What are your Flash Triggering Options?

Flash Triggering Options Explained

So you’re convinced you need to add off camera flash (OCF) to your list of skills. Flash triggering seems like a complicated and mysterious thing but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s take a look and then give you some simple choices.

Using remotely triggered off camera flash for this shot was the only way to have soft light be balanced with the background.

Using remotely triggered off camera flash for this shot was the only way to have soft light be balanced with the background.

There are differences

Most articles of this nature discuss how the differences between flash triggers basically breaks down by the tech used to communicate, the cost, the size and the level of control they give. All flash triggers work by using radio waves, infrared (IR), or visible light. The reach varies a lot. Triggering systems vary greatly in cost (built-in to $20 to $500). They come in lots of different sizes and durability. They each offer different levels of control over the flashes.

But there are some more important things to think about first.

Questions to ask first?

  • What kind of pictures do you take and where?
  • How frequently you’ll use the triggers?
  • How will you control your camera and flashes?

Issue – Which came first the chicken or the egg?

You need to know how you’ll use flash to know what type of triggers you’ll need.

You need to have triggers to know how you’ll use them. So what can you do?

Solution – Your to do list in the mean time.

  • Practice getting proper exposures almost every time in a dynamic setting.
  • Practice placing ambient light.
    • Where should the main ambient light be in relationship to the face?
    • Where should the hair light be?
  • Learn what a guide number is.
  • Learn how settings on a camera affect the flash’s exposure.

3 Examples I Use Every Week

1st Case- Studio Flash Based Photographerstudio flash

Solution- A simple radio based trigger is all you need. ($149)

The camera fires any one flash and the rest of the studio flashes trigger optically. This is great in the studio because studio flashes of different brands all have optical triggers. You will have to walk up to the flash to change the power but studio shooting is usually less dynamic and gives you time for this. Often lights are off in a studio during a shot so one flash can often trigger another even inside of a soft box!

I use a studio with this set up, a radio trigger to one flash, the rest optically triggered. I don’t think I’ve ever had a misfire. I think it’s because it’s inside, no walls and the distance is very small. It’s nice to know if it did misfire that it wouldn’t matter as much as during an event because it’s less likely it would cause a once in a lifetime shot to be missed. Just retake the shot.

Lots of professional photographers use these kind of triggering systems for event photography, like weddings. I wouldn’t recommend it because you lose the ability to change the power remotely. That’s a no go for me. My mentor uses his assistant to possession the flash and change it’s power with hand signals.

2nd Case- Run and Gun Event Photographer

Solution- built-in trigger from camera body to your hot shoe flashes ($0)hot shoe pic_clear

Maybe at times you want to work as a minimalist and at an extremely fast pace. For me, during events I’m sometimes feet from an attacking dog, hanging over the side of a moving boat inches from salt water, moving around a between two fellas practicing martial arts or elbows in mud as subjects run by.

Most my event work is done this way, about 5,000 pictures a month. My camera gets the rough treatment you’d expect from that and something hanging off my camera wouldn’t work. My flashes are nice and sealed because they get bumped around. I don’t know of any triggered that are this rugged.

I set up the flashes and control their power from my camera. This uses infrared triggering which has severe limitations so it can be tricky to get them to fire in sometimes. They are really short-range outside and difficult to get a hair light affect all the time. But in some cases one camera and two flashes with nothing hanging off them is exactly what you need.

3rd case- The Do Everything Photographer

Solution- Power control remotely, fires around corners or through walls.($764)Pocket Wizard pic_clear

Control flashes from the camera, shoot around or through walls and get great range! All that and they can work in a studio flash with remote power control.

I use the TT5 / mini TT1 and AC3 system. Sometimes subjects are more dynamic in a studio than in a portrait setting because they aren’t going to keep the same distance from your flashes. It’s really nice to be able to change power remotely. Of course IR systems do this. The radio based systems are there for not having to worry about hiding the flash in a softbox, or in an event setting behind a podium. They give you a lot more flexibility.

Also you could get this functionality for a fraction of the price if you enjoy fiddling with stuff in this website. ($297)


This article may have left you wondering some things. I did not address the how but I did stay under 1,000 words! If you have questions just ask.

If you know someone who this can help then share it with email.

Other Resources

This video is proof that if you don’t mind setting flash power at the flash and then controlling the exposure manually, you can truly save a lot of money.

Want a how to of setting flash power? How about a guide of where to set them up? Just ask mark@technologyformedia.com.



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