Ep 17: Get your gear off! How to use off-camera flash. Part 1: Speedlites

Many photographers are scared of using flashes. This awesome episode dispels a bunch of myths about using flash and provides you with a step-by-step introduction into the world of speedlites. Gina and Valerie chat about cost effective (actually, ridiculously cheap!) options so that won’t break your bank so that you can start experimenting with speedlites immediately – and take your photography to another level.
#ginachallenge “Flash”

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Show notes

This week’s #ginachallenge is “flash”

Meet Flo Fox, the Blind Photographer Who’s Chronicled New York City for 40 Years

Riley Hooper “FLO”

My shot
Ginas Shot

Flo’s shot
Flos Shot

What’s a speedlite?

an abnormal fear or dislike of flashes of light.

I use a speedlite flash on 20%-30% of my photo shoots. Like any piece of kit, they have their pros and cons but speedlites can light you out of some tight spots (quite literally).

What are some good speedlites for beginners?
A great alternative for those of you looking to save a few bucks is the Yongnuo YN-560 II.
It has a very similar look to the Canon 580EX II and Nikon’s SB Speedlight series.

Rechargeable batteries
I use eneloop (Panasonic) approx $25 for 4

On camera flash hacks
How your flash has been pre-programmed

1. If you still have your training wheels on put something over the flash to soften the light inbuilt diffuser

  • buy one of those plastic diffusers
  • tracing paper
  • add a small softbox
  • bounce into the ceiling
  • use some white card

2. Camera set to M flash is TTL

  • use as much available light as possible and just pop in minimal amounts of light to clean up skin tone and create a catch light
  • reduce the amount of flash by ⅓-2/3 a stop

Taking your portraits to the next level using flash!

The Gear Essentials:

1. Speedlites
2. Remote Triggers

  • PocketWizards.
  • A good entry level flash trigger is the YONGNUO RF-602 (approx. $30).

3. Light Stands

There are three options when it comes to mounting speedlites off camera:

First, you can use a light stand. Light stands vary in price from $20 to $200+ dollars, depending on the make and construction.

Second, you can use a GorrillaPod and mount your speedlites to a door or place it on top of something near your model.

Third, you can mount your speedlites to an extension pole (or monopod) and have someone hold the light above your model. I like to do this because it gives me more options when shooting and means there aren’t any light stands in the way of my shot.

4. Light Shapers

LumiQuest Mini Softbox. It attaches to your speedlites with Velcro and folds flat for easy storage.

5. SLR Camera with Hot Shoe Mount

The technique

Harley Bonner
Harley Bonner (Neighbours)

A Step-by-Step Guide to How I Light a Shot:

1. Take an ambient reading to determine correct exposure for the background.
My ambient reading was f/4 @ 1/125 sec and ISO 100. This exposure will now remain fixed. I will now add light to create a nice skin tone.

2. I ask myself if adding flash will improve or detract from the shot.
In this case, my answer is a definite yes, it will improve my shot.

3. I bring in my flash and set it up I mount my speedlites to a light stand via an adaptor and I’m using a small LumiQuest Softbox to soften and shape my light.


4. The quickest and easiest way to figure out the best settings is to use a light meter*
I believe the light meter is an essential tool in good portrait photography and would never leave home without one. When you use a light meter you know you have most accurate readings, and lighting becomes really easy.

* If you don’t have a light meter, you can still work with off-camera flash. It will just take a bit longer to work out your exposure.

I suggest you set up your lights per the diagram and start at a power setting of 1/32 and gradually increase your power in small increments ( 1/32, 1/16,1/8,1/4 etc) until you get the desired results.

5. Set your light meter to non-sync and press the button on the side of the meter.
The non-sync button will flash on and off indicating it’s ready.

If you don’t have an assistant, I suggest taking a radio slave off camera and using it to test fire your flash so you can take a reading. Hold the meter in front of your sitter’s face and point the sensor dome towards the camera.

6. Keep increasing or decreasing light until you have it ½ stop to 1 stop over ambient setting.

A few quick tips for better portraits

  1. If you want a clean beauty-style shot with lots of shadow detail, add +1 stop of fill flash and shoot at your ambient meter settings.
  2. If you want a moody shot increase your shutter speed. The shutter speed controls ambient light
  3. To soften the light use a large modifier and bring light as close as possible
  4. If you want to shoot a wide shot take a frame without the lightstand first and then it’s really easy to retouch using photoshop
  5. Light from slightly about to avoid the horror movie effect
  6. Try and avoid over lighting and killing the mood of a shot
  7. Bring flash in close enough to have an effect ( big stadium events example)
5 Responses
  1. Garry lovell

    Thanks Gina & Valerie
    That was very informative & de mystifying use of the flash.
    I will start playing around with the flash feeling a bit more confident about it.

    1. That’s great to hear Garry, please feel free to share your work with us on our Google+ page “So You want to be a photographer” or tag us on instagram @ginamilicia and @valeriekhoo.

  2. Rany

    Hi. I am photography enthusiast. I got 3 YN560IV, switching from one to another to avoid overheat.

    Just wondering how many flash can you fire with eneloop.
    At 1/4 power, in wireless mode, I can only get about 125 flashes with BTY brand 3000mAh. I use them because they are cheap, also because sometimes I drop batteries when I get squeezed in crowds.

    1. Hi Rany,

      The eneloops should give you 200+ fires at 1/4 power with about a 4 sec recycle time. They aren’t rated as high as some rechargeables on the market but the thing I love most about them is the fact that they hold their charge. This means I don’t have to charge batteries before each gig.
      If you tend to drop them then perhaps stick with the cheaper option or run two sets and save the eneloop for safer gigs.

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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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