Now that you know the basics of how to use an off-camera flash and understand the difference between manual and TTL flashes, I’ll make some kit recommendations.
If you’re not sure if you want to shoot in Manual or TTL, check out Part 1: Off Camera Flash for Beginners
A lot of the equipment I will be recommending is made outside of the US and may be difficult to get technical support or repair services for in the event something gets damaged. Then again, much of this gear is cheaper to replace than it would be to have a name-brand units repaired.
Basic Manual Kit
For a basic kit, I recommend that you get a transmitter for your camera, and start off with either one or two speed lights. You can always add more down the road if you decide you want to try more complex lighting scenarios, but this will give you a lot of flexibility while learning.
Yongnuo is a company based in Hong Kong and they have recently flooded the photography scene with some very inexpensive but fairly good quality products.
The YN-560 IV speed light has the wireless receiver built in which will save you on having to buy an additional receiver for each one. You can control one, or many of these flashes with just one transmitter mounted to your camera.
The RF-603-II unit is a Transceiver which means that each one can act as either a Transmitter or a Receiver. At the time I wrote this, they cost around $30 for two of them. One for your camera and one for a flash, or if you connect the 603 II to your camera with the included cable, you can use the second unit to trigger your camera. There’s a different model for Nikon (603N-II) as well as a few variants for different Canon cameras. (The one I linked to works for my camera. Search for one with your camera’s model in the description)
Basic TTL Kit
The YN-569 EX II speed light and the YN-622 Wireless Transceivers work just like the equipment I mentioned in the basic manual kit, but include the ability to use your camera’s TTL capabilities. These triggers will not only send a signal to the remote flash to fire, but they will communicate with your camera’s TTL metering system and relay exposure settings to the speed lights.
The YN-569 EX II does NOT have a built in receiver, so you will need a 622 Transceiver for both the camera and each flash you have.
The TN-622 also comes in different models for the camera it will be mounted on. Look for Canon and Nikon specific models (YN-622C and YN-622N)
In addition to the actual flash(es) and transceiver(s), You’re going to want a few basic accessories to go along with them.
Unless you want to hold the flash, or have a friend hold it, you’re going to want a stand for each of your lights. Light stands are available in a variety of sizes. You want something stable, but don’t need to spend a fortune. I recommend a stand that’s 8 to 10 feet tall. If you’re just mounting a speed light on it, then just about any will do. Basic stands cost anywhere from $15 to $30.
If you plan on using them outdoors, using heavier flashes, or adding additional accessories then you’ll want something a bit heavier duty and with a wider base. Mid-range stands go for around $30 – $50 and will cover most scenarios. These are what I use most of the time. Two are linked to the right.
High end stands, built out of heavier materials, with extremely wide or stable bases, and sometimes with boom arms will give you the most stable mount for even the toughest gear, but can cost way more than $50. Sometimes, much more. There’s definitely a place for these stands, but I wouldn’t recommend them to beginners.
You’re going to need a mount to secure the Speed light to the stand. Fortunately, these are often available for around, or less than $10. They include a mount for an umbrella as well. Unless you get an accessory that comes with a mount (such as some softboxes), you’ll want one of these for each stand. I’ve listed two to the right. I use both of these.
The more expensive one is a bit sturdier, but with any mount, always make sure that the screws are tightened so the speedlight doesn’t slip off.
Umbrellas can convert your speed light into an effectively larger light source, and are the cheapest and easiest modifiers to set up. This makes them a good utility for photographers learning to shoot with flashes. There’s two types of Umbrellas. Shoot-Through umbrellas diffuse the light and provide a softer light, but also reflect some of that light back behind the umbrella. Reflective umbrellas direct more of the light in one direction, but can not be placed as close to the subject you’re photographing. These provide different lighting effects. For beginners, I recommend one designed to be used either way.
As you learn more about photography, you’ll want to add additional accessories to your kit. There’s so many great items you could use to add flexibility and creativity to your lighting. I recommend you get started with the items above and add additional items once you have a better understanding on how the light looks and how you want to better control it.
- Soft Boxes are similar to shoot-through umbrellas, but they enable you even more fine control over the light. Due to their design, light is only emitted from the surface facing your model, so it does not spill on to the backgrounds, or other surfaces around the flash.
- Snoots are used to highlight the top of a subjects head, or cast a small controlled spot of light.
- Reflectors are used to bounce the light. When used with a flash, they can increase the effective size of the light source, and provide much softer light on your subject.
- Gels are colored films that can be placed over the top of a flash to change the color of the light it gives off. They are often used to correct color mis-matches or to provide a creative light effect