I’m not sure how many people use external camera flash, it’s something i’m getting more into but still very much just learning and experimenting with but thought i’d do this post
If you do use this type of lighting you will almost certainly want to get the flash off camera and there’s various ways of doing this. You can use hot shoe sync cables which are pretty much idiot proof, you can use Infra-red triggers which utilise the flash inbuilt infra red and and there’s also radio triggers;
Hot-shoe sync cable
The hot-shoe sync cables are are pretty much idiot proof but most of them have a coiled cable which is only a meter long. You can buy longer but they are expensive and if you do get these you obviously benefit if you stay brand specific. I bougt a cheap “universal” type form Jessops and it was such a snug fit that when i tried to remove it from my flash i thought i’d damage the hot shoe. I only used it the once before going back for a refund. (did i say idiot proof….) The drawback to this type of attachment is you’re restricted to talking photos with one hand on camera and the other holding the flash unless you have an assistant or carry a lightstand! Price of the universal cable was about £40 I think, damage that could have been caused was about £500 so won’t be going Universal again anytime soon.
The next best way for off-camera flash control is using triggers. There’s lots of them about, you get a transmitter and a reciever as a minimum and can usually buy additional recievers if you have more flashes. Most but not all recievers can be plugged into a sync cable on lighting setups as well so if you have a studio lighting kit you could also use your triggers to fire them.
I’ve tried a few and in my opinion you can’t go wrong if you buy radio rather than infra red.
These type are fairly reliable but get them on a flash in a sunny day and the infra red signal can be overpowered by the sun so you get frequent misfires. Using a fill flash in a sunny day scenario makes a heck of a difference, you can get nice sun filled backdrops and have your subject turn their back to the sun and still have them proper lit up using a fill flash. apart from misfires due to the sun he infra red is also line of sight which means if you had a flash on the floor behind a subject and your intention for that flash was to light up a portion of your background, because the subjects in the way and the flash is pointing to a background rather than at the camera then again, theres plenty scope for misfres.I had Canons St-E2 infra red trigger which was great indoors and while within line of sight but not the best outside. I bought my ST-E2 second hand, it appeared to be fully functioning so I don’t think that had any bearing on how it was performing, the second hand price was £110 and I sold it on for £90. Like most of the branded Canon gear there was someone looking for just what I was selling so it didn’t cost me too much to experiment. It was a transmitter only trigger, it used the infra red built into my flash to fire it so there was a constant blinking red light to put up with.
What I should mention is ETTL, if your flash supports it then try and get triggers that support it also.
If you haven’t a clue what ETTL is, in short it’s an Auto mode on your Speedlight (ETTL = Evaluate Through The Lens…..your flash will use your cameras ISO, Aperture and distance from subject settings to calculate the settings needed for the output strength of the flash, to properly exposing your image)
Most flash will have a choice of manual or ETTL.There’s various connotations of this, ITTL, TTL and i’m sure theres an ETTL2 but they basically do the same.You can either set the output power and zoom manually on your flash or use ETTL and it will gauge your lens focal length and match the zoom and it also calculates the distance of the camera from the subject to correctly expose your image. There are limitations in that the zoom is set to be between 14-105mm so if you’re using a wider or longer focal length then your not getting the light into all of your image. My newest speedlight is now doing 14-220mm but most will have the first zoom range mentioned. It’s a powerfull auto mode and it works well in most scenarios.
The reason for mentioning ETTL is that not all triggers support it. The own brand Canon trigger did and it’s a decent feature to have, for my cameras it meant i could have a flash on a lightstand in a softbox or behind an umberella and be able to adjust the flash output from my Camera trigger.
Not all speedlights have the ETTL or it’s equivalent, there are some that are manual only so check yours before buying any triggers. No point paying extra for something that your flash doesn’t support.
I’m now using a radio trigger set which does everything i want it to do. I’ve got myseflf a set of Pixl King flash triggers, I did have Pixl Pawns but moved up to the king set because they support both hi-speed sync and ETTL The type I have are Canon specific, they also do them for Nikon and some other branded ones and are sold by a company called UK Highland photographic (i think)
A lot of the triggers max out at the cameras flash sync speed which is usually around the 1/200th per sec shutter speed. (if you’re not sure of yours either attach a flash or use the pop up flash if your camera has one and change your shutter speed to as fast as it will go while in manual) most flash will not have high speed sync enabled as a default and usually it’ll need activated in your flash’s custom menus) If you’ve not enabled hi-speed sync you’ll end up with serious banding as your shutter speeds increase. When the flash is on camera it won’t allow you to pass the sync speed if hi speed syncs not enabled but off camera when your using a trigger it almost certainly will go to whatever shutter speed you want and thats when you’ll get banding issues.
The Pixl Pawns didn’t support ETTL but were a very good and reliable trigger and I still have them as my back ups, if i remember correct they were about £40 and i’ve never had a misfire (that i’m aware of!)
The Pixl Kings were much more expensive, for a transmitter and 2 recievers they were nearer £180 (Santa was due when i added them to my list) but they do everything very well. They can be utilesd in hi-speed sync up to my cameras max 1/8000 per second. At F22 and with that shutter speed i can make a bright sunny day almost pitch black in camera, Why do that and not just wait till night-time? If you want to take a picture of a flower fully open and maybe with a bee hovering about you need to do that during the day and with a fast shutter speed and high F-number you can isolate your image to whatever you capture using your flash and everything else is faded into darkness.
Might need to wait a while for a Bee to come along though!
Hopefully this was informative to some and a bedtime story to others. These ramblings are a direct result of me working over christmas and new year and now i’m on a weeks hols and everyone else is back working. There may be more in the next few days!