I've just got a relatively cheap, basic flashgun (TTL only) and a TTL cord. What are some interesting/enlightening (pardon the pun) exercises to try in order to illustrate the benefits of off-camera flash and learn a little about zoom and angle? I'm thinking poses, light positions etc.

  • 1
    Community wiki?
    – rfusca
    Jul 29, 2011 at 13:04
  • "TTL only" - it doesn't have any manual power controls?
    – rfusca
    Jul 29, 2011 at 13:08
  • No, though I think I can control that through the camera - like I say, cheap and basic Jul 29, 2011 at 14:43

4 Answers 4


When I'm wanting to mess around with portrait lighting, I usually take a tripod or lightstand crank/slide it up to eye level and throw a tan towel over it. This helps me visualize how the light will react, exposure-wise and with the shadows. Putting a towel over it provides places for shadows to go, so that you get texture and such.

When I first did this, I would then systematically tilt the flash. Starting directly at the subject and rotating up towards the ceiling and behind me. Then off to the sides and up. It gave me an excellent mental picture of what the light was going to do if I point it a certain way.

It's an excellent exercise to repeat with your subject in a corner and with colored walls too.


A few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Backlighting - this works well with things such as leaves
  • Halo - placing the flash behind a subject's head to create a halo in their hair
  • Internal lighting - placing the flash inside a box/vase etc so that the light comes from inside
  • Also try getting the subject to hold the flash and illuminate their face from below, to get that spooky 'demonic' look. Whilst not particularly original, it would be a useful exercise in exposure.
  • I was thinking more along the lines of portraiture. Sorry, I should have been more specific. Jul 30, 2011 at 11:19

Depending on what you have available, you can even expand on and take Nick Miners' idea further and play around with home-made 'snoots and diffusers' using some white cardboard and rubber bands to further manipulate the light. Another idea similar to Nick Miners' "subject based idea" of the vase, is use different subjects and experiment with how the light reacts. eg. how the light behaves when it bounces of smoke clouds (although I haven't had an opportunity to try it yet, insence candles supposed to be good for this ... just have plenty of ventilation!) or using the flash to freeze running water. Unfortunately though, the aforementioned will be difficult to obtain - you will be limited by not having manual functionality so you may be better of getting a cheap manual flash to compliment it.

I've generally found the cheaper ones are generally manual not ETTL! So I'd be interested to know what brand/model of flash you've got.

  • It's a Metz 36 AF-5. No controls other than the power switch. Jul 30, 2011 at 17:04

On the subject of flashes I would like to recommend the Strobis blog for inspiration and learning. His Lighting 101 is a great start if your looking for material on off-camera flash. There is also a follow-up, called Lighting 102, which take things further.

For portraiture lighting I've started reading David Ziser's book Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography. Even though the title implies focus on wedding photography, it is all about portraits (since wedding photography is all about people). And he uses flash all the time. I really enjoy his writing and have learned a lot from him.

And, finally, if you appreciate video learning Joe McNally have some great online classes on kelbytraining.com It'll cost you about $25 for a month. A few hours of McNally and you'll really start to get your head around the concept of off-camera flash.

  • I've looked at Strobist, but it seems to be quite manual-flash-centric. Jul 30, 2011 at 17:05

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