A basic guide to the equipment you need for On & Off Camera Flash.
I’m often asked 'what flash equipment do I need to buy for On and Off Camera flash?' ...... from people who are thinking of, or have done my flash photography workshops?
So I thought it would be a good idea to write about the equipment that I use.
I’ve been teaching photographers all about flash since 2008 and the market place has really changed since then. I’ve tried a load of different equipment over the years to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a constantly evolving process and if I were to write this in a years time, it may very well be totally different. But this is what I’m currently using and recommending at the moment.
Oh and the old adage of 'buy cheap, buy twice' really does come into effect here. I’ve always spent good money on my equipment and it’s always lasted me for many many years. So what i’m recommending here is stuff that if looked after, should last you for a long time as well. Don’t make the mistake of getting cheaper alternatives. I’ve always found you end up buying the expensive stuff anyway in the end and just waste your money on the cheap stuff in the first place.
I’ve also tried to provide links to the cheapest places to buy the equipment on Amazon to make things easier for you.
On Camera Flash
So for On Camera Flash I don’t think you can go wrong with your camera manufacturer's own brand of product. You will probably be using this as a sole source of light for your On Camera Flash photos and you need reliability and quality as well as TTL capabilities.
For Nikon users (thats me) I you have a few choices, but i'd always recommend going top of the range:
So thats either the older:
Depending on how much you want to spend.
If you’re on a budget for Canon users I’d get the YongNuo YN560 III or the YongNuo YN-600-EX-RT. They are almost exact copies of Canons old top of the range EX580 flash and 600 EX-RTs, but for a fraction of the price.
Alternatively you could always get the Godox V860 which unlike the V850s has TTL.
Off Camera Flash
For Off Camera Flash, there are a whole host of possibilities.
However I really love the Godox V850’s. I currently have four of them as they are just so cheap, they have a built in trigger system (purchased separately), you can control the power of the flashes from the transmitter and most importantly the battery is a Lithium Ion battery and you can get about 650 full power flashes from one charge with quick recycle times, so you don’t need to carry around a separate battery pack, like I used to.
These flashes have been branded under a number of different names under different price brackets, but I like the Godox ones as they have gone through the quality control process (some others haven't apparently) and are a great price.
I wrote a whole review of them and why I changed over to them on the Photography Farm Blog here.
Godox V850s for off camera flash
Alternatively you could pick the Godox V860s which have TTL function (I only use manual with Off Camera Flash) and use them for On Camera Flash as well. That way you’ll always have a spare flash in case one breaks if you have a couple of flashes for Off Camera Flash.
I mentioned triggers just now for Off Camera Flash. I always used to recommend and use Pocket Wizards as that was the industry standard and it used to be the only reliable triggers you could get.
However as i’m using Godox flashes the Godox trigger system is what I’m using and recommending. As it’s built in (well clipped in) to the flashes and I don’t have to worry about wires, batteries etc causing a weak link and the flashes not firing. There are other flashes out there which have built in triggers, but as far as i’m aware none of them have the amazing battery capabilities of the Godoxes.
Godox triggers FT-16s
I always recommend using rechargeable batteries for your flashes. They will help your flash recycle quicker, meaning that you’ll be less likely to miss a shot while your flash waits to get its power back. Rechargeable batteries are cheap and are good for the environment.
I like the ones from 7dayshop.com as they are a great price and come in a handy little carry pack, so you’re not hunting around for that last battery at the bottom of your camera bag.
7dayshop.com rechargable batteries
It’s always worth investing a decent amount of money in your battery charger. You’ll end up having this for much longer than your batteries as they will need to be replaced every so often.
I looked around for a while and settled on these ones as I liked the fact that they have a digital display and that I can refresh the batteries with them and extend the life I can get from a set of batteries. They are also quite small and easily portable.
I’ve actually got a couple of different sets of light stands. As I find that you’ll need different types for different situations.
However I recommend two types right now. First It’s well worth getting a couple of really tall and sturdy light stands, which go to about 3 meters tall. That should cover you for all situations.
And secondly I recommend a couple of compact light stands which can fold down quite small and are easy to carry and transport if you don’t have a car. I often take the train to a shoot and don’t want to be carrying big and heavy light stands, so I’ll take the compact ones. Sure they don’t go as high and aren’t as sturdy, but it’s great having both for different situations.
I’ve always been recommending that if you’re looking to get two big sturdy light stands it’s well worth getting a backdrop stand instead. That way you’ll have two light stands (the uprights are almost identical to light stands), a handy carry case and also a backdrop support pole should you need to use it as an actual backdrop stand. They are around about the same price as two light stands, but you’ll get so much more.
Once you have your stands you’ll need some way of attaching your flash to them and the best way is with an umbrella adaptor / swivel.
I’ve had a few different types over the years and I always recommend getting metal ones of these. I’ve had plastic ones and they just either break or don’t hold up. Metal ones are just quality and if you’re putting a flash on the end of them, you don’t want it falling off or slipping.
Cold / Hot Shoe Adapter
I’ve found the best way to attach my flashes to my umbrella swivels is to use a cold / hot shoe adapter.
I managed to find these ones that are great value and what I like about them is that they are also metal and I can clamp my flashes in good and tight, so hopefully it won’t get knocked off the stand and fall on the floor.
3 flash cold shoe mounts & umbrella holder
There have been a couple of occasions when i've found that my flash gun was just not powerful enough for the job.
So rather than having to bring my studio lights to a job I got myself a couple of these rather nifty multi flash cold shoe mounts. This way I can have a couple of flashes set up on the same stand and get double the lighting power, without having to carry around heavy cumbersome studio lights.
They are cheap as chips, so well worth having in your kit bag for that one time when you'll need them.
OK this is probably the only area where you can scrimp and save a bit. I’ve had the same cheap white full size umbrellas for almost a decade. They have been battered about. Sat on. Turned a beige shade of white. But they still do the job perfectly. I can’t see the point in spending a load of money on an expensive umbrella when a cheaper one with do the same job. You just need a plain white umbrella.
Saying that I actually have two types. The cheaper ones that I’ve just mentioned and a double fold very portable one, that’s great for putting in my bag and not worrying about. It’s made by Lastolite so you know you’re going to get a quality product and I’ll use this when I need to travel light and take the compact light stands.
So since writing this article I've added a soft box to my Off-Camera Flash kit.
I haven't really used it much, as I prefer an umbrella as they are much easier to set up and carry in your kit bag. Especially if you get the tri-fold one mentioned above.
However there has been the odd occasion when i've wanted soft light, but haven't wanted the light to spill all over the background and in all directions. Which is where a softbox comes in handy as you can really control the edges of your light.
I managed to find this largish collapsable softbox which sets up pretty quickly and also folds down into a small-ish carry case. So it doesn't take up too much space in your kit bag. They come in various sizes and shapes but this is the one that I got:
Coloured Gels & Grids
I use coloured gels quite a bit for creativity and also colour correction. I used to make my own with off cuts of coloured disco / theater gels, gaffer tape and velcro. However my friends over at Rouge sent me a pack of their colour correction and coloured gels and I love using them as they come in a handy little pack that keeps them all organised.
I also looked at a load of different types of grids for my flashes and I ended up choosing the Rouge grid spot as it’s very small, built well and very versatile. So i’ll occasionally use that for the odd shot here and there.
Rouge flash gels
Studio Light Mount for hot shoe flashes
I’ve got Bowens studio lights which I love if I’m doing a shoot where I don’t need to move about or travel light. I’ve got a collection of different light modifiers that i’ve invested in for my Bownes Lights, so there’s softboxes, reflectors, grids, snoots, beauty dishes etc. and I wanted to find a way to use these modifiers with my flashes.
Thankfully there are Bowens S mount adapters / brackets to use on light stands with your flashes, which enable me to use these modifyers. If you’ve got another brand of lighting there are other adapters which you can use. So if you’ve already invested in studio lights and lots of equipment for them, you can now use them with your flashes.
Or if you buy one of the SoftBoxes mentioned above they come with one of these adapters and you get a SoftBox as well for not much more.
Bowens S mount adapter
Lastly it’s always worth investing in a basic 5 in 1 reflector. As a photographer it’s worth having one of these in your kit. They are very cheap, but also very effective. You’ll be able to do so much with one of these. I got a cheap one many years ago, but it’s probably worth getting a named brand so it lasts.
So that's it for my recommended equipment list. It's all very affordable and I've tried to recommend the minimal of stuff, so you're not carrying around a load of unnecessary kit.
If you have any suggestions for items, i'd love for you to leave a comment on the post.
And if you'd like to find out more about any of my On and Off Camera Flash or Advanced Flash workshops, which I run all over the British Isles, please do give me a shout.