Circle W Photography and other interests

Lets talk Photography and Guns

Lighting 101 Lesson One – The Flash

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David Hobby over at has a series of posts call Lighting 101 where he explains the basic principles and equipment to become a Strobist Photographer.  Davis has worked as a photojournalist among other roles in the photographic career field.  It was during this period where he relied most heavily on the techniques he has developed a strong following with.

In the initial post he describes the basic equipment required to shoot professional quality images.  First and for most the flash need manual adjustment capability.  And second it either needs a a way to connect the flash to the camera other than the hot-shoe for off camera use.  He states the flash needs a pc port or you need hot-shoe to HH adapter, Personally I believe we have a few more options.  First is a simple hot-shoe to PC adapter which is the way I went.  Second was using optical signals to trigger the flash.

He suggests using the Nikon SB-24 since they can be had inexpensively on eBay.   He also stated for a new flash to get the Vivitar 285HV.  I have three of them myself.  I used them a lot until I got my Canon Flashes.  They were real cheap on eBay.  The Canon Speedlights allow me the best of both worlds.  Fully automatic TLL when the situation is volatile and manual when it is not.

So, that is it for the flash requirements.  To shoot off-camera you need a way to trigger it and to control the flash and get consistent results under like lighting you need to be able to control the quantity and quality of the light from the flash.  This is mainly done in the manual mode to receive consistent results. So the first step toward becoming a Strobist is having a flash that can be triggered off camera and has manual settings to control the amount of light it gives off.

Once you have a flash that you can use off-camera there are several decisions that have to be made on how to use it.  These are:   Where you are going to place the light and why?  How you going to get it to stay there?  How you are going to trigger it?  Weather the light quality is going to be hard or soft?  Weather the beam of light will be narrow or wide?  how to balance the light from the strobe with ambient light and finally what color of light is the flash to be balanced or artistic.  Once these questions are answered you will have the guidelines for setting up your off-camera flash.

For the how to place the light depends on the subject, the mood your are trying to capture and where the ambient light is coming from.  You create depth in an image by creating shadows and highlights.  For a man with a hard contoured face and you are trying to highlight these features you will accent those features by placing the light so that there are shadows thus giving depth to these features, lighting a beauty queen you would want a smooth complexion with few or no shadows in the skin.  Lighting objects also have different lighting requirements.

You can use many store-bought items such as light stands, super clamps, Justin clamps and their copies and other items specifically designed to hold off camera lights.  Plus several items from the hardware store can be adapted to hold lights off camera.  Items such as putty knives/spatulas and paint roller handles.  Search the web for examples of these.   I have light stands, super clamps and the paint roller handle in my arsenal of tools to hold my speedlights.  I plan on getting a couple of Justin clamps when the opportunity is right.

How you trigger the flash will depend on several things.  Distance form the camera to the speedlight.  If the speedlight is straight in line of sight of the camera and the number of photographers in the local area.  You can use cables for short distance if the cable will not be an interference.  If it is you can use an optical trigger if you are the only photographer , i.e. no other flashes going off and you have uninterrupted line of sight between the camera and the flash.  Or if the above conditions cannot be met then you can use radio triggers.  There are many example of these available.  Ranging from the cheap eBay to the expensive Pocket Wizards.  the features available on these are relative to the cost of the trigger.  More on these to come.

Weather to use soft or hard light is up to the photographer and the desired outcome.  A hard light is light shooting outside in the sun at high noon,  whereas a soft light would be shooting the same subject at the same location during the twilight periods.  Those twilight periods are the times just before sunset or right after dawn.  You manufacture a hard light or soft light on a speedlight through the use of light modifiers or not.  More on this later.

Light modifiers like a softbox or umbrella spread out the light.  While flags and snoots channel or block the like from spreading.  If you want to soften the light the size if the light source needs to be greater than the normal flash.  so use light modifiers in close to spread and soften the light.  In contrast if you need to block the light from hit an object, weather it be the subject, background or something else in the photograph you can use a flag or gobo but to channel the light to a center object you need a snoot or barn-doors.  We will cover this in some detail later in my series.

You have to decide if any and how much ambient light will play a part in you image.  There are ways to control the ambient to flash ratio the lower the ratio the more the ambient light contributes to the image.  Use a powerful flash or a fast shutter speed to get this ratio.  It is hard for a small speedlight flash to overpower the sun outdoors so you use the sunlight as your key and the speedlight for fill.  Indoors or outdoors during darkness the speedlight produces much more light than the moon, so it becomes the key light.  All throughout this series you will see how the ambient can be used or not.

We can add gells or not to change the color of the light our speedlight puts out.  There are certain colors used to balance the various non-daylight colored lights out there like tungsten and florescent lights.  We can also add colored gels to our speedlight to set a mood or change the color of the background.  We will get more into this later in the series also.

We just touched the surface barely in this edition of our Lighting 101 from  We will get more in-depth as the series goes on.  I will be using the Strobist 101 Lighting articles as out guide adding what I feel to it but I input is just my opioion same as I shoot a Canon and use a pc your may vary and that is find but if you find that I have made a mistake please let me know and I will correct it.  But, everyone needs to head over to strobist and follow along with the Lighting 101 lessons there and post you feedback here and or there.

Next time we will cover traveling light  i.e. the essence of being a Strobist shooting with a minimalist mindset.

Next Lesson Traveling Light


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  1. […] with one comment This is my second of many posts that details my interpretations of David Hobby’s Lighting 101.  You can find the source at  I downloaded the PDF version of the Lighting 101 program.  Please visit and let them know I sent you.  Also David has tons of off camera small light info there.  Strobist is a minimalist idea.  i.e. Getting the same or better results with your hot shoe flash that you would using big studio units.  You can find the first episode here. […]

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