Make sure you sign up on my mailing list (just below on the right) before you leave! Your address is SUPER safe with me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Brand New Perspective, Part II

shot at 44mm, ISO 200, 1/100 sec, f/5, strobe to camera left
Want to add some dimension to your photos? Want to turn your "snapshot" into a photograph? There is an easy way to do this, and it's called off-camera lighting.

If I had to narrow down all the aspects I like most about this awesome hobby of mine, I would say the thing that I am most passionate about is off-camera lighting. It opens up so many possibilities that I cannot even begin to list them all. 

What is off-camera lighting? Well, it's just what it sounds like. You are quite literally lighting your subject (a person, pet, a piece of fruit, etc) with a light source other than the flash that is attached to your camera. 

Let's talk "gear" for a moment, in general terms. 

If you have a semi-professional camera already, you are all set. If not, don't freak out. This scares a lot of folks in terms of what it will cost them to acquire the equipment necessary to allow off-camera lighting . But really, you can search eBay and buy yourself a nice used camera for a $100--$200 that will blow your mind in terms of what you can do with it. It doesn't need to be super fancy. What you will need is a camera with a "hot-shoe" on the top of it, whereby you can add the flash of your choice. Then, of course, you will need to purchase a flash (a used one also found very inexpensively on eBay or elsewhere). Once you are professional, you can ask Santa for the expensive stuff (and yes...the sky is the limit in terms of what you can spend on camera gear). Let's stay basic right now though. Just so you know my taste... I like to use Nikon cameras and flashes, but there are also plenty of other good choices out there.
SC-28 off-camera flash cord (image from

The key to the whole setup is how to fire your strobe remotely (I call it a strobe when the flash is now off the camera). Easiest way? Go to and order an off-camera hot shoe cord...$30 bucks, max. Here is an example, shown at the right (this is not my image, can't take credit for this one). Simply attach one end to your camera's "hot shoe" and the other end to the base of your flash. Presto! Off-camera lighting accomplished. You can then mount the flash to a lightstand or hand-hold it, which I do frequently.

There are other--more complex--ways to do off-camera lighting, and I will explain my favorite ways at a later time. But for now, let's move on. I want you to get the basics down so you can start playing with your new found knowledge.

Having this extra gear will allow your creativity to explode. You will spend days just fooling around with this one idea of moving your flash off of your camera, so go's okay.

I love using strobes (a single flash...or more for added effect) to light my subject when the ambient light is just not enough. Off-camera lighting is a much more elegant way of illumination and it is simply more professional. It is much more realistic as well, and here's why: When we view an object with our eye, 99.9% of the time the light that is lighting that object is coming from an angle other than directly behind us. (In other words, we are not lighting that object with a miner's light on top of our head.) No, in reality, we see shadows when we observe an object or a person. 

Stop for a minute and look at your coffee cup as you are reading this. Look at the base of the cup. See a shadow? Now look at where the light is coming from. This is reality...this is what we see most often in real life. "Off-axis" lighting (lighting coming from a different angle than from your eye, or the camera's lens) is what we encounter all the time. When a flash is popped from a camera's built in flash, all shadows are eliminated from our perspective (like if we had the miner's light on our head). This is called "on-axis" lighting when the flash is aligned with the camera's lens. This is unnatural and it is why I never use it unless their is no other way to capture the image. It cries "snapshot". I don't dislike snapshots, but they have their at birthday parties and such. Sometimes there is not enough time to set up the lighting like you want, I get that.

Now, back to Penelope. Look at the picture at the top off the page for a moment. Remember the last post where I took a picture of her with the flash on my camera? Now she looks totally different. And while there are some minor differences in my shutter speed, ISO, and where she is actually sitting (as compared to the last post) that is not what makes this photograph appear different. This time I took my detachable flash off the top of my camera and moved it over to the side a bit (to approx a 45 degree angle as compared to my camera's viewpoint). She is looking right into the strobe as it fires. See the shadows on the right side of the frame? This gives her 3D dimension that our eye naturally sees if you where there in person.

Waal-la, a real life image. What a pretty kitty cat, right?

Now go have some fun.

Thanks for reading!


Like it here? Resister your email for automatic updates up at the top. Please pass this blog post on to your friends (if you think they would like to read it) using the Tweet, Facebook, and Google+ buttons.

No comments:

Post a Comment