Last week I wrote about on-camera flash lighting techniques with 35-millimeter single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras. In this column I'll introduce some equipment and techniques for using flash and lighting equipment off-camera.
By moving your flash off the camera you will not only avoid the dreaded red-eye, but you'll also have more control over the angle of light striking your subject.
Because the flash and camera communicate through electrical contacts when on the camera, you'll need a device to maintain this connection when taken off-camera. The simplest and least expensive is a PC sync cord. Many SLR cameras have a standard PC flash sync terminal. If your particular camera does not have a PC input (my Nikon D70 does not) you will need to purchase a PC hot-shoe adapter. Most flashes, on the other hand, have unique PC input terminals, so you will need to match one end of your PC cord to your flashes PC terminal. A good Web site to find some of these cords is www.paramountcords. com.
A PC sync cord simply relays a small electrical signal from the camera to a flash when you take a photograph. It will not communicate camera settings or accommodate through-the-lens metering (TTL), so you will need to manually set your camera and flash for proper exposures. Only the length of your sync cord restricts the distance you can separate your flash from the camera.
Obviously, if you are doing some simple off-camera portraits, you only need a few feet of cord. If you want to light the basketball court at Allen Fieldhouse, you'll need hundreds of feet of sync cord. Yes, we have done that.
Another very useful, but more expensive, sync cord is a dedicated one that connects your flash's hot shoe to the accessory shoe on top of the camera. A dedicated cord means all information, including TTL metering, will be shared between the camera and the flash. I use a Nikon SC-28 cord. It is a 3-foot coiled cord that can extend to 6 feet or more. With some research, you can probably find a variety of dedicated extension cords for your particular brand of equipment. I sometimes hold my flash in my left hand and my camera, on autofocus, in my right and extend the flash into a position similar to where your left hand would be for a high-five or an enthusiastic wave. In this position, you have created a higher angle for your light source and gained separation between your lens and your light. As discussed in last week's column, I would recommend using a diffuser on the flash with the flash head pointed straight up or slightly tilted forward toward the subject.
One of the best ways to use an off-camera flash with either the dedicated cord or the simple PC cord is on a light stand with a diffuser. This is probably the most common portrait lighting technique used by Journal-World staff photographers. It requires a light stand, a stand/flash bracket adapter and a reflective umbrella. I did an Internet search for some of these items and found that a basic outfit would cost around $75. Your flash fits on top of the adapter pointed into the bowl of the umbrella, which slides into the adapter. I usually place this setup to the front of a subject and at about a 45-degree angle from the subject and myself. Extending the stand to a couple of feet above the subject, I then direct the flash and umbrella downward at a slight angle toward the subject. The light from this arrangement will be a very pleasing diffused light, and if in the correct position, it creates what is known as Rembrandt lighting. For a description of this lighting, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt_lighting.
In my next column I'll discuss how to get your flash off the camera and fire it without using any cords. Magic!