Off-Camera Flash Workshop

What season is complete without learning something new from Bernie?  Last Wednesday (7 February 2018) members were both educated and entertained by an interactive talk and demonstration from our own Bernie Raffe AMPA (Associate of the Master Photographers Association), with assistance from model Katie Green.

 Bernie set out to show us how a photographer can create beautiful light with small flashlights.  He explained how simple, off-camera set-ups – which might be used for small-scale portraits (eg, head and shoulders) or even table top photography – require only a small amount of space and a small amount of kit.  And they can, therefore, be put together with only a small budget!

 He started off by showing us a collection of his own typical shots to illustrate the sort of results that can be achieved.  He then moved on to setting out the sort of equipment required to achieve such images, the sort of settings required on both camera and other kit, and then demonstrating all this with live shots of Katie.

 The camera equipment needed is reassuringly straightforward.  Any decent camera (eg, mirrorless or DSLR) will do for this sort of photography so long as it has a hot shoe and can be operated in manual mode.  Similarly, any lens can be used, although longer focal lengths are more flattering for portraiture.  For his demonstration shots, Bernie used his Panasonic Lumix camera with a 35-100mm zoom lens (equivalent on a 35mm camera to a 70-200mm zoom)

 The flashlights needed can also be straightforward.  And relatively cheap.  Basic Yongnuo speedlites can be obtained from eBay or Amazon for around £50.  They do not need to have all the gizmos available on expensive flashlights, just the facility to adjust the power of the flash.  And they do not need to match the camera as they will not be on the camera.  So any decent brand is fine and, if using more than one flashlight, they do not all have to be the same brand.  Bernie used both Yongnuo and Godox flashes.

 Precisely what is needed depends on the set-up you use, particularly the way the flash is to be fired.  Bernie described a number of systems – using the on-camera flash (or other light source) to fire a flashlight in slave mode, dedicated infrared systems (such as Nikon’s CLS and Canon’s E-TTL), and so forth.  But the most efficient system, and the one used by Bernie is radio triggers and receivers.  These can be expensive, but (as with flashlights) you really only need basic cheap ones such as those produced by Yongnuo (available for about £25 for a pair of transceivers).  The trigger just has to match the camera to which it is fitted – ie if you are using a Nikon camera you need the Nikon-related variant of the Yongnuo trigger.  And then you either need to add receivers (matched to the trigger) to the flashlights or use flashlights with built-in receivers (again matched to the trigger).  Bernie’s Godox TT600 speedlites were fired with a Godox X1T trigger and his Yungnuo 560III flashgun was fired in slave mode.

 Additional equipment required includes light stands (available for under £15), flash brackets (with the cold shoe mount and umbrella mount, available for under £10) and any desired light modifiers.  Bernie explained that the larger the light source the softer the light (and, correspondingly, the smaller the light source the harder the light).  Generally, for portraits, softer light is preferred and therefore a larger light source is needed.  So the most commonly used light modifier is a translucent umbrella (available for under £10).  Other modifiers include reflective umbrellas, soft boxes, honeycomb grids, and snoots.

 Turning to the settings required, Bernie started with exposure settings on the camera.  The shutter speed makes no difference to the light as the flash fires instantaneously.  Setting the camera to the maximum “synch speed” (usually 1/200s or 1/250s) ensures that the curtains of the shutter do not block the flow of light to the processor.  The ISO should not be too low as this requires more light.  But it should not be high enough to introduce noise.  Bernie usually shoots at 200 or 400 ISO.  And the aperture should, similarly, not be too narrow as again this requires more light.  Bernie suggested a wider aperture such as f4.

 Once these exposure setting are set there should not be any need to change them during a shoot.  The light on the subject just needs to be more powerful than the ambient light.  Accordingly, the trick then is to control the light on the subject by adjusting the power of the flash, the distance of the flash from the subject (which changes the size of the light source relative to the subject), and any modifiers.

 Having covered all the theory, Bernie moved on to the demonstration with his camera tethered to a laptop and then to the projector so that his live shots of Katie appeared on the big screen for all to see.

 He started with the simplest set up of just a single flash, firing through a translucent umbrella, set slightly above and at 45 degrees to Katie.  He showed us how changing the power of the flash, or moving the flash light closer or further away from Katie, affected the resultant image.  As he went on, he showed us more variants –a “fill” light on the axis of the camera, a light on the background, a hair light, and so forth.  And he explained different styles of lighting such as “loop”, “Rembrandt”, butterfly, short, and broad lighting.  He also showed us how household objects (Bernie used a dishrack and an orange box) could be used to add interesting shadows across the background (perhaps with colour using a gel on the flash light) or even across the model.

 This was an interesting, informative and entertaining talk, delivered in Bernie’s typically light-hearted manner, with the added bonus of seeing the words put into action.  Members found it extremely enjoyable and helpful.  They now need to engage their creativity to find out for themselves just what marvellous portraits they can produce with a small budget set-up!

 Bernie’s professional website is at

His DVD, “The Ultimate Guide to Using Off-Camera Flash”, is available on Amazon.

And his online photography course is at