Part 1: Off-Camera Flash for Beginners

If you’re looking to take your photography to the next level, you’re going to want to take the flash off of your camera and learn how to better control the light in your pictures. Many people have asked me what equipment they should buy when starting out. There’s several options available, so I’ll try to explain the different components and how they work.

If you’re just looking for my recommendations. jump ahead to Part 2


A speed light is just an external flash that sits on top of the camera, or can be controlled off the camera via cables, or wireless triggers. There’s three ways to use a speed light or flash to light your photos.

You can mount it on top of the camera.

Forget the flash built in to your camera. It’s too close to the lens and you can’t adjust it to redirect the light where you need it to be. If your camera has a hot shoe, you’ll want to get a speed light that mounts on top of the camera. Just moving the flash away from the lens with help give you better photos, but now you’ll also have the ability to bounce the light off of other surfaces for even greater control of your photos.

You can have it respond to other flashes.

Most speed lights and even professional studio lights can be set to a “slave” mode where they’ll look for the light from another flash, and immediately respond by flashing along with it. This happens so quickly that the camera can pick up the light from each of them and use them to light the photo.

You can activate it with a remote control.

This is my preferred method. You would place a transmitter on your camera’s hot-shoe, and mount the flash to a compatible receiver. When you take a picture, the camera sends a signal to the transmitter, which in turn sends a signal to the receiver telling it to activate the flash.


There’s two ways you can use Flashes with your camera. Manual and TTL (Automatic). These methods require flashes and triggers that support this method of shooting.

Manual Mode

All speed lights will work in Manual mode. Like the name suggests, these flashes don’t do any of the work for you. You need to set the brightness and zoom levels of the flash from a control panel on the back of the flash. Setting are usually indicated by “stops” or half-power increments (i.e. Full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 … 1/64, 1/128). Often minor adjustments are also possible between each of those settings. This allows you to dial in just the right amount of light to expose your image properly.

TTL (Through-The-Lens)

TTL stands for Through-The-Lens and is a technology that allows your camera to meter a scene and determine the flash’s optimal power settings each time you press the shutter button.

Some photographers rely on TTL completely, while others prefer the manual control and consistency you can get if you use the flash manually correctly. Not all flashes support TTL, but those that do can be used in both TTL and Manual modes.

Got it? Awesome. Take a look at Part 2 for my gear recommendations.