How to Shoot with your First Flash


Lesson Info

Understanding TTL Cables

What are the reasons why we use off-camera flash? Well, as we've already demonstrated for that, when you're photographing a model, sometimes on-camera portraiture, on-camera lighting is not the most flattering, right? We saw the shadow, we saw the little shine on the forehead and on the nose and on the cheeks. Well, off-camera flash lets us control where the light's coming from. It also lets us control the size of the light. You know, so we can use big light sources, small light sources, so we can control size, direction, intensity, we can fill in shadows, we can make a skinny person look large, we can make a large person look skinny. You just have all kinds of options available to you with off-camera flash and that's where, that's where really the excitement, for me, is in flash photography. Table-top photography, yes. You know, if you do macro work, if you photograph bugs and flowers, if you have a Pinterest site or an Etsy, or you're making, maybe, jewelry and you're selling it on E...

tsy, off-camera flash is how you're gonna make that stuff really shine. You know, if you do jewelry, off-camera flash lets you control where the reflections are, maybe see the gemstone. And with on-camera flash, it just looks flat, but with off-camera flash, you got light from here and you're filling in the shadows there, now you've got a sellable product and everyone in the world can see it on Etsy and you can make some cash. So, table-top photography is a great place for off-camera flash. I encourage you to learn at home. Learn at home before you pay a model or before someone pays you to photograph out in the field. Already at lunch, we were talking with a few of you in the audience here and you were saying, "Yeah, I've gotta job coming up and I need "to photograph this, and I need to photograph that." Well, promise me this, just promise me that you just won't show up to the client's business or house and just start, you know, experimenting. Don't do that, practice at home first. Get a foam... A foam head or, you know, a set of flowers or something and just on your living room table, just practice with off-camera flash. So let's go through the first way to do off-camera flash and the way that I think might be most accessible for people watching today, and that's using a TTL cable. TTL cable, well we already technically did this, earlier in the day. These are TTL cables. This one here is an older Nikon cable, it's called the SC-17. This is a newer one, I bought it a few months back, made by a company called Vello. The key is to make sure that it's called a dedicated TTL cable, that's the key. And make sure that it's dedicated for your camera, so if you have a Canon EOS 5D, Mark IV or whatever, make sure that it's a Canon-dedicated TTL cable, okay? The neat thing about these cables is, most of them at least, they've got this, you know, expando... They're expandable, so they stretch and they contract. Most cables come in, like, a three foot length. If you want to, you can buy longer cables or there's even companies out there who will splice these for you, they'll chop 'em and increase the length. Like, if you need a 30-foot or a 40-foot cable, you can buy them, they're out there on the market. But I think a better solution, if you need more length in your cable, you can daisy chain these. So basically, you can take one cable, put it into the shoe of the other cable, just like this. Of course, now it's not gonna do it 'cause I'm on live TV. There we go, fit in there. Eh, maybe this way will work. (laughs) When in doubt, go the other way. Yeah, so they do... There you go, they do daisy chain and so now rather than three feet, you can get more like six, seven feet. So why would you wanna do that? Well, with off-camera flash, you wanna be in control of the light, right? So, let's say that you've got yourself a light stand like this. You're gonna take this cable and you're gonna screw it onto the top of the light stand, this is a stud. Basically a light stand stud, you're just gonna screw that in there. For the techy people in the room, that's a quarter by mount, so there's a quarter by 20 stud. Okay, that goes into the light stand like that, cool. Now, this would go on my camera. And if my model or my subject is here, and my light is over there, I just need to be able to stretch at some distance. If you don't get it at a certain length, you will pull over your light stand. I mean, trust me, that happens, it happens a lot. So maybe put some weight down there, you know, a little bean bag or something else that has maybe five or 10 pounds, you can kinda keep this thing from pulling over. But the longer your TTL cable, the more room you have to move around the studio. Okay, so let's connect that to the camera. So I get back my D500 with the kit lens, this is gonna go right here on the camera, great. And the camera's still set up from the previous sessions, I'm still at ISO, what was that 400, F56 and the 250th of a second. So all of that's the same, nothing really changes with the camera when you do off-camera flash. That's cool, all the same basic learning we did in the first two segments translates right to here. Nothing's significantly different. Alright, well let's mount the flash onto this sucker. (clears throat) So we'll use, I dunno, let's use this one. This is a 30 dollar flash I bought on Amazon. So that's gonna go on here, just like that. And in the fourth segment, I'll show you how we attach this to our light modifiers, you know, how we put a soft box on there, or an umbrella or something along those lines. So now, I'm basically, I'm gonna turn on the flash. And I'll turn this towards the cameras so the cameras can see it. And then I'm just gonna push the mode button until the mode says TTL. Or, Manual. Either one will work, so I can be in TTL mode or I can be in Manual mode, like 164th power. Both of them will work great. As far as your camera and your flash are concerned, they're sitting together. See, the way with these dedicated TTL cables, the way that works is the flash thinks it's mounted right here on the top, so the communication is all the same. There's really no difference, it's just now physically separate, but it's separate by a cable. So I'm at, you know, ISO 400, I'm at 56, I'm at 250th of a second, I'm in manual 164th power. And then when I take a picture, pow, off it goes, and it's firing 164th power, 164th power, 164th power, consistently. It also works in TTL mode. So like I said before, you know, I paid 30 or 40 bucks for this flash on Amazon, and if I just go to TTL mode, now it works very similarly as the Nikon dedicated flash or the Canon dedicated flash. So that's TTL and it would work just the same, pow. (camera clicks) Pow, pow. Pretty simple way to do off-camera flash. I used... When you can't afford a flash failure, use a cable because there's, this is solid. You know, you'll never have an issue with communication here, you will never break down, you will never have radio interference, or the pulses of light will never impact or get lost in the mix. So always use a cable if your life depends on it, I guess is the point, you know, if I'm photographing for a client and they're like, "You better not screw this up," or I can't screw up, then I cable up. Maybe that's a quote. (audience member laughs) If you don't wanna screw up, then cable up, okay? So that's a rock-solid connection. Alright, so that's the first way to do off-camera flash and we'll shoot this way in the next segment, I'll connect this to a soft box and you'll see it works just fine. One more summary point I wanna make, the control of the flash and the control of the camera, it's all exactly the same as if it was mounted here on the top, okay?

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 

  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors with your off camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 



  • First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!
  • This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.
  • Mike, is a fantastic instructor. I have taken other flash photography classes, but I find Mikes’ to be the best laid out, clear and concisely demonstrated class, with great detail and not overly "techy" terms to confuse the listener. Though lots of technical information is shared, it is done in a way anyone can understand and follow along. Great examples explained, to help apply what we are learning to real life scenarios. Like Rear Sync Curtain explanation, really helped distinguish the difference and why.
 Great sense of humour too!
 Hope Mike, will be back to teach more classes, maybe a sequel… one on multi flash use? 
~ Christine