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.

Lights

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

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.

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