Off-camera flash is actually quite simple. All you need to fire a flash off camera is a speedlight flash, a trigger/receiver to wirelessly fire the flash, and your camera. A speedlight is basically just a small flash that is capable of attaching to the hot shoe on top of your camera, or being fired off-camera.
Once you have your speedlight, you need a device to make the flash fire. There are three ways to fire a flash wirelessly: Built-in capabilities, Infrared trigger/receiver, 0r Radio trigger/receiver.
Canon and Nikon have both released cameras and flashes in the last year that enable the photographer to fire a flash wirelessly without the need for a trigger receiver. The only trouble with this solution is that they are usually using infrared technology, which has some major limitations because it won’t fire without line-of-sight to the flash, and it doesn’t do well outdoors when there is a lot of sunlight. Also, infrared won’t fire the flash from very far way. The other trouble with using this built-in capability is that it requires the photographer to figure out how to make the flash fire wirelessly by going through the complicated menu system on the camera.
The second solution is to use an infrared trigger/receiver system. This means that a small flash trigger device will attach to the hot-shoe of the camera, and you’ll put a simple receiver device under the flash to receive the signal from the camera that it’s time to fire the flash. An infrared trigger/receiver works just fine indoors, but the sunlight can dramatically impact the ability of the system to fire the flash consistently. Also, I usually only achieve about 20 feet (6.1 meters) between the flash and the camera before the infrared systems start to fail.
The last solution really is the best. Radio triggers are amazingly consistent, and will work in any lighting conditions outdoors from 200 yards (183 meters) away. Fortunately, if you buy the off-brand radio triggers/receivers, then it doesn’t cost much more than the infrared systems.« Back to Glossary Index