Prepare yourselves guys and buckle up, this one’s a biggy!
One of the most asked questions & the 2nd most popular 121 subject (behind action photography!), is how to use off camera flash (OCF), outdoors, with dogs. The thing is, the best way of doing OCF is with a wireless strobe not a speedlight, but that isn’t in most students budgets. It just isn’t an option.
So this week me and Alf set out into our local countryside, alone, with no assistant, no supports and no kit bags to carry. We were armed with just the cheapest bits of kit we own.
In the car we had the following items, each with a specific purpose. Anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary was left behind, leaving us with, what may well be, the perfect starter off camera flash kit:
Above you can see: A shoot-through umbrella which is awesome for inexpensively diffusing light, a super cheap light stand, it does the job and a speedlight bracket which is a dual softbox/umbrella one, but you can just go with an umbrella one if you need to keep costs down.
You can get a super affordable umbrella, mount & stand kit from Amazon by clicking here.
The main man – a Yongnuo YN568EX. I love these speedlights and I have 6 in total, super cheap to keep, run like a trojan and don’t overly eat batteries.
You can grab your own here and up-to date triggers are also visible on this page too – make sure you get both!
And finally, the thing that keeps it all going – my trusty Eneloop batteries. Arguably the best on the market and they keep going for yeaaaaaars. I have multiple sets of 4 and they charge well with their own-brand charger. You can find those here.
We specifically headed out at 2pm – the sun was strong, hash and cast unattractive shadows, well, everywhere. Not a great time to shoot. rAlf & I hunkered down in some broken shade, it was not ideal by any stretch, but hey, we have to be adaptable if nothing else!
If you don’t believe me, see for yourself:
Then we began the OCF shoot prep…
1 – Prep Your Off Camera Flash Shoot Kit:
Obviously you should make sure that your kit is charged, functional & tested before you leave for a location. But once there, you need to set up your kit. So, put it all together: speedlight bracket on light stand, umbrella through bracket, receiver on speedlight, speedlight on bracket & transmitter on camera. If it’s windy, get that light stand sunk into the ground or weight it down with your bag/coat/body/spare dog.
2 – Sort your natural light:
Yes, do NOT turn any light on right now at all! Everything off except your camera (which should be on manual mode). Now, you need to get your exposure right for your natural light, the ambient light from the sun.
Remember, your camera and OCF are unlikely to sync together past 1/250 of a second, so keep your shutter speed around there & use your ISO & aperture to do the rest.
(Too complicated? Don’t worry, head here to learn how to work your exposure triangle)
You want to, ideally, slightly underexpose the natural light, so knock that ISO further down or widen that aperture another step to really get all the detail in your natural light scene (remember your sky!).
3 – Prep your Speedlight:
Ok now you are allowed to turn everything on. The easiest way of blanket teaching this is to say to put your speedlight on MANUAL. Yes, no TTL here thank you, manual all the way. Set your speedlight to be firing at half power (1/2 on the screen).
First, you want to double check that your speedlight & camera are talking to each other. If you fire your shutter, does the speedlight flash?
- If no, go find the flashes manual online and troubleshoot.
- If yes, awesome, move on…
4 – Get your dummy subject:
I am actually being serious here, I promise. Get something other than the dog to stand in the shot where you want the dog to be. A coat, a bag, a tree stump – anything that is a similar size & colour to your end subject. rAlf is black and white, so our black camera bag works a treat for us.
5 – Balance your light:
So you want to frame your dummy subject and take a test shot. Ensure your speedlight is lighting up the subject. Note where the light is falling and how strong/weak, harsh/soft it is.
Remember the artificial light rules:
- For stronger light move the light source closer or increase the power (to 1/1 in this case).
- For softer light make the light source larger (move closer!).
What about the direction? Is half of your dummy subject black in darkness? Is that what you want? Is your light to front on? Too flat? Move your light source to suit & finesse before moving onwards.
6 – Add your dog:
By now, you should be fine with your lighting, it should be balanced well and falling nicely onto your dummy subject. It’s time to ditch the dummy and add the dog! Test once without flash, and then turn your transmitter on and get started.
Test shot without the transmitter on, therefore, only ambient light is present. Test shot with the transmitter on, therefore, both off camera flash & ambient light are at work!
Do not ask your dog for attention at this stage, just try to ensure they in generally the right place. Take a test shot. Too dark? Direction wrong? Too harsh? Adjust the light position & power now. Test as required until you are happy, only THEN do we…
7 – Go for the shot:
Get that attention, get the expression, nail your composition and get that shot! Now is your chance to be a total wizard at off camera flash and show the world what you’ve got. Keep checking your shots now and then to adjust for changes in the ambient (natural) light, subjects position, lighting power etc..
8 – Wrap up and change location:
Time to move! Turn around, walk a bit further or drive to your next location. Once there, follow the steps again to achieve your next draw dropper (don’t bore your dog though)!
Notice how you were quicker this time? Practice makes perfect.
9 – Repeat until you’re all flashed out:
Once complete give your dog an enormous hug, large treat & excitable flailing dance moves. Attach a lead & head back to your editing room.
Once there, Lightroom your shots (here’s something to help with that) and that is that!
(P.s, this post contains affiliate links – just saying!)