How to use your on-camera flashes as studio lighting

How to use your on-camera flashes as studio lighting

We tested a kit with stand and umbrella with two ordinary on camera flashes. You can easily get much better portraits by using your ordinary flash like the pros use studio strobes. It is also very light equipment that will fit in a common camera bag.

In addition to your camera you need a couple of light studio stands, hot shoe flash adapters and umbrellas- If you already have one flash you need to get one more.

The flashes have to support slave mode and everything is a little bit easier if the flashes are equally strong. Most on camera flashes can be setup as slaves or masters, so you need to make one flash master and the other slave.

Normally the slave unit will be triggered by the master and you can do so with the TTL function on, but this function will not work with an umbrella. You must make all settings manually.

We tested with two common flashes, one Canon 580 EXII and one Youngnuo 568EXII for Canon. The latter have almost the same features, but is significantly cheaper.

I think that the menus on at least the Canon flashes is hard to understand and I need the manual every time I am making changes to the settings. How are you for instance supposed to now that you should press and hold a mysterious double arrow button to change settings to the triggering method?

Lets hope the manufacturers make some significant changes soon.

Go manual

Start by setting everything to manual. Then you set the triggering mode. On Canon flashes you do as described above and set the man flash as master and the second flash as slave. Then there is four slave modes on Canon flashes, Sc and Sn is for wireless triggering by the master flash. Then there is S1 and S2 modes that will let the flash trigger by sensing another flash. You should pick the S2 mode, which will cancel the TTL pre flashes. Then make sure that both flashes will give full effect (1/1). You can set the effect lower if you need fast recycling times.

If needed to, adjust the strength by increasing or decreasing exposure with the +/- buttons. Now you can start experimenting and shooting.

If you however is setting up your flashes where there are other photographers, you need to group your flashes and use a wireless setting, for instance based on Sn-mode. Otherwise your flashes will go of every time someone is using a flash.

A white diffusing umbrella gives will make great improvements when shooting portraits.

A white diffusing umbrella will make great improvements when shooting portraits.

A full kit with everything you need except the flash

In this test we used a set with a studio stand, flash hot shoe adapter with an umbrella holder and two umbrellas, one white diffusing and one silver/black reflecting umbrella.

The stands are really light, in aluminium and perfect for an on camera flash. We think they are a bit to weak for ordinary studio flashes, though the manufacturer promise it will hold for 3 kilos. The fact that the are compact, light weight and easy to carry is more than well compensating for the lack of robustness.

The hot shoe adapter is also nice with a fitting for umbrellas. It can also be fixed to an ordinary camera tripod, should you prefer that.

The umbrellas are really doing their jobs and if you normally prefer softboxes, we’d like to mention a few important advantages with umbrellas

  • Compact and easy to carry
  • Weights almost nothing
  • Is quick to set up and pack
  • Gives different effects depending on if they are diffusing or reflecting, and you can also achieve different results through adjusting the distance between the flash and the umbrella.

Providing you already have a flash we make the following recommendations:

2 x set with stand, hot shoe adapter and umbrellas.