Gear guide for off-camera flash photography

Off-camera flash gear guide

I’m often asked about the kit I use to position and secure flashes when they are not on the camera’s hot shoe. This list is  a continually evolving thing. I have bags of bits of metal work, clamps, clips and adapters so often it’s a case of selecting the right bit for a specific task. Add to that the need for good light stands and a range of light modifiers the list is pretty near endless.

You can break the kit in to three simple areas; light stands, connecting bits of metal work and light modifiers for off-camera flash. I also have a mention of a radio trigger solution or two.

Light stands


Manfrotto 5001B nano stand

The smallest and lightest stands I own. I have managed to get these through Heathrow airport in my hand luggage in the past. Super compact, and goes “high enough” for a single Speedlite. If you splay the legs flat on the floor your typically heavy camera bag can be pressed in to service as a sandbag to secure the stand in windy conditions. If you plan on using larger modifiers like the EzyBox or twin/quad flash brackets choose a stronger stand.  


Manfrotto Compact Stand

These are the deluxe edition stands for Speedlite work – double nicely for studio too – and they stack together for transporting them around. Tough durable and reliable. The only time I use these is if I can drive the car close to the shoot and will be needing to use a boom arm. Please add sandbags to these as a whack on the head will distract either the photographer or model. Plus with the height you can get this to you are more likely to damage whatever is on the end of the stand when it has fallen to the ground.

Elinca SA light stands

I have a couple of older “Elinca SA” light stands, I got them on ebay costing me £20 for a pair. I have had them for over ten years and they are great. I think that these used to be the kit stands with Elinchrom studio lights. Mine have a simple adjustable metal clip to lock them and are lightweight but also will go pretty high. If I am on location and need to put a soft box up with a bunch of Speedlites then these are my go to choice. I found that they will fit in the current Elinchrom stand bags that ship with Elinchrom twin head studio lighting kits. Neil Turner from dg28.com explained about his Elinca SA stands and how they have survived years of hard professional use. We both think these are rebadged Manfrotto stands.

Metal work – connecting flashes and stuff to other stuff

Novoflex NEIGER19 ball head with flash shoe

I use these in combination with the Manfrotto 014-38 stand adapter to give me a small lightweight ball head that is easy to mount on the top of a light stand. The flash shoes with the ball head are particularly neat and in experience highly durable. I have also found these at Speed Graphic in the UK


Manfrotto 014-38 stand adapter

Tough, inexpensive and durable. Don’t forget that they can be positioned vertically on top of a light stand, and horizontally if you need a mount that is 90 degrees off vertical. Great with tall light stands and a single flash with a grid for that harsh streetlight effect or a pool of light on the floor.


Frio dual-locking universal cold shoe

These are great cold shoes, and will fit many flashes. They have a dual locking mechanism that will hold on to your flash even if you forget to tighten the hotshoe properly. They also have a metal insert for the screw thread so you are much less likely to strip the threads out with some “heavy handed” tightening.


Manfrotto 026 umbrella swivel

I have driven over one of mine with a car – I’m still using it. If you consider that a light stand costs £30+ and some modifiers are say £100, then you add a Speedlite at £150 to £400 – the umbrella swivel connects these together. I’ve used and broken cheap ebay ones, buy these once and be done with it.


Manfrotto 175 spring clamp

This little clamp is incredibly useful. It will clamp around the edge of a door giving you a place to mount a flash right up in the edge of a room. You can also use it attached to a stand to hold external battery packs for Speedlites.


Lastolite Quad Bracket

This bit of kit is key to using the larger soft boxes and octaboxes with Speedlites. By doubling or quadrupling the flashes you get an increase in power, but also if you are not using full power then the group will share the work making for faster recycle times. The latest Lastolite Ezybox II Octa Softbox will fit as will the older Lastolite EzyBox Studio models, I have the 60cm x 90cm version.


Manfrotto 035 super clamp

Useful is not the word – essential is more like it. So many uses that all photographers should just get a couple of these. Why? You can add a small stud to them and mount a tripod head on it – just clamp to something stable. You can mount a flash on it, it fits on top of a light stand and can hold poles, booms all kinds of stuff. I use it with an extension arm to mount a second light lower down on a light stand to give me a clamshell lighting rig on one stand. Here’s some things you might want to plug in to your super clamp.

Adapter Spigot

Camera stud

Extension arm

Super clamp stud

Modifiers


Zoom control on your Speedlite flash

Most likely your current flash has some function to change it’s spread of light. Many of the recent flashes will automatically zoom the flash to match the lens focal length. Zooming to a longer focal length concentrates the light for more power, but also reduces the spread of light. Setting the flash to a wider zoom setting spreads the light out for a different effect.
With my Speedlite 600EX-RT flashes I tend to use the 24mm settings with umbrellas and soft boxes, and the other settings according to the effect I’m trying to achieve.


Umbrellas

You can buy all kinds but mostly I have settled on two silver parabolic umbrellas with silver reflective surfaces. The ones I have feature 16 glass fibre ribs that flex rather than break and are 42-inch and 64-inch sizes, you can find them at Viewfinder Photographic since theirs have a 7mm shaft that means they also fit my Elinchrom studio flash. I have switched from using white shoot through umbrellas to soft boxes. Make sure to hunt around for a great deal at photo trade shows and consider that these umbrellas are kind of consumable if you buy cheap, but a few more pennies will ensure they last a bit longer.


Lastolite EzyBox 54cm x 54cm

Lastolite make a range of EzyBox soft boxes, I have a couple of different ones. The most recent is the Joe McNally signature series 54cm x 54cm with a white interior. It produces wonderful soft light, has double diffusion panels (if you need maximum softness) and is easy enough to carry and use on location single-handed. To me the 54cm or 60cm boxes are as big as I would typically go with a single Speedlite, the larger 60cm x 90cm soft box that I also have is used with a Lastolite quad bracket to allow up to four Speedlites to be fitted.


Honeycomb grids

The ones I use are from the Honl range, in both 1/8 and 1/4 sizes. In conjunction with the Honl speed strap I can also combine colour gels with the grids and I don’t have to have sticky velcro on my flashes. The function of the grid is to restrict the beam of light to a more round pattern and to control the rate of transition from the lit centre part to the darker edge part. A tighter grid will give a harsher transition. The Lastolite Strobo Honeycomb are a great alternative and are slightly more durable plus easy to attach with their magnetic attachment.


Orbis ring flash adapter

I have one of these and it works great for the ring flash look with the adapter around the lens. However it is a really useful fill-light source when used off the lens axis. A bit like a small soft box, but with a bit more punch. It’s a little bulky to fit in most camera bags but a good bit of kit.

 

How to fire the flash off-camera

In the main I have bypassed the need for extra triggers as I use the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flashes with the ST-E3-RT transmitter. It’s hugely capable and for me I have found it to be 100% reliable.

For some of my workshops where folks are not using Canon cameras I use a really inexpensive simple radio trigger alongside the radio Speedlite system. This lets me put the flash in manual mode and set the power level I need. The inexpensive triggers just send the “fire now” command from the camera to the flashes. With such triggers the need for the pricey Speedlite 600EX-RT reduces and I also sometimes use vintage Speedlites that are not compatible with a digital EOS camera.


CTR-301P

I have a couple of these triggers they are inexpensive, and functional – they tell the flash to fire. Fortunately the receiver fits on the hotshoe of a flash and has a standard 1/4-20 tripod thread in the bottom. Range is reasonable, but batteries can be awkward to buy on a Sunday for the receivers and the transmitter.

Other more capable triggers exist, with increasing functionality, range and price.

Where to buy?

To simplify your search I have listed items above with links to the products on Amazon UK, if you buy from there I will receive a few pennies and it’s always much appreciated, plus it won’t cost you anything extra. In some cases I have links to other suppliers who I have used over the years. Please make sure to shop around you may find prices are more favourable at different vendors. Or just click on the pictures to go directly to Amazon.

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