How I Shoot: The Tools

I get asked quite a lot about how I work with off camera flash when I produce images such as the one below. I thought it would be great to do a short series of posts that I can direct people to instead of replying to each one. In this first post I want to cover the tools I use, the second will cover setting up the lights & taking the shot & for the third I will cover post production.

My Tools

So these are the core tools that I have in my bag when I go out to do these sort of shots. I found it really hard to know what bits to pick up when I was getting into off camera flash photography so I wanna explain some of the options you have. Remember, there are online universities offering photography courses if you really want to be a “pro” in this field.


Aside from the camera arguably the most important part of the strobists tool kit. There are loads of options here depending on budget. I use the Canon 430ex, other options are the Canon 580ex, Nikon SB-900 Nikon SB-600, Nikon SB-24… the list goes on. Vivitar & Sunpak make some cheaper flash units that might be investigating if you are on a tight budget but you do get what you pay for. The key things you are looking for is that the power can be adjusted, you don’t need to worry about a flashes automatic capabilities, unless you are willing to part with some serious cash for the new Pocket Wizard ControlTL triggers, I shoot with all my flashes on full manual.

Triggers & Receivers

So really good triggers are really expensive, the real industry leaders here are Pocket Wizard – they are reliable & have an insane range. But they aren’t for me. I just can’t justify spending the amount of money on them that I would need to. A set of two go for £320 and you need one per flash and one for the camera, that would put me out £640 for me to run my current set up! I can’t justify that. I currently use the very cheap but popular PT-04 triggers, you can pick the newly designed ones up from amazon around £20 for a trigger & receiver kit. They do misfire some times & the range is no where near as good as the PWs but for the price they are great.

I have recently been looking at the Seculine Twinlink T2D kit, which seems to be something that fills the gap between the cheap triggers & the expensive ones. I think some time in the near future I will be making the upgrade to these.

Hotshoe With PC Port

I don’t connect my flash directly to the receiver, I actually sit my flash into a hotshoe with a PC port on the side, I then velcro my receiver to the top of my flash & run a cable. Mainly because I don’t trust the cheap plastic that the receivers are made from, I have already lost one flashgun because of it falling off a light stand, I don’t want to lose any more thank you very much. The hotshoes I have are made of metal and hardened plastic they also have a locking nut on them which means I can get them really tight on the light & umbrella bracket. They aren’t going anywhere! Mine are pretty similar to these bad boys but I sure as hell didn’t pay £10 each for them! I think they were around £2.50 each, totally worth it!

Light & Umbrella Bracket

This one is pretty easy, there are a few on the market, they all the do the same thing really. I have these ones, they hold an umbrella & a flash in place nicely but they do require that the flash, or hotshoe if you are using one, screw/lock in to be held securely in place.

Light Stand

Another straight forward one, you can’t really go wrong. As long as they go up to a decent height & aren’t going to fall over you are safe. I use the Konig brand ones which are available from Amazon for just under £12. But there are plenty of other options.

Update: This evening I put together a diy light stand out of some old bits I found in my dads garage, you can check it out here.


Umbrellas get a little more complicated. Firstly the bigger the umbrella the more diffused the light will be. Secondly the bigger the umbrella the more power you will need to put through it. When using speedlights a good guide size to go for is between 60-100cm. There are 2 main types, shoot through and reflective, I like to keep both handy they are pretty inexpensive so it can’t hurt to have a seclection.

Shoot throughs are the white ones, you point the umbrella at the subject and pop. They also spill light everywhere though, so you don’t have quite as much control over the light, but it will spread it out better. This one would do a fine job.

Reflective umbrellas are the black ones, you point the umbrella away from the subject and the flash into the umbrella. Then the flash fires into the umbrella and all the light shines out, these will still give you the same soft light as a shoot through, but you can control where it goes a bit better. Something like this should do you.

Actually there is totally a third type, this is the kind I use pretty much all the time. I call them umbrella boxes, because they are sort of a softbox & an umbrella all rolled up into one – seriously awesome. I picked mine up from ebay & never looked back.

Camera & Lens

Use what you’ve got… that’s all there is to it. Nikon, Canon, Sony – whatever, it really doesn’t matter. As long as you’ve got a hotshoe on the top that you can get a trigger into then you are good to go. If you want to get a really dramatic bokeh effect though you are going to need a lens that hits the right sort of Fs! The lower the number the better the bokeh! Both Canon & Nikon produce a lens dubbed the nifty fifty, these are 50mm prime lenses that go down to F1.8 & retail for around £100. Really worth having in your camera bag.

Did you find this useful? Let me know by leaving a comment. Or maybe you use some different kit, I’d love to hear about it so get involved.


  • Setup:

  • Love it Rick, the cold tones in the background look so nice!

  • one of your best shots ever.

  • Thanks for showing this & the setup. I especially like the affect of a flash on the snow, it really makes the photo pop!

  • This is absolutely awesome – how many 430’s do you have, out of interest? Also, can you recommend any umbrellas (and where to get em?)

  • Kym is a good girlfriend. I wish she was mine.

  • Thanks everyone! I really like it.

    John, I’ve got 4, and then a random flash or 2 that I picked up for a few quid if I really need. I actually just sent an email off to Gav Strange on the subject of umbrellas and stuff, DM me your email address and I’ll forward it to you.

    Ash… back off! She’s mine!

  • Oh my god, i love it!

  • very cool really like the mood!

  • Ash, are you coming on to me?

  • if this doesn’t get in explore then its pure madness!! ace shot dude.

  • if this doesn’t get in explore then its pure madness!! ace shot dude.

  • Even after your 365 stopped your still going. Hardcore dude.

    Great image, another explore on the menu!

  • nice shot dude, Did you try getting a wider full head shot?
    The top feels a little cut off

  • Thanks again everyone.

    Andy, I can’t hep myself! I am fully addicted!

    Chegs, yeah I actually cropped in this tight, I preferred it this way.

  • The snow makes awesome bokeh.
    very cool.

  • Hands down.. best photo you’ve ever done

    Abso-bloody-lutely love it mate!!

  • Dude, I don’t know how you won’t call yourself a photographer :p you’ve already made it! This is bloomin fantastic :D

  • all kinds of awesome!

  • Freakin beautiful shot Rick! The tones and the atmosphere…just amazing. Definitely one of your best photographs of Kym/one of your best portraits full stop.

  • Nice!

  • Awesome shot !

    Love the snow turning into bokeh.
    The light in her hair is also great.

    Congrats on explorer. Well deserved.

    Seen on Fluidr

  • An excellent image, thank you for sharing with us.
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    SVP ajouter votre photo au Groupe TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,
    Por favor agregar su foto al Grupo TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,
    Fügen Sie bitte Ihr Foto zur Gruppe hinzu TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,
    Si prega di aggiungere la tua foto al Gruppo TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,
    Adicione por favor sua foto a nosso Grupo TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,
    Lűtfen Gurubumuzla paylaşınız TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY,

    Travels of Homer Odyssey

    So nice!
    Don’t forget to Tag your photo as "TRAVELS of HOMER ODYSSEY"

    HAPPY 2010.

  • very Nice

  • great portrait, lovely bokeh and light!

  • awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Awesome shot!!

  • Explored dude, knew it would be!

  • Yeah, I’m stoked on it. Thanks for the kind words everyone!

  • nice one…
    great lighting…
    she is pretty…

  • Thanks. She sure is!

  • Great backlighting

  • Amaizing shot, well done

    Congratulations for the explore!!!!

    The shoot deserve it

    Happy 2010!!!!!!!!!!

  • nice! have a good day!

  • this is fucking amazing dude well done!

  • Cheers guys.

  • This is incredible. The lighting around her is fantastic and the snokeh (snow+bokeh) adds so much. I love being able to see the setup!

  • Ha, snokeh, I like it. Thanks dude, I try and share my setups when I can/when I remember to take a setup shot. :)

  • Wow dude, this is incredible and you fully deserve all of the praise you’ve been receiving.

  • Rick, this is stunning, love it. You’ve graduated from 365 with an amazing skill.

  • Matt & Scott, thanks a lot guys! You are way to kind.

  • That’s a great photo man, really really nice.

  • the back light and everything is really great. thanks for the one in the comments of the setup too!

  • great work well done :) I love it :)

  • Thanks

    Kaarins you should post some of your light set ups too, it makes you think it through more when you look back over your photos + sharing is caring :P Right?

  • sosososo good! i would never even think of getting snow bokeh in the background of portraits, deffinately something i need to try next time it snows

  • Thanks Rick, a little back light goes a long way in the snow!

  • Great image, excellent work.!!!!

  • Love the lighting and the look on her face. Great shot.

  • Amazing, great work

  • Cheers Rick, nice work – can’t wait for the next post :)

  • Thanks for posting this, really useful. I’m getting into photography lately and info like this is great. So, would you recommend PT-04 triggers for hobbyist? I sure can get around some misfires, as long as they aren’t like every other shot or something..

    Looking forward to part 2.


  • Thanks Adam.

    Nejc, yes I would defiantly say they are a good trigger to get you started with off camera flash. They have their good days & bad days but on the whole they work very well.

  • Awesome work mate really interesting and useful !

    Looking forward to Number 2 ! (and 3

  • Great post, Shithead. Very interesting seeing various bits of your kit, but also very overwhelming/intimidating even with an explanation. It’s about time I splurge on some umbrellas. Thanks for the help, and looking forward to the next part!

  • Well Ash if you have any more questions let me know, or if there is something I didn’t explain in enough detail? All feed backs good :)

  • Simon

    That’s a really nice post, looking forward to the next two!

    One question I have is regarding the radio triggers, I have exactly the same iShoot and am now worried after you mentioning losing a speedlight.

    Where did you get the Hot Shoe with PC port? If you say you can get them for £2.50 – as you say I don’t fancy paying a tenner each if you can get them that cheap!

  • Hi Simon,

    I got mine from eBay, but I can’t find them any more. Have a good rummage around the net, I’m sure something will turn up.

  • Andy

    Whoop, shout out for the Sony fags… Great post Rick, I was gonna bombard you with a few questions over flickr a few weeks back but now theres no need.

    Thanks dude.

  • Dan

    Great post, Rick. Some really good insights into the kind of stuff you have in your kit. Can’t wait for the next post where you talk about your methods.

  • Andy, lol… It’s ok I have faith that you will buy a real camera eventually. Glad you’ve found it useful.

    Dan, thanks dude, I wanna try and get some video involved in the next two post but we’ll see how that works out.

  • MacMasore

    Great post Rick! Love the drawings, now I want to begin with strobisme (but I neither have the time and the money now).

    BTW:( I think you have forgotten a word in your 2nd sentence.)

  • Nice guide mate – look forward to reading more

  • hey , what lens did u use here to get this great DOF ?

  • Hey, Canon 50mm 1.4 USM Lovely lens.

  • Great shot!

  • woo!
    killer shot. Fantastic!

  • Nice shot !

  • fave!!!

  • amazing

  • Wonderful shot!

  • Great work!

  • only lucky people like u can afford those equipments…

  • I don’t think that’s fair to say; I work very hard to earn money, then I chose to spend it on camera gear. Also it doesn’t have to be expensive. Assuming you have a camera already you could get started with strobist techniques with a very limited kit:

    Second Hand Flash – £40
    Triggers – £20
    Stand/Old Tripod £12

    That comes to £72… not a lot of money to spend on something you enjoy.

    With that basic kit you could do a shot just like the Lowkey Portrait I have recently blogged about. Yes I used an umbrella box in that shot but it’s not necessary; you would just end up with a slightly harsher light.

  • really nice works :) how many light in that set?

  • Tarunaalhadiid — I’m not really sure what you mean, all the lighting info is in the description:

    “Strobist: 430 camera left 1/16 power through umbrella box. 430 behind subject, bare, 1/4 power. ”

    All the little blobs of light are caused by the back light hitting the snow.

  • Juan

    BookMARKING nooooowwwww!!!

  • That bokeh is fantastic, the lighting is pretty amazing, and the model is great. poor thing, you can tell she is freezing by her body language

  • Muito belo!

  • Couldn’t see the umbrella but I know which ones, been scouting Ebay & just ordered two 40″ ones.

    Thanx for the info, can’t wait to try some of this. ,’;o]… {Mstee4eva on Flickr}

  • Brill shot :) well done

  • Nice shot.
    Love the light

  • the snow bokeh is really wonderful (?)

  • Love the lighting and snow bokeh
    (wait… you mean someone else has already made this kind of comment!? hmmm, need to be more original… or get the comment in first!)

  • nice shot.. love the bokeh of the snow…

  • Lovely! :-)

  • Amazing

  • excellent

  • hello, my name is hery and i’m from indonesia

    i really really like your blog/website, so many things i’ve learned from your blog,thank you very very much


  • Fantastic!

  • wonderful image

  • beautiful shot :)

  • Thanks again Rick, the way you lay down the info is great, so pls keep this system ON always ..

    1- You start with info and theories explained simply and clearly.

    2- You tail it with “Conclusion” – which under – you mention a practical brief of info mentioned above, would be the (Extract Benefit) mentioned in practical steps. making everyone comes out say .. I can do c;

  • Hi Rick, I am Hisham, from Egypt and work Graphic Designer.
    Photography is essential to my work whether it is “Print Design or Web Design”. I am newbie to photography but learned a lot from your blogs with thanks, I need to have basic knowledge so I can discuss shooting situations and required results with photographers or at least give suggestions.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, am I understanding right when I say:

    1- Trigger: Is a remote control device fixed in Hotshoe which is fixed on top of Camera.

    2- Receiver: Is a remote control device fixed on top of Flash using Velcro,Flash sits into Hotshoe which is fixed using it’s locking nut to the stand.

    3- The moment you shoot trigger fixed on camera, the receiver on top of flash shoots light, as they are connected with cable. Is these 3 points right !

    4- In nature law, Black absorbs and White reflects. Why is it opposite in Umbrellas.

    Sorry if I look idiot in some of the above.

  • Hisham/Egypt,
    1 — Yep.
    2 — Yep.
    3 — Not sure what you mean by this, there isn’t a cable running from the flash to the camera.
    4 — It’s not. White and silver umbrellas reflect. The umbrellas with black, just have black on the outside of them to avoid light splitting backwards. It just gives you more control.

  • Alex

    Great shots/