Off-Camera Flash Photography Tips – Choosing a Flash

Posted on June 20, 2008 by Bo

Last week we discussed off-camera lighting with small flashes. In order to get started in the world of off-camera flash photography, there are a few things that your flash will need in order to work correctly.

1. Your flash must have a way to be triggered off-camera. This could be your typical hot-shoe adapter or PC connection.

2. Your flash must have the ability to be controlled manually. That is to say, you must be able to change the amount of light that’s being emitted from the flash.

Before we talk about prices, I wanted to touch on the brand of flashes you should be looking at. When dealing with off-camera flashes, it’s not critical to match the brand of flash to your brand of camera. For example, if you shoot with a Canon camera, then a Nikon flash will work just fine off-camera, and vice versa.

The only thing you might be losing when you start mixing your brands is the automatic flash metering. I have a Canon camera, so having a Canon flash enables me to be able to put the flash on my camera and shoot TTL (short for Through The Lens), which allows for automatic flash metering. If the ability to shoot automatic is important to you, then you may want to stick to the same brand.

There are two flashes in this price range that I hear a lot about. These are the Vivitar 285HV and the Sunpak 383. Of these two, the Vivitar is the one I currently own and can recommend, though I have heard good reports on the Sunpak.[ad name=”250×250″]

While the Vivitar lacks a sleek and slender look (it’s comparable in size to your average brick), it gets the job done, and for $90 at that!

If you’ve never shopped for camera flashes before, you’re probably bewildered to see that this price range is considered mid-field. The Canon 430EX or Nikon SB-600 would be good choices. I own the Canon model, and the benefits of it versus the Vivitar are more power, digital readout, smaller size, the swivel head, an increased number of power stops, etc.

$300 and Up
The Canon 580EX II and Nikon SB-800 are solid choices here. For the money, you’re getting more power and more features. In the case of the Canon 580EX, this flash can be used as a master to wirelessly trigger other Canon flashes that can be used as slaves, such as the cheaper 430EX mentioned above.

Before purchasing a flash, I recommend that you take some time and research the ones I linked above, plus others. Think about the type of photography you’re going to be using this flash for and which one will best suit your needs.

If you’ve used another flash that isn’t mentioned in this post, feel free to tell us about it in the comments. Coming up next: how to trigger your off-camera flash.

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