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Flash Fun

1-Light Setups: A New Blog Series on Using One Flash

One Light on Stand with Flash I have become very enamored with how flash can be used to help us improve our images or help us make images otherwise impossible. Through teaching my classes on flash, I have also become especially interested in just how many looks one can achieve simply by using only one flash head. My increased interest in this topic lead me to look for blog posts and YouTube videos on the topic of 1-light shooting. One that really spoke to to what I was after was a B&H Event Space video that featured Robert Harrington. His presentation is entitled "One Speedlight, Multiple Looks" ( Robert has also put together a book and eBook on this topic on Blurb, if you're interested.

Available on

So, Robert Harrington gave me the idea to incorporate this approach into the second of three, 6-hour flash classes I teach. My first class focuses on using an external flash unit on one's camera and the third class has students learn how to work with two to three off-camera light setups. The second class, though, emphasizes how one can get interesting and dramatic shots just by taking that external flash off the camera and positioning it in a variety of ways to get shots you can't usually get with the flash sitting on your camera. In the past, I’ve covered lots of the setups Robert mentions and students left the class with a working understanding of the Inverse Square Law, knowing how to shoot in manual flash, and how to begin to set up a shot. They also knew how to move from the first trial exposures to a light position and camera setup that got them the shot they wanted. However, having an extensive list of one-light setups really provides much better structure to the class or tutoring sessions I do from now on.

I have adapted Harrington’s list by changing a few things and adding some configurations. So far, I am up to twenty-two (22) different one-light setups and the list keeps growing. Not everyone wants to take a class or sign up for 1:1 tutoring sessions and I love to share what I know and help others see the advantage of adding just one light to their photographic toolkit. Therefore, I plan to do a new post on each of my 1-light setups starting in January 2015 and continuing throughout the spring.

For all of my setups, I will assume that you have at least one light stand, one external speedlight, a means to connect your camera with your speedlight (radio triggers, long cable, or a built-in flash/external flash that will fire the external flash as long as it is in line-of-sight), a reflector or something that can serve as a reflector, and a way to hold the reflector (another stand, DIY stand, chair, or a friend). Instead of a light stand, you could use a tall stool. Some of the setups will describe the use of a shoot-through or reflective umbrella, so if you want to try them, you will also need a convertible photographic umbrella (a white umbrella with a removable black cover).

Neewer TT560 Speedlite

I am all about economy, so I will not be talking about or using expensive equipment. The flash I will use for all of my setups is a Neewer TT560 unit that is selling on Amazon right now for $36! I use Cowboy Studio radio triggers. The set of one transmitter and one receiver I use (NPT-04) is available on Amazon right now for $20. I use a basic Westcott light stand with flash adapter and a convertible umbrella that can be had for only $72. You may be able to piece together a setup for less, but Cowboy Studio has a stand, adapter, and umbrella kit for only $25! Cowboy Studio Transmitter and ReceiverI use 42” Fotodiox 5-in-1 reflector that sells for $23, but you can get similar results with sheets of white foam core board from Michael’s or any craft store for a few dollars. You can fashion a stand for the reflector from PVC pipe if you are so inclined or come up with some way to lean the reflector against things to get the effect we are after in a setup. If you want to purchase the bare essentials, the total comes to $104.

ReflectorIf you don’t have this equipment or just have some of the pieces, I hope you will follow the posts anyway. Who knows, these posts might just wet your appetite enough to get some of these pieces and give the techniques a try. So, until my first setup post in a few weeks, take a look at the Harrington video and then come back and jump in with my play-by-play setup descriptions!

Because of spammers, I have disabled blog comments, but please leave me questions or comments on my Facebook page ( or on Google+ ( I look forward to interacting with you!

In addition to offering scheduled, hands-on photography classes periodically, I am also available to do one-on-one tutoring or small group lessons designed to meet YOUR needs and what you want to learn in the area of photography, using flashes, or the use of Apple products and software. Give yourself the gift of learning:! And check out my tutoring bundle: as well. I am offering some specials for the holiday season as well:

A Bag for This and a Bag for That: Separating Camera and Flash Equipment

Camera Bag and Flash BagYes, another bag story! But you know you love to hear them. You know you want to justify the purchase of yet another bag. Right? Well, this might be a bit disappointing then, as what I have done is actually put an existing bag into service for a different photographic purpose from carrying my camera gear. No new bag purchased. Still interested? Read on. Isopod Expandable PouchFor the past several weeks I have gone back to my Vanquest VSlinger tactical bag as my primary camera bag. This bag is nice because it is very well made and has lots of pockets, as well as a nice large interior compartment with adaptable dividers. In addition, the VSlinger is covered with MOLLE straps for attaching additional pouches and small bags that can hold a variety of things that won’t fit - or that you don’t want to put - inside the bag. For example, a water bottle or an additional lens. I have written about my VSlinger several times ( and I have been a bit ambivalent about it, because I couldn’t get everything in it I wanted to have with me. However, since I am now only carrying my Olympus OM-D E-M1, I find I have space for several lenses and a small Olympus FL-36R flash head, plus extra batteries and the Wasabi cordless charger.

I also recently purchased a small Isopod Fold-up Pouch that attaches to one of the many straps on the outside of the VSlinger and is quite small. However, when expanded, this pouch will hold a good sized water bottle or even a small camp stove (don’t think I will need it for that, but you get the idea!). Unfortunately, if I know I am going to be doing some shooting where I will want to have several flash heads and since I will be going through rechargeable batteries, will also want my powerful battery charger, I’m out of luck. There is absolutely no room in the V-Slinger unless I remove several lenses.

Photo Hatchback Top CompartmentOn a recent vacation trip, I ran into this problem. I did bring my larger flashes, but packed them somewhat haphazardly. I ended up having left my battery charger at home and my rechargeable were dead! I was missing some other things as well, so that prompted me to come up with a solution. I did not want this to happen to me again! This is one of the problems of being a bag hoarder. You move things from bag to bag and, inevitably, leave something in one bag that you need, but you don’t have that bag with you! Well, never again (he said hopefully)! I pulled out one of the bags from my collection that I really do love, but one that just wouldn’t accommodate all the lenses I want to have with me. My Lowepro Photo Hatchback 16 ( This bag has become my flash equipment bag.

Photo Hatchback Inside View of Top CompartmentThe Photo Hatchback appears to be up to the task, but only trying it for a while will tell. Remember, the Hatchback has a top compartment that's easily accessible as well as a narrow, front sleeve pocket and then a removable sectional case that you access from the rear of the bag. This case, when in place in the bag, creates the "floor" for the top compartment. So, my initial packing has three larger flash heads (a Neewer, a Yongnuo, and my Canon 580EX II) inserted in the the top compartment. My FlashBenders fit in the front sleeve pocket. Then, in the rear compartment I have my batteries in plastic sleeves, my charger, a set of Cowboy Studio radio triggers, my Rogue grid set, and a sleeve of Rogue gels.

Photo Hatchback Rear Compartment "Case"Naturally, I still need to transport my stands for these lights and may, if needed, also want to bring my very portable Westcott X-Drop background kit. As for modifiers, I can, of course, bring along my umbrellas, but I am trying to work on relying on only my Rogue FlashBenders as modifiers for my flash heads.

Bottom line, though, is that I now know where my flash equipment and batteries are, so when I know I may need them, I need only grab my Photo Hatchback bag and go. In that way, I will know I have my array of lenses and camera in my VSlinger bag and anything I need for basic flash photography in my Photo Hatchback. I should be good to go! The Hatchback also has two side, expandable pockets intended for water bottles or the like They are perfect for storing my Joby dSLR-sized Gorrillapod in one and my Lollipod tripod in the other. The Lollipod does not expand terribly high, but is very light. It makes a decent stand for a light when I need one higher. If serious height is needed, I can put it on a stool or table.

Because of spammers, I have disabled blog comments, but please leave me questions or comments on my Facebook page ( or on Google+ ( I look forward to interacting with you!

In addition to offering scheduled, hands-on photography classes periodically, I am also available to do one-on-one tutoring or small group lessons designed to meet YOUR needs and what you want to learn in the area of photography, using flashes, or the use of Apple products and software. Give yourself the gift of learning:! And check out my tutoring bundle: as well. I am offering some specials for the holiday season as well:

Have you ever gotten an image like this? Backlighting is the problem. Flash is the solution!

Backlight IssuesHave you ever taken a picture of someone in front of a bright window or in a location where there was lots of light behind your subject? The resulting image probably looked something like this one, right? Can't really even tell there is anyone in the shot, can you? What has happened is that your camera's light meter has "seen" all that light coming through the window and tried to underexpose the image to get a "correct" exposure on what is outside the window. In the case of this scene, it is our neighbor's red brick house and a holly tree.

Looking at the partial pull-back shot in the accompanying composite collection of shots below, you can see the building and tree are exposed correctly. The camera's attempt to get a good exposure of what's outside the window, unfortunately, underexposes any subject standing in front of the window. Me, in this case. You could do a meter reading on the subject and get a "correct" exposure of the subject, then the outside would be way overexposed.


However, you can get a more balanced exposure, where what's outside the window AND what is in front of the window are both exposed in a pleasing and acceptable manner. And, the way to accomplish this is by using one simple and inexpensive flash unit. For this example, I used my $40 Neewer TT560 Speedlight which allows me to both turn and tilt the flash head so I could bounce the flash off our white kitchen cabinets back onto myself. Not only does this illustrate how using an external flash (as opposed to the built-in, pop-up flash on your camera) can solve the backlighting problem in this scene, but it also shows how taking a picture using flash is really like taking two pictures in one! In the composite series, the first image was one I took without flash but exposed to get an acceptable exposure of what is outside the window. Camera SetupAs a result, the window frame and kitchen are both dark, underexposed, but that is okay because I know I am going to add flash. The second image simply illustrates again that anyone standing in front of the window will be rendered a silhouette. The third image shows the result of adding a flash to the mix. The image to the right shows how I set my Olmpus PL3 with the Neewer flash attached on a tripod on the kitchen island counter and pointed the camera at the window (and me), but the flash head off to camera left so the light would bounce off the cabinets and microwave. I set the camera to a 12-second delay when I put myself in the shot.

Background ExposureIf you look carefully, what is outside remains exposed the same, though, since the flash is lighting up the windows the trees seem a bit lighter in the second shot.

This is a good step-by-step procedure when shooting with flash and assuming you are shooting in Manual Shooting Mode: (1) turn off your flash and get a correctly (to your taste!) exposure of the scene, (2) leave your shutter speed and aperture as you had them in your background test shot and turn on your flash, (3) set your flash to Manual and set its power to 1/8 for a test shot, (4) increase or decrease your flash power if your subject is under- or overexposed, respectively. Remember, you leave your cameras settings as they were after doing step #1! If you don't want to try Manual flash, leave your flash in TTL mode and adjust exposure using Flash Exposure Compensation.

I will be offering a morning session of my "iPhone Photography" and a morning and evening session of my "On-Camera Flash: Using an External Flash on Your Camera" classes in January/February and March/April in Lynchburg. In addition to these classes I am also available to do one-on-one tutoring or small group lessons designed to meet YOUR needs and what you want to learn in the area of photography, using flashes, or the use of Apple products and software. Give yourself the gift of learning:! Check out the holiday discount for my tutoring bundle: as well.

Even a Rosemary Branch Can Look Dramatic

You can take your flash outside and use it to isolate plants, making pictures of them more dramatic than if you shot them in plain natural light. Captions tell the story. Click on images to view larger version. (Clicking on an image at larger size will cycle you to next

A sprig of rosemary with some directed flash on it can look interesting out of the context of the whole bush. Top image shows the shot of one rosemary branch illuminated by the $40 flash and the bottom left image shows the same branch with no flash. The tools I used for this one: the Olympus PEN E-PL3 camera with the Cowboy Studio radio trigger attached to its hot shoe, a beer cozy from the Dollar Store ($1.00) with bottom cut out to create a "snoot" to direct the light onto the subject, the $40 Neewer TT560 flash, and the Cowboy Studio radio trigger receiver. Bottom right image: hand-holding the snorted flash attached to radio trigger to illuminate the shot.


You Can Do This! You have the materials!

Praying Angel with Flash and without Flash Shooting the angle figure with flash.

Changing scenes by using inexpensive flash equipment. If your camera's onboard flash (the pop-up) can be used to make an off-camera flash fire (most Nikons and Canons made in past few years CAN!), then you don't even need the radio triggers!

(Click on images to see them larger)