Off Camera Flash on a Budget

Posted by Las Vegas Photoshoot Locations under
Off Camera Flash on a Budget. 

     I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately about my flash setups, and how to cheaply get started with Off Camera Flash (OCF) since I laud and comment on the ‘strobist on a budget’ lifestyle any chance I get. Moving your lights off your camera, or starting to use lights in general is a completely new ballgame, and in my case, changed everything.

What you’ll need, the basics: 
-Flash capable of full manual control. 
-Some way to trigger them. 
-light modifier. 

This is what it’s all about, and no, you do not need to spend $450 on the top of the line, TTL flashes, they’re good for a lot of things, but I personally prefer the “dumb” flashes, because you have full control over what they do, and how they perform. Here are my suggestions, in order of preference, and a general idea of price. 

Yongnuo YN560*                    $75 
LumoPro LP160*                     $150 
Yongnuo YN460II*                  $45 
LumoPro LP120*                     $100 
Nikon SB26*                          $120 
Vivitar 285HV                         $60 
Nikon SB24/25/28                   $100 

Sunpak 383                           $60 

*** indicated optical slave mode*** 

As you can see, most of these are quite affordable. I personally use Vivitar 285HVs, YN560, and YN460II's. The YN560 and the LP160 match the current most powerful flashes on the market (580exII) the YN460II and the LP120 are one step below on paper (but in a modifier, the YN460II is slightly more powerful than them all,) and the rest are a bit lower, at about GN80-100. I suggest getting one kit to start with, practice and learn that, then move on and add more flashes as you progress. 

There’s a bit to think about here. Do you get the big guys, Pocket Wizards, which will be 100% reliable and do absolutely everything you need and grow with your kit? Do you get the cheapo ones that work 99%+ (in my case) and save up for more kit? Maybe somewhere in the middle? I’ll list some of the popular options. 

Pocket Wizards - $10,000 (okay, they’re like what, $180 per piece, so $300+ for one light, but they’re the gold standard, and will not fail you) 
Alienbee Cybersyncs - $60-$80 per piece 
Skyports - $180 per set 
Yongnuo RF-602 - $40 ($20 per add'l receiver)
Yongnuo CTR-301 - $30 ($10 per add’l receiver) 
Cactus V4s - $30 ($10 per add’l receiver) 

As you can see there’s quite a price gap here. Yes the expensive ones are awesome, and will do absolutely everything you need them to do. But, under a lot of circumstances, so will the cheap ones. I’d suggest the RF-602 kit; it’s cheap, and from my experience (15,000 fires) and friends who use it, 100% reliable up to 100+ feet. I would suggest, if you plan on growing, and have some flexibility, invest here, the better trigger kits will last you ages, and grow with your gear. 

There’s not too much here. I personally use $30 air cushioned 8’ stands, which work well for me, if you’re cutting budget, I’ve seen 6’ ones run $20, not bad. Again, if you’ve got some budget to spare, look into a heavy duty 10’ stand, it’ll grow with you, and better capable of supporting heavier lights and booms. One thing to consider is collapsed size, one big thing about strobism is portability, and you can find some light stands that collapse to 18” for easy packing, mine collapse to about 24’ which isn’t too hard to manage. You’ll also need umbrella brackets; they run $15 or so? They just hold your flash, with a hole for the umbrella, and lets you tilt and swivel. 

Also not going to go into much detail here. Chances are, with flashes, you’ll be relying on umbrellas, I’m a fan of “umbrellaboxes” you shoot into them, and the reflected light is diffused, nice large, soft light, and usually quite cheap. I’d suggest having a few, silver, white, shoot through, etc. DIY cereal box snoots, grids, beauty dishes are also easy enough to make. 

So… What would I suggest to get started? 

Super budget:
Yongnuo YN460II                                             $45 
CTR-301                                                        $30 
6' lightstand + bracket                                      $25 
Umbrella (24” silver / shoot through)                    $15 
Yongnuo YN560                                               $70 
Yongnuo RF-602                                              $30 
8’ air cushioned stand + bracket                         $45 
Umbrella (42” silver / shoot through)                    $20 

IMO, $115-$165 to get started in off camera lighting is not bad. It opens up a lot of creative doors, and lets you shoot in a lot of new situations, with the added benefit of being super portable.

Have fun shooting.