What are Strobes, Flashes and Speedlights

First of all about terminology, flashes, strobes and speedlights are just different names for the same thing.

A flash consists of three parts:

  • the head with the actual flash tube. It may be rotating horizontally and vertically;

  • body with electronics, sensors and batteries;

  • foot with electrical contact points that you attach to the camera.

Your camera has a flash shoe and its trigger contacts match those on the flash foot so that the camera and the flash can speak to each other. When you press the shutter button, a command is sent from your camera to the flash to trigger it.

There are three ways how your camera can be connected to an off-camera flash:

  • via an electrical cord with PC connectors;

  • via optical connection;

  • via radio connection.

If your off-camera flash has no PC terminal to attach a cord to, you need to use a PC to hot shoe adapter. The same goes for your camera, if it has no PC port, get one of hot shoe to PC adapters and you will be able to use a cord to connect the camera body and your flash. The cord's length may be 2-4 m.

For optical connection, you can use infra red or light triggers that are attached to the flash using the PC terminal, in case your flash is not equipped with an optical trigger system. It is better that using a cord but still has some limitations like your camera and flash must be positioned in the direct visual sight. If there are other photographers using strobes, your off-camera flash may be triggered by their cameras.

A radio trigger system is the most expensive but most convinient one as it allows much greater distance and is protected from being influenced by other cameras. You attach a radio transmitter to your camera and a receiver to your flash.

Off camera flashes need a light stand which is high enough depending on your shooting situation. You also need an umbrella adapter to attach the flash to the light stand. It allows to set various anges of your flash direction.

There are many creative options for reflecting, diffusing, blocking and filtering your flash light. There are shoot-through umbrellas that are postioned between the subject and the flash. It produces a nice looking glow. Another option is using a reflective umbrella that sends the light back to the subject. The flash is directed in the opposite way, from your subject.

It is important to correctly install the umbrella adapter and the flash so that the light is directed into the center of the umbrella and when you change the position, both the flash and umbrella are moved in the same direction, without changing the angle between them.

There snoots and grids that you can use to produce a narrow light beam.

You can place a plastic color filter in front of your flash to change the color of the light for correcting a white balance or creating special effects.

Flags are used to block some portion of the light which may cause lens flare or when you need not light some part of your subject.

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