Understand How to Use Off-Camera Flash in 10 Minutes or Less

Last week, I asked the community on our Facebook page what they would like us to do a video tutorial on.  About half of you answered that you wanted to see step-by-step in simple terms how to shoot flash photography. Dustin and I put together this video yesterday to explain off-camera flash photography.

In the video on this page, we frequently refer to this article where we give specific gear recommendations about what to buy if you're anxious to learn flash photography.  We spent THOUSANDS of dollars on inexpensive flash photography gear on eBay and Amazon over the last year to find the best-quality inexpensive gear, and recommended the winners on that page.

how to use off camera flash

Dustin is TERRIFIED of flash. Seriously. I catch him crying in the corner all the time.

How Do I Fire a Flash Wirelessly?

Off-camera flash is actually quite simple.  All you need to fire a flash off camera is (1) a speedlight flash, (2) a trigger/receiver to wirelessly fire the flash, and (3) your camera. If you're note sure what a speedlight flash is, you should read this handy FAQ on flash photography, where I explain some common terms in flash photography.  But a speedlight is basically just a small flash that is capable of attaching to the hot shoe on top of your camera, or being fired off-camera.

Once you have your speedlight, you need a device to make the flash fire.  There are three ways to fire a flash wirelessly: (1) Built-in capabilities, (2) Infrared trigger/receiver, 0r (3) Radio trigger/receiver.

Canon and Nikon (I'm not sure about Sony) have both released cameras and flashes in the last year that enable the photographer to fire a flash wirelessly without the need for a trigger receiver.  The only trouble with this solution is that they are usually using infrared technology, which has some major limitations because it won't fire without line-of-sight to the flash, and it doesn't do well outdoors when there is a lot of sunlight.  Also, infrared won't fire the flash from very far way.  The other trouble with using this built-in capability is that it requires the photographer to figure out how to make the flash fire wirelessly by going through the complicated menu system on the camera.

The second solution is to use an infrared trigger/receiver system.  This means that a small flash trigger device will attach to the hot-shoe of the camera, and you'll put a simple receiver device under the flash to receive the signal from the camera that it's time to fire the flash.  An infrared trigger/receiver works just fine indoors, but the sunlight can dramatically impact the ability of the system to fire the flash consistently.  Also, I usually only achieve about 20 feet (6.1 meters) between the flash and the camera before the infrared systems start to fail.

The last solution really is the best.  Radio triggers are amazingly consistent, and will work in any lighting conditions outdoors from 200 yards (183 meters) away.  Fortunately, if you buy the off-brand radio triggers/receivers, then it doesn't cost much more than the infrared systems.

What Else Do I Need for Flash Photography?  Do I Need a Softbox and a Light Stand?

You certainly don't NEED anything else to fire your flash off-camera, but you'll soon find that you want a light stand to hold your flash for you, as well as some kind of light modifier like a softbox or an umbrella.  If you're not sure what the difference is between a softbox and an umbrella, then read this article.

You'll also need a flash bracket to attach the speedlight to the light stand.


Don't be afraid of off-camera flash photography!  It may seem difficult, but if you simply go out on a limb and buy the basic flash photography gear that we recommend, you'll soon find that it's really quite simple to get started. Once you're ready to learn, you can pick up my “Jim Harmer's Lighting in a Flash” video workshop in the Improve Photography Store.  It's a 2 hour video tutorial that you can download or stream.  I'll walk you STEP BY STEP through the fundamentals of flash photography.

I've produced dozens of video tutorials here on ImprovePhotography.com over the last 5 years, but my “Lighting in a Flash” video tutorial is–by far–the highest quality training I've ever made.  I think you'll love it.  Check it out here.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.


  1. I was wondering what the black thing is around the flash at 1:40 in the video. I do most of my photography out side and am looking at doing an in church wedding for a friend, so I am trying to get as much flash info as I can.

    1. Tessa, that’s a Rogue FlashBender (large size). You need to buy it and a diffusion panel to go with it. I bought mine at Amazon.

  2. Good timing on the info Jim. I am going to be heading into the flash zone.
    Can you also contact me off board. I tried to find your contact info on your site but no go.

  3. Thanks for those incredible tips! I am using this speedlite for 2 weeks now and it is really fun and easy to use.

  4. Great article wondered if you could share the brand and where you purchased the flash stand bracket and the triggers from.

  5. Great, thanks for the information because I was not about to spend the $ on the SB-910. I think i’ll start with your suggestion 🙂

  6. I wish I would have read this message before buying my speedlight for the canon, now could you let me know where to buy a trigger and receiver and will it fit on the speed light for canon.

  7. I also wish I would have seen this video before spending all of the money I spent on expensive flashes!!!

  8. I’m a cheapskate to begin with, so it’s great to see knowledgeable people extolling the virtues of quality third party gear! I shoot YN460s with e-bay umbrellas, etc. I use the YN radio triggers. My whole set up (with six YN460s, five umbrella stands (two serve to hold the background), a twelve shoot through umbrella, 5 silver reflecting umbrellas, cost me less than a single Nikon SB900. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  9. heya i was just wondering , can you use any brand of trigger and reveiver for any falsh and camera? or are there sertain types?

  10. what happens if you have 2 flashes? does that mean you would buy one trigger and two receivers?

  11. FIrst let me say I have big gushy loving creative crushes on both of you incredible men.

    I just moved from boston to florida.. and need to learn about shooting sunsets now, as grungy city scape that I am known for will no longer be my selling point. Ive been on your blog so many times. but this was SOOOO helpful. I have a 5Dmarkii. and a few 580ex’s ive never taken flashes off the shoe except when I was in college.. and that was6 years ago, and well.. A LOT has happened since then. ha. so, thank you thank you for this. Im off to go wrangle up strangers on the beach… and offer them free photos to pose for me.

  12. Thanks so much! We really do make things complicated don’t we…lol
    This was an amazing video that truly put me at ease. You’re the best!

  13. Thank you so much! As a beginner photographer, I was so lost on which flash to get, and the video/articles were very straightforward. I’m taking your recommendations and getting this equipment–thanks a bunch!

  14. great video. specially for a newbie like me!

    just one question.

    i have a nikon d3200. do i need a sppedlight with ttl? since your recommended light,yn 560, doesn’t have it.


  15. Do they work with any flash or camera?
    for example i have a Nikon d5100 and a Newer TT560 speed lite. will it work with my equipment?
    please let me no asap
    Thanks 🙂

  16. Hi Sarah yes it will work however you have to set the camera manual mode for it to work with your TT560 that’s for both on camaera and off camera with triggers and cords

  17. This may sound like a silly question but can I use a softbox without actually having a camera? I only have and can only afford a digital camera right now. What I really need is the softness the diffusion gives. Can you help anoob out?

  18. I have a huge problem with shadows and cannot figure out the placement of my external flash if its on a stand and my lighting. Is there any rule of thumb to go by? I have tried several different things experimenting but can’t get it. I have white and black umbrellas and a softbox.

  19. When I couldn’t afford an external flash I just tried to avoid using. In the event I absolutely needed flash I would cover the on camera flash with a piece of white tissue so the lightening wasn’t so hard. It’s not the most pretty way to do things, but it helps.

  20. I’ve viewed this webpage in both Firefox and Chrome and all I’m seeing is a blank space directly below the title where, presumably, there ought to be a video.

  21. @Joe Fonebone, i am using Chrome and have the same issue, no video. after seeing your comment i posted the link into safari and it works on there. strange.

  22. Hi! Thank you for this info! I have a canon 60d and I’m wondering if those flash brackets you recommended will work with it? I am interested in purchasing a flash. I recently used a 600ex rt and was very intimidated. It did great but I found it confusing. I need simplicity, and being a natural light photographer, rarely use flash. Can you tell me if these recommendations work with canons 60d or point me to a flash set up like this that will? Thank you!

  23. Having trouble getting the yongnuo rf-603n to fire my sb-700 with use of my Nikon D-600.

    I don’t know if I have the wrong settings or what I am doing wrong. In the video it looked like you just hooked them up and they worked to fire the flash but that is not the case with me.


  24. Hi:
    I have a new Nikon SB700.
    I also have my original SB400.
    What receiver unit would I need to fire my SB400 remotely controlled by my SB700.
    Have been looking around and keep getting confused.

    Great video and good site.
    Will be adding you to my FB.
    Thank you
    Bruce B

    1. I just picked up the Phottix Odin and it works great with the Nikon SB-700 and SB-800!

  25. I also use a 60D, and just use 430exii’s for the off camera flashes. They are simple, hardy and do everything you need. As for triggering i use a yongnuo 568exii master, which is very inexpensive for a master flash unit.

  26. Hi there, I recently bought a flash called Yongnuo YN568EX II. I was trying different modes firing away. Don’t know what happened but the camera reads the flash but the light doesn’t flash. I’ve set the flash to factory settings but still nothing. Do you know what could be causing it?

  27. So I went to check out the $425 kit but when you start looking at the prices of everything on Amazon it’s well over $1000 for everything. Not sure where the $425 comes in …..help

  28. Thanks for this video, it was great having all that in one video, but not so much as to make it overwhelming. Thanks!

  29. I bought a Neewer speedlight and umbrella/stands set. It’s really easy! I took some self portraits and managed to take a few with ‘Rembrandt’ lighting! Today, I took some shots of one of my other cameras, my guitar amp and a battery charger. It was like rolling off a log! I mean; how hard can it be? My set up is completely manual.
    I’m already familiar with reflectors, etc, so tomorrow I’m going to try more product shots using the speedlight (bounced off the ceiling) and miniature reflectors. One of them is a white book! I also have two 8 x 6 reflectors made with cardboard and baking foil. Cost was $0.00!
    My speedlight/umbrella set up cost $120.
    Next step is a backdrop with a variety of designs.
    Keep shooting everyone!

    1. I have a Neewer speedlight too. Do you have to buy a Neewer brand trigger as well to shoot off the camera? Which one did you get?

  30. I have a D5100 Nikon camera and a SB700 flash…in which position I should have my camera while using this flash? eg: on Auto? On Prog?

  31. +PercyEugeneCartwright

    Use Manual mode. You will have the most control
    When using an external flash, the shutter controls the ambient light, and the aperture controls the flash!
    It’s really easy.
    It’s all a case of getting out of auto and switching to manual mode. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will be confidently taking flash photo’s.
    I suggest you go on You Tube; check out some of the tutorials there. They helped me. It took just a few days and I was up and running.
    Flash photography is a trip! It turns dull, flat photo’s into ones with form and texture!
    Good luck.

  32. wow Learned more from this short video than from anything I’ve recently saw, read or watched anywhere else including Creative Live!! Love this site!

  33. I just recently bought the YN560 IV and YN560 TX based on your recommendation as a first off camera flash. I’m having an issue with the flash only going off once when I initially change the power. The first time I put it at 128, it fires, but not again until I change it to another power, like 64. It’ll fire the first time I change it to 64, but not again after that until I change the power again (to either 128 or any other power). Is there something in the programming that I missed?! Please help!

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