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I have zero experience with flash and want to learn how to use it from zero, for example by following the Strobist blog.

What are the absolutely necessary specifications I should look for when shopping for a flash, and can I find something in a price range less than $200.00?

My camera is a Nikon DSLR.

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What to look for? It really doesn't matter, as long as it has a manual mode.

I'd get 2-3 Yongnuo flash units and some decent accessories such as transmitters, triggers, stands, reflectors, umbrellas, etc. as well for that budget. But if you can find just about any manual flash a friend or family member has lying around; it can certainly keep you busy learning for months or more.

We already have a great answer explaining the different Yongnuo models, but really any of them will work for you to learn manual flash techniques and become a "strobist". See:

What are the Yongnuo flash naming conventions?

  • What are some of those "some decent accessories" ? :) – Brandon Feb 5 '15 at 19:52
  • Last question: So we can carry this around like a wireless flash? In some light painting videos I saw the guy put the camera on tripod somewhere and started walking around the subject with his flash and some colored gels and firing the flash . pretty cool! – Brandon Feb 5 '15 at 19:57
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    Blake - You need to do some reading. Either on the strobist site or here. We have lots of questions that address these things, and this is specifically not an equipment recommendation site. You asked "what to look for" and the answer is really easy for a strobist because all you need is a manual flash of some kind. Beyond that, we can help with learning but not specific equipment really. The learning basics of flash and basics of flash equipment is already covered here quite a bit if you look around. Good luck! – dpollitt Feb 5 '15 at 20:00
  • I recomend the version III of that same flash. It has an integrated reciver. If you buy 2 transcivers RF-603 you can trigger your camera remotley. amazon.com/Yongnuo-RF-603C3-INT-Wireless-Remote-Trigger/dp/… – Rafael Feb 5 '15 at 22:41
  • @Rafael, actually, I'd say go for the YN-560III/IV and [YN-560-TX](flashhavoc.com/yongnuo-yn560-tx-revealed/) combo. That way you get remote power/zoom control. Assuming another better YN model hasn't popped up in the last five minutes... :) – inkista Feb 6 '15 at 3:59
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I think this is pretty well covered on the second page of Strobist 101:

here's what your flash absolutely has to have: The ability to work in manual mode, and to do so at different power settings. (I.e., full power, ½ power, ¼ power, etc.) [...] If your flash has that, skip buying another flash for right now until you have a chance to play with the gear you already have.

However, note that you'll need some more kit than just a flash. This is covered on the next couple of pages of Strobist 101, but very briefly you'll need a a light stand, an umbrella swivel, an umbrella and a sync kit.

  • Is there something like a "kit" that has all these things in it? or have to be bought separately? – Brandon Feb 5 '15 at 17:24
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    Blake - The Stobist site has directed users towards kits for years and they partner with a few online retailers who provide specific kits as desired. – dpollitt Feb 5 '15 at 18:08
  • Thanks, I was at work and didn't spend much time exploring his site, so look like everything is there. will follow his advice. – Brandon Feb 5 '15 at 18:53
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Gear-wise, the list is pretty simple. You need a flash and a way to trigger it remotely and a way to control the power output of the flash. This typically means a flash with manual power control and cheap radio triggers of some kind.

This will then be followed by a need to position the flash where/how you want it and some type of diffuser, which leads to a stand, umbrella swivel, and an umbrella. However, of these three pieces, the swivel (and its stud) is actually the most important. You can attach a flash to anything with a 1/4"x20 thread (like say, a tripod, or a clamp with a bolt attached) if you have a stud and a swivel.

But.

If you've NEVER used flash at all before, and you're really starting from ground zero, here's my advice: start with on-camera flash. Start with bouncing. Start with an OEM flash that's got TTL capability (you can use it just as easily off camera in M mode, too). It's much much much easier to master the basics of flash if you're a) using only one, and b) not worried about getting a whole bunch of other gear. Amazing things can be done with an on-camera flash and a $1 piece of craft foam. Go read Neil van Niekerk's Tangents blog as well as the Strobist. There are times to haul an extra bag of lighting gear. There are times you're just gonna wanna stuff a flash by itself in the bag. You need to know the difference. David Hobby started the Strobist blog assuming everyone who read it had already mastered on-camera bouncing and were sick of its limitations. It's why Lighting 101 can sometimes overwhelm very quickly, and why he dialed back to basics in Lighting 102. Learn what you can do with a single on-camera flash before chasing after the studio-style off-camera setups.

A flash can be more transformative to your photography than a lens. I say budget accordingly. You paid $3k for a full-frame camera body. You can afford a $300 SB-700. 360-degree swivel, high-speed sync (FP), CLS, iTTL, and known decent future compatibility, service, and a solid manufacturer warranty are good things to have. A YN-560III has none of these features. Save the Yongnuo purchases for your second, third, and fourth flashes.

You may not need TTL any more than you need to have aperture-priority on the camera. But they're both highly useful things to know how to use when you do need them. Are you really going to have to fortitude and time and patience to set up off-camera lighting every single time? Or are you thinking of doing event run'n'gun with a flash, too?

  • Isn't the whole idea behind the strobist process to not use TTL; basically ever? I'm assuming the idea behind that would be that TTL isn't going to teach much if anything that you wouldn't learn in the first 5 mins of using manual. – dpollitt Feb 6 '15 at 13:15
  • @dpollitt--except for how to do event run'n'gun. :) Actually, to me, the whole idea behind the strobist process is simply making studio setups with speedlights off camera. But I do think some folks jump into it too quickly, assume TTL and on-camera are completely useless (when all Hobby is doing is stating his preferences). Joe McNally uses iTTL/CLS. A lot. Neil van Niekerk does on-camera bouncing. A lot. There are other ways. The Strobist way is not the only way to use a speedlight. – inkista Feb 6 '15 at 20:20

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