Off Camera Lighting (Part 3 of 3)

Make sure to check out Lighting Part 1 of 3 and Lighting Part 2 of 3 before reading this one.

This post, as promised, will be about the equipment you need to do basic lighting on-location. I thought I would take this time to remind you that I am a Nikon shooter though what I have to say can apply to any of the major brands out there.

1. You need a camera…. Sounds like a duh but inevitably someone will email me saying that I failed to mention this most important part.

2. Strobes/Speedlights – you need an artificial light source to illuminate your subjects. There are several different types of lights out there but for on location shooting I would recommend Speedlights like the Nikon SB-910 or the Canon 580EX II. I would say you need a minimum of two. One to act as a commander unit on your camera, provided the camera does not already do this, and one to be the actual source of light.

You can also go the real studio strobes but they are not very portable and can be very expensive. If you go to a location without AC power you would need a larger battery source to plug them into. Alien Bees ( or Elinchrom ( have some great options if you decide this is the route to go.  While their portability may be limiting they have a tremendous amount of power.

3. Radio Triggers – In my opinion the Radio Trigger is the best way to fire your off camera flash because you do not have to worry about the line of site like you might for the inferred triggers.  These also range from the very inexpensive to the very expensive.  The less expensive models act as simple triggers and do not take advantage of the TTL  (Through the Lens) features available in most modern cameras.  You have to use the flash in manual mode.   Typically with these you will have to go over to the off camera flash to make power adjustments.  There are more expensive ones out there like the Pocket Wizards TT5 Flex ( that allow TTL metering to take place in all your camera’s modes.  In addition for a few more dollars you can add a control that allows you to manipulate the power settings of the flash from the camera.  I love this option.

4. Light modifiers – You will need something to diffuse the light coming from the strobe. This can range anywhere form a bed sheet to a softbox… cheap to expensive. One of the best solutions starting out is the umbrella (I also call it a light grenade). You can get these at your local camera store or online for under 20 bucks. Lightboxes on the other hand are typically more expensive and harder to put up but they allow you more control over the light’s direction.

One thing you can always use is a reflector. Several companies make these as 5 in 1… enabling you to use it for multiple purposes. It can act as a 2nd light or a shoot through diffuser. The multiple covers allow for different types (colors) of reflections.

5. Stands - These are simple metal stands that hold your lights. They also range from the very inexpensive to the very expensive and come in various sizes etc. I would venture to say that the decent ones start around the 30.00 mark. If you are not using studio sized strobes then you may not need the sturdiest but remember, you will likely have an umbrella attached and if you’re out side…. Well, you might be chasing your lighting equipment should a good gust of wind come up. Yep, I have been there.  This might also be a good time to mention sandbags for extra weight and stability.

This about covers the very basics of lighting. In future posts I will cover more of the technical aspects of exposing images using artificial lights.  Thanks for reading and again contact me if you have any questions. I may answer it with a blog post. You just never know.

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.