eTTL off camera flash - the same principles apply whether you're a Canon, Nikon or other brand camera user, it's just the controls may be different.

What follows is a step-by-step breakdown of one shot in particular:

As you can see, the unlit, straight out of the camera frame is pretty grim! The background is messy and the camera in Av mode has metered for the sky leaving no foreground detail.

Add a TTL flash to liven it up and create a focal point - no exposure correction either on the camera or flash. 

I prefer to connect the flash via a dedicated cable rather than the Canon STE-2 remote trigger or other TTL trigger - the advantage of a cable is it does not need setting up; is not reliant on batteries; is not subject to local RF interference - the leading brands of TTL radio triggers have been allocated a frequency range in the UK which is highly over populated and includes security alarms, medical & radio telemetry and garage doors; if you're working with an assistant you know they'll be at the end of the cable and not wandering off! 

The Canon STE-2 remote trigger is about as much use a chocolate teapot outside, especially in high ambient light. Here, the range was too much and we couldn't get a direct line of sight as a result of using a Lastolite Ezybox to modify the flash.

On the flash is my (not so) secret weapon, a Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber gel to warm the flash lit part of the shot without affecting the background - a camera lens filter would color the whole frame - do it in post-production and you'll need to create a mask for a local correction.

In this frame the flash has been over exposed to give more detail, probably by 2/3 or 1 stop.

This frame shows why I chose to use the Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber gel to warm the flash lit part of the shot! Unmodified, the light from most Speedlites is a little cool for my taste. If Rosco Cinegel #02 Pale Bastard Amber is too warm for your liking there is always Rosco Cinegel #302 Pale Bastard Amber for a less pronounced effect.

So, here we go. The shot is now looking more how I previsualised it - the background has been made darker by under exposing by a stop or so in camera. Remember that the aperture controls the flash exposure, the shutter the ambient or available light exposure. Use the Exposure Compensation function of your camera to make this adjustment when shooting in Aperture Value mode (Av or A).

I decided to add some interest to the final frame by adding a couple of the workshop participants, making like paparazzi. The lights they are holding are not flash, but LEDs. One was a Rosco Litepad 3 inch disc, the other a TK Max cheapy.

BTS from Nick Lightbody, looking very much as the scene would to the naked eye.
Thanks for the shot, Nick.

Camera & Flash Settings:

Camera - Canon EOS 5D MkII
Lens - Sigma 70 - 200 mm f2.8 Apo EX DG OS - what a great lens.
ISO 320
White Balance Daylight
Av - Aperture Value auto
Exposure Compensation -1.33
Auto focus, centre spot only

Flash - Canon 580 EX II
Exposure Compensation +0.66, maybe 1 stop
Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber - soon to be available with Gel Clip PLUS
Paint Pole with VAL Spigot
Voice Activated Light Stand (VAL)

What this space for news of a new series of lighting workshops for 2012 - not just flash, but lighting for photographers; we intend to show you how to light in all circumstances and give you the knowledge and confidence with daylight, flash and continuous lights. These workshops will start with the basics (including some theory) and build your experience, understanding and confidence in a wide variety of lighting challenges and scenarios.

Foot Note: This was the first time I had used the Sigma 70 - 200 mm f2.8 Apo EX DG OS lens. Not as heavy as I thought and with easy handling compared to my favourite Canon 100 - 400 mm F4.5/5.6 L IS glass. This lens will see a lot more use over the coming months.


  1. This was a fantastic course, I leaned an awful lot. Thanks Ian!
    Dave Ireland


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