Flash: Equipment

Woman in Guazy Turban - an example of off-camera flash use

So! Last week, I wrote a bit about how on-camera flashes tend to produce atrocious pictures and why people use them. Today, I’ll be sharing with the interweb how you can move away from using on-camera flashes on the cheap.

First, you’ll need at least one flash or speedlights (there are minor differences in between the two, but the terms are often used interchangeably). There are a number of third party manufacturers that sell compatible flashes inexpensively. Metz, Vivitar and Yongnuo are three of the popular choices.

Note: When you do make your flash and cord or wireless receiver/transmitter purchases, double-check and make sure they are compatible with your camera.

Flashes nowadays come with a number of features, such as different power ranges, infrared receiver for wireless flash use (I don’t like those, unreliable and finicky in my experience), and a few other techhy features.

Yongnuo 462

For a beginner, however, I recommend looking for a basic flash without the bells and whistles. It simplifies the learning process; a beginner has to learn how their camera works & how to position lights, and having to learn how to operate a flash’s “bonus features” compounds the learning curve. With that in mind, the Yongnuo’s 462 speedlight is a pretty good bang for its buck, currently on sale on Amazon for $35. Do consider Metz and Vivitar, also.

The second thing you will need is either a wireless transmitter/receiver or a hot shoe cord. Both have its pros and cons.
Hot shoe cord
Pro: it’s 100% reliable. You don’t need additional batteries. Very affordable, retails for around $15-$25. In-camera light metering will acknowledge the flash and if you shoot in any of the auto modes, the camera will take that into account to determine the exposure level.
Con: you are limited to its length. They are usually about 2-4 ft.

Wireless Receiver/Transmitter:
Pro: More flexibility in distance and placement. Can fire multiple flashes (you’ll need extra receivers though).
Con: Needs batteries. Can “misfire” occasionally, tho misfires, in my experience, are due to drained batteries rather than faulty equipment. Low-end models may not communicate with the camera; you’ll likely need to shoot in manual and figure out what your settings should be (will explain how later, not difficult).

I use the Cactus V4 Wireless transmitter/receiver, and I’ve been very happy with it – $40. The Cowyboy Studio kit comes highly recommended as well. It currently retails for $20 on Amazon, which is a damn bargain.

That’s it. The bare minimum for off-camera flash use. All for $55 (or $100 if you spring for a second flash and receiver).

There are helpful accessories you may want to consider acquiring at some point, such as: umbrellas and lightboxes, diffusers, snoots and grids, and reflectors. Many of these items, however, can be easily made or duplicated at home for a fraction of the retail cost. Strobist.com and DIYPhotography.net both have tutorials on how to make them. I’ll explain what benefits they have in future posts.

Keep on shooting!

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