Setup for outdoors flash pics.

A student just asked me:

When you were at the London Camera Club, you had your usual stand/flash holder/umbrella combo on display. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to ask about it. Would you mind mentioning what brands the components are – I would like to have a similar set up for my Speedlight.

I use the following setup:

So that is:

  1. A Light stand. Any brand is OK if it is sturdy enough.
  2. A mount that sits on top of the light stand and swivels. The flash sits on top of this mount. My mount is a Manfrotto,
  3. A pocketwizard receiver. I use the simple Pocketwizard PlusX: $180 for two of them.
  4. A cable between the Pocketwizard and the flash hotshoe. This cable sits on top of the mount, and the flash on top of it.
  5. An umbrella that goes through the mount (you can see the hole in the photo). This should be an umbrella with a removable cover, so you can shoot into the umbrella as well as through the umbrella.

Because this is non-TTL, the flash can be any flash. Any make, and type, as long as it has a manual power level setting and you can disable any timeouts (otherwise it turns off every minute or two).

To a large extent, these are commodity items. There are many brands. Nikon has a kit of mount plus stand plus umbrella for just over $100, for instance, but anything that looks sturdy enough will do fine.

As for radio triggers, I use Pocketwizards because they are the industry standard and rugged, and they use AA batteries; but any other non-TTL trigger will work just as well.

The setup above serves me well: it is what I use for up to 90% of my outside pictures.

Like this scene, the way it looks to my eyes:

And here comes rescue, a.k.a. me and my umbrella:

…which results in:

And the lovely Vanessa from Timmins has a sense of humour:

The good news: this type of dramatic lighting is simple, once you know how!


Want to learn how to do this? I have a couple of spots open on my “Mastering Flash” workshop in Oakville this Sat 23 May, 1pm—4:30pm. This is a very small workshop: 3-6 people maximum. If you are interested, email me: You can book on


Add a splash.

There are many distinct ways to use gels. They include:

  1. Colour correction in mixed light
  2. Background Colour shifting
  3. Adding backgrounds
  4. General creative use
  5. Adding warmth

Type 5 is easy. Like here:

Nelson, NV, 2010

Indeed the sun was setting, so we have beautiful “Golden Hour” light.  But Yasmeen is in the shadow of a mountain, so she is not lit by this great light. She is on fact hardly lit at all.

Solution: I use a flash. On camera. Now she is lit. But I gel that flash with a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel. Now it looks as though she, too, is lit by that setting sun light we like so much. And because I use the ultra convenient Honl photo gels, sdlapping on that gel takes less than a second.

The solution: a cool shot, where otherwise there would be no shot at all.


Evening work

Tomorrow, I am teaching a course at Vistek Toronto., You can turn up: there are a few spots available still. But they are limited, so turn up at 9:30AM.

So what am I doing now? Something I do regularly, and you should all do: Preventive maintenance on my equipment.

In particular, cleaning electrical contacts. Whenever something does not work, it is often an electyrical issue. I have found that this is often due to:

  • Pocketwizard contacts not clean.
  • Flash hotshoe contacts not clean.
  • Flash contacts not clean.
  • Lens contacts not clean.
  • Lens not seated properly.
  • Connectors not clean.

So cleaning all the above contacts — any electrical contact— regularly can help prevent a lot of problems.

So if you have nothing better to do.. some windex and a cloth, and rub them all clean. Do not allow any liquid to come anywhere near your camera or lenses, of course. But I do not have to explain that to you, right?


Flash and what you want.

Your background is what you want, not what it is.


Take this example. My room looks like this, right now.

(0.5 sec, f/8, 200 ISO).

But when I set my camera to 1/250 sec, f/8, 200ISO, I get:

Dark. Even the TV is almost entirely dark.

Why? Because that is what I want. I do not care that the room is pretty well lit; I want it to be dark. So what do I do? High f-number, fast shutter, low ISO. And that gives me not what there is, but what I want.

And when I crop that, decrease saturation, and increase clarity, then I have a low-key portrait.

…which is of course what I wanted all along.

Note that I use two flashes to light me. They are set to manual at 1/4 power, my standard flash setting. I also have a grid mounted on each flash (a Honlphoto grid). These stop the light from spreading through the room. If it did, the room would be visible.

You can have serious fun with one or two flashes and a few radio triggers, and this is how. Make ambient go away , then use flash to light where you want the photo to be lit.


Newsflash: Flash News—Vistek Toronto, Saturday

Flash newsflash: I am teaching a flash workshop at Vistek in Toronto on Saturday, May 16, at 10AM. This is a workshop that covers everything from first principles to creative techniques, so expect an intensive three hours.

Book here:

There is space but seating is strictly limited, so if you plan to attend, book soon. And bring your (SLR or similar) camera and especially, your flash.