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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 22 of 28

Understanding Wireless Triggers

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

22. Understanding Wireless Triggers

Lesson Info

Understanding Wireless Triggers

So now let's get a little more complicated. Let's go wireless. Let me show you how this is going to work. Take this down. The next is a very low cost solution. And it's a little flash pulse detector. Okay, this little guy. A little slave trigger. I bought this on Amazon a couple weeks ago and I have others in my kit, but less than 10 bucks. And it's super simple. Basically one thing here and the only purpose of the foot is to mount on another, what we call a cold shoe, you know another mounting plate or on the stud just like that, okay? Then what you do is you take your flash, again any flash that you own and you just put that flash on there. But the difference now is that flash can only work in manual mode. There's no TTL control, there's nothing automatic about this. How this works is it sees a pulse of light and then it just says bing fire. Fire, so pulse of light, fire. It's that simple and that straightforward. No sophisticated technology. Alright so here I'm gonna pull out this o...

ne is an SB-700. It's a Nikon flash. I just put that here on the shoe just like that. And now I have to set this from manual output. It won't work on TTL because there's no like camera to communicate with it anymore, right? So I, on this specific flash, I set it to manual mode with this switch on the side. So I go into manual mode. And then to change the output, well I have to push the output button and then rotate the dial. And I can change it anywhere from one over one, full power all the way down to the minimum amount of flash output which is 164th, 128th power. Cool. So let's see how this works. Put that in here. Now, you want this little sensor to be basically pointed to wherever the camera is because the camera is gonna send out a pulse of light to this. So almost all flash heads have the ability to rotate the flash head. So point the sensor to the camera and the flash head towards wherever. The light box, the subject, whatever you're shooting just like that. So next we have to tell that thing to fire. So how can we tell that thing to fire? Well we have to send a pulse of light that way. So I grab this camera first. This is the Nikon D500. There is no popup flash on this camera. So this camera in and of itself cannot trigger that because there's no flash pulse so I have to get a different camera that actually has a little popup flash. I just so happen to have one. Okay amazing. So this is, this camera is the Nikon D and when I push my flash button, up comes this. So that's now a flash trigger. But there's a caveat. When you pop up this little flash, most cameras default this little flash to TTL. Oh, interesting. So if this flash fires in TTL mode, do you remember what happens in TTL mode? Remember there's like a pre-pulse. Like a pre-flash. Then it comes back to the camera. The camera makes a decision real fast and then it sends the real flash. Guess what this sucker does. When that pre-flash goes out, it fires this. And then when the shutter actually opens, no it doesn't fire. So you have to setup your popup to be manual as well. Alright so here we go. If I go to the menu system, and in the Nikon system I just go to what called the bracketing and flash menu. All cameras have some type of flash control inside the menu system. I go on there and it's called flash control for built-in flash. That's the built-in flash, this one right there. I go into there and I say, I want this built-in flash to be manual output, okay? Most DSLRs have this option. Manual output. And then I can choose what power level for manual output. Just because I want to, I'm going to pick 132nd power. That's not, you can choose whatever value you want. Just know that if you go too much power on this guy, it will impact the photo and you don't want that. So you want it low enough so that it triggers that but not high enough so that it doesn't impact the subject. So I'll just pick 132nd just for grins and giggles, cool. Now when I take my picture, that fires from this pulse. I think it did. Oh yeah it did, good. How many times do I have to do that to learn from my own mistake. Not stare at it. Yeah so that's super simple, right? Almost no technology involved other than this little 10 dollar trigger. You already have your flash. You already have your little popup and now this can literally go anywhere on set, anywhere on stage and I can trigger it remotely. So let's say you do take that photo, pow. And Andre our model is too bright. How do I reduce the power on this? Yeah, I gotta go over there. So I come here and I push the flash power output and I just rotate that down to whatever half power, quarter power, eighth power, see? So that's neat, inexpensive one of the easiest ways to go for triggering. I noticed when you were firing that, it also fires the flash on the actual camera. Does that, how much does that affect the over-flashing your actual strobe? Yeah so he just kind of building on what I was talking about a little bit earlier, and that is you have to really think through that and make sure that this little flash doesn't put out so much light that it influences the final photograph. And so, the answer is that it will. So you want to make the power output on this as low as possible. And so my suggestion is maybe not a 32nd power maybe even lower. Okay, I'll go back in there again. Maybe down to 128th power. Just as low as possible. So that's just a little, tiny ding. A little pinpoint of light. But, you don't want it so low that this little guy can't sense it and detect it. So here we'll just do a quick test. You guys can tell me if it actually fired. This is at 128th power. Yeah and it fired. So in this scenario, no problem in 128th power, it's not going to impact the scene very much at all. In fact you probably won't even notice it. But it can and I have in the past, like I've shot vertical and I see a shadow in the background like right behind the subject's ear and I'm like where did that shadow come from? It's impossible. I have a softbox and it's way over there. Oh, it's from my trigger. You know, this little guy. So you can also do this. You can kind of shield it. So just kind of keep it from going towards the subject so that this light only shines towards that remote trigger. In fact that's a really good technique. Maybe get a card, a business card or something and just kind of put it in there so it doesn't go forward into the subject. I like it. And this is from the book, any idea in this scenario how far you can be away with that camera to trigger it with it's flash? Yeah the technical answer is kind of far. Yeah so cable it's really, it comes down to can the trigger see it? It's line of sight, I guess that's a good answer is make sure it's line of sight. In other words, you can't shoot around a corner or have a wall in between there, it actually has to see it. But I'm gonna mess everybody up out here in the camera land. I'm gonna move way over here. Kind of way out of camera range. It didn't trigger there and that's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, that's 21 feet away and it didn't trigger it. But I bet if I turn the power up to maybe half power, quarter power, then it would trigger it. That's a great question cable. Now you know the answer. Kind of far. This is great. Inexpensive, cheap and you can buy as many of these little triggers as you want. Because they're only 10 bucks. So if you have lots of 10 dollar bills lying around, you can trigger 30, 40 flashes if you want. Now to that point, let's say that you don't want to buy one of these. And all you have is, let's say that cheap $30 flash or inexpensive $30 flash from Amazon. Let's go back to that one. These flashes like this one is made by a company called Aperlite A-P-E-R-L-I-T-E And most of the flashes in this genre like Amazon Basics, they have one as well. But they have a mode called slave mode. And on this one specifically, there's S1 and S2. And these slave modes are exactly the same as that little eye product that I just showed you. That little $10 sensor. And it detects the light from this little port here on the side. So you might not even have to buy one of those little triggers. Your flash might have it built in right to the flash itself. It's just called straight slave mode. And so the way that's going to work again is that you put that on your light stand and then you rotate that sensor towards your camera and then the flash fires. And again, you have to set the manual output 164th power, whatever. So that's another inexpensive way. You might even already own a flash that has a straight slave mode. No real technology here and all the questions we've had up until this point still pertain. It may not register. In fact I know from experience, this little flash, I have to be pretty close for is to trigger. So I know on this flash, I don't let it be just a straight slave. I usually have some other thing attached to it that senses the trigger better. Maybe a radio trigger or maybe a different product, a different slave. Well speaking of different slaves, there are other types. This is a Nikon product and it's outdated, you can't find it anymore. But it's called the SU4. And if you look hard maybe on eBay, Craigslist, or something you can sometimes find these things laying around. But they're just different types of slaves from different manufacturers. This one just happens to be a Nikon. So this one, I can literally put this right here and it's designed, oh there we go. It's designed to be just a slave trigger. So really similar. The base here rotates around. And then it also, this little the sensor goes up and down so you can kind of get a little bit more control over how it receives the input. But this is just one more way to do basic slave trigger flash photography. Nothing, no real technology here. All of the controls still happens here on the back of the menu. So that's standard slaves. Let's talk about the next one. OEM Wireless, original manufacturing wireless and the truth is I'm gonna, yeah let me talk about this one right now. So OEM Wireless, both Canon and Nikon have a technology now that does radio trigger, okay? They both do radio trigger for remote flashes. The newest Nikon cameras have this, but the Canon cameras have had it for a few years. Alright so that's this little sucker, okay? This little sucker here is the, what's the brand? What's the product name? Oh yes, it's the WR-810 okay. So many little names. But Canon has something similar. Sometimes the Canon is built into the body and on the Nikon D5 sometimes it's built into the body. But this one it requires this little radio control and it just screws here into the side of the camera. It's called the ten-pin. So it screws into the ten-pin just like that. Great and you see this little green light blinking now and it's now looking or listening for another radio-enabled flash. So here we've got the Nikon SB-5000. Okay the SB-5000 now this is the only flash in the Nikon world right now that's also radio-triggerable. And when I say radio, what I means is it doesn't use optical light to trigger it, it uses radio to trigger it. And so if I set this for remote, here we go I set it for remote. And it's looking for a link and so I can trigger this wirelessly with a radio trigger. Now I can put this behind a table. I can put it up in the rafters. It can be 30 feet away, 60 feet away, 100 feet away and it will trigger with just a radio pulse. And so radio is much more flexible. It's also a bit more reliable then just the optical trigger. So this takes a little bit of learning and a little bit of understanding. I'm not going to go into technical details. I will point to another CreativeLive class that I taught. I did teach a whole CreativeLive class on this specific topic. So we won't go into the details here because it is a little bit complicated. But, it's reliable and consistent and I use this quite a bit. One of the advantages of going with this system is that you can control everything basically from the camera. The deal is that you can control TTL. You can control manual right here from the back of the flash. So like if this flash number one, if I want that to be a TTL flash, I just right here from the back of the camera, make it TTL. This flash, if I want it to be a manual output, I can do that. And without actually approaching the flashes, I can make them brighter or darker right here from the back menu. So these mean you can stay back kind of in your creative space. You don't have to approach the flashes a little bit less walking around. So really good, reliable system. So that's basically a radio trigger and it's integrated very well with the camera system. So let's now talk about both the Nikon and the Canon wireless. Both of these manufacturers have a similar but slightly different type of control. And this one I know I can find immediately. Go to this camera. So this one basically is called the creative lighting system and it's based on optical trigger. And so optical meaning it's sending instructions through pulses of light. Like (imitates flash sounds) It's like morse code for flash. It's like hey flash over there shoot at TTL plus 1. and you flash, you go TTL minus . It's actually telling other flashes how to behave through pulses of light. So you set up this little popup to be a commander flash. And then if you see here, you can see group A. I'm telling group A, which is you know the first flash, I want it to be TTL at this brightness. And group B, I want you to be TTL at that brightness. So that's pretty cool. Again it's just another way to control those remote flashes but it's doing it with pulses of light. So maybe you have a Nikon like, this is a D750. Basically all the new Nikons from 2004, 2005 onward have this technology built in to the camera system. You may already own that. What does it work with, and what does it not work with? Well, it works with Nikon-brand flashes. Sometimes it works with off-brand flashes like if you buy, let's say like a $150 flash from Adorama or B&H and it says Nikon wireless TTL, then it will also work with that kind of third-party flash. I have a bunch of flashes up here and one of them is this tiny little Nikon SB-500. It's dinky, it runs off of two little double AAs. This works in that wireless system just fine. And this is like a $180, $200 flash from Nikon so it only works with Nikon flashes though, not necessarily with any other brands unless it specifically says, hey I work in Nikon CLS, creative lighting system. Canon has something similar, okay? So let's talk about the next idea. And these I'm gonna combine together. Okay, these I'm gonna combine together. There's basically two types of radio trigger. Well, there's way more than two types of radio triggers but you've got these which is like a third-party, no one's really heard of this, it's called Yongnuo. Yongnuo, sure that works. And then you also got higher-end stuff that's lots of photographers have heard of which are Pocket Wizards, okay? Now these are radio triggers. In other words, this which will be on the camera, sends information to that one which is on the flash. But it's just trigger information. It doesn't tell it to go brighter or darker. So it all has to be manual output. The flashes all have to be manual control. And Pocket Wizard actually now, as the years have gone on, Pocket Wizard now has TTL control systems and they work in the Canon world, they also work in the Nikon world. So when you buy a Pocket Wizard that says TTL control, make sure it's dedicated for your specific type of camera, okay? These are, for lack of a better term, I'll just say unsmart radio triggers. It's basically circumventing the optical path and going into a radio path. These little setups, they do have multiple channels and multiple groups with these buttons allow you to control all that. So I can, you know I can make this flash fire, and that flash not fire. I can still control that right from here. Let's go through and I'll just show you a simple and a quick setup for how this works, okay? So, we'll grab a flash. Any flash will do. And so for this I will use this Aperlite, this $30 flash. And this will be the remote. Okay so that's just gonna mount like this onto here. Screw it down so it doesn't fall off. Turn on the flash and let's see, of all the modes I've been talking about, how do we want this flash to behave? Manual, you want it to be manual mode. So push the mode button until it says manual. Okay, well now I have to find a way to like mount this to my flash system, to my lighting stand. The bottom of this is just a hot shoe basically. Hot foot, so I have to have some way to mount that. I'm depending on the type of setup I used. You might have these little flash stands. These are worth their weight in gold. Hopefully you got one for free when you bought your flash. If you didn't go out and buy one. They're really inexpensive and they're just plastic and that allows you to mount that to the bottom here and then there's a quarter by 20 thread and that will mount to your light stand just like that. Okay so that's one way to mount it on the light stand. Cool, another option this is a softbox bracket basically. And it is designed to work with your speed lights. So this is a separate product that you would buy. I recommend getting a softbox speed light bracket. something along those types of terms. They're named differently on all the websites and all the products but basically what that does is that it allows you to mount the flash into your high-end softbox stuff. Come on I'm gonna unscrew that all the way. There we go. So now I took off that fancy foot and that just mounts here into this. Just like that, cool? Now what? Well now, and we'll see this in a minute, as I put a softbox. For now maybe I'll just do an umbrella. No I won't do an umbrella. I will do a soft box. Because this is designed for softbox. I won't actually mount it because we're gonna do that later. But the idea is now the softbox can mount to the speedring. This here is called the speedring. And it's designed to just mount this in there light that. So this is a softbox. And this softbox is relatively expensive but you can find inexpensive ones in the maybe $75 to $100 range. I love softboxes. I think they're really important for our photography, for our off-camera flash photography but they can be slightly pricey, okay? So that's mounting this sucker onto some type of light stand. Okay so put this back onto here just so you can see what's going on. Again, this flash needs to be set for manual output, cool. Now let's go to the camera. And we'll use back to my Nikon D- so the radio trigger out of here. Okay so I'm just gonna mount that on the hot shoe. Straight forward. And now the next thing is you want to make sure that the channel is lined up here with the channel on there. And like this has six different channels. Channel one, two, three, four, five, six. And the reason why we have different channels is so that multiple photographers can be in the same room at the same time. So you get channel one, and you get two and three and four. Maybe we're in a basketball arena and you want your lights to not be triggered by my trigger. And so we all kind of hand shake ahead of time and agree to take different channels. Same type of setup overall where we, ISO, shutter speed and aperture, all that works and now we just trigger, bingo. And there's really no distance limitation on this. There's also really, you can shoot this can be on the other side of a window, it can be on the side of a wall, it can be behind your subjects. It's almost always gonna trigger. Yep. Armpit, yep good. Or behind the head. I'm Norwegian, got a lot of thick skull here. Yeah so it always works. So that's cool. Triggering with a radio trigger. Pocket Wizards are, I would say they're kind of the industry standard for this type of radio trigger. They are very expensive. A basic Pocket Wizard kit, you know it's in the hundreds of dollars. The wireless stuff that does like the TTL, the TTL Pocket Wizards are multiple hundreds of dollars. So, I wouldn't necessarily recommend going there especially since the whole purpose of this class is to show your first flash. So with your first flash, just get something like this. This Yongnuo, I don't even know if I'm saying that right. Yongnuo, this only cost me about $40 on Amazon, maybe 30 bucks. It wasn't that expensive. I got it, I opened it up, I looked through it and I was working with it I'm like, oh it's actually fairly sophisticated. I got lots of groups. Another cool thing about this is you can just trigger your camera remotely by setting this up with, there's a little cable here that comes out and it can go here into the ten-pin and so you can use this as a remote trigger. Not necessarily flash just remote trigger the camera. So it's a wireless remote trigger as well.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

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. 

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Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

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Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

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Yasemin Soyen

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!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

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.