The Off-Camera Flash Handbook, by Vanessa Joy

Starting out with off-camera flash can be intimidating. This book aims to make it much less scary.

The Off-Camera Flash Book by Vanessa Joy
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The Off-Camera Flash Handbook
Title: The Off-Camera Flash Handbook: 32 Scenarios for Creating Beautiful Light and Stunning Photographs
Author: Vanessa Joy
Publisher: Rocky Book
Publication Date: April 2020
Total Pages: 296 pages
ISBN-13: 9781681985572
Buy at Amazon

Off-camera flash (or OFC, in the short-hand version) can be very intimidating if you haven’t done it much. And it’s true that you can do some very complicated lighting setups with it. But it doesn’t have to be, and you don’t have to.

Two technological developments in recent years have made learning off-camera flash immensely easier. One is digital photography and the instant feedback you get on the camera’s back screen. You can see right away what’s working and what isn’t—no more keeping your fingers crossed while you send the film to the lab and wait for it to be developed. The second development has been the great strides taken in creating better wireless connections between your camera and your flash. It means you can change settings from the camera and don’t need to be messing with long, messy cables. It also means that there are now very inexpensive, highly mobile flashes (or speedlights) that you can get excellent results from. And they’re small and compact, so there’s not much reason not to throw at least one in your camera bag for every shoot. Putting those things together means that it has never been easier or cheaper to dive into the world of off-camera flash. And, as you get more proficient and work out what works best for you, you can upgrade to higher-grade gear.

The book I’m reviewing here, The Off-Camera Flash Handbook, by Vanessa Joy, aims head-on at that intimidation factor by breaking down the basics of off-camera flash into more approachable bite-size pieces.

Rather than aim for general and theoretical, it focuses on a few dozen practical shooting situations. It covers a range of different situations (32 of them, to be precise) that wedding, engagement, portrait, and event photographers run into during any given shoot and how off-camera flash can be put to good use to get a better shot that’s more flattering and attractive. Many of the examples in the book could be handled in natural light, but adding in some off-camera flash takes things up a notch and leads to more dramatic photos, or better color, or more flattering images. In other words, better photos. And that, of course, leads to happier clients. And, from a business perspective, adding some off-camera flash into the mix can help you stand out from the crowd. It’s a competitive market, and the reality is that a large segment of your competition is using natural light only. And while adding some off-camera flash won’t magically raise your bottom line, it can certainly help your images stand out from the crowd and differentiate what you can offer your clients.(p.4)

Attempting to learn off-camera flash was crazy difficult for me. When I looked at the flash, I felt like I was looking at a foreign object that defied all physical laws as I knew them. Not to mention that I’m seeing an almost-too-fast-to-see light flash, and somehow I’m supposed to know what it’s going to do, or what it did after the fact.

Guess what? There’s no crazy magic happening with the flash. The light that comes out of a flash follows the same rules as light from the sun. ‘Light is light’ as they say. The only difference is that the flash light comes out in a quick burst versus sunlight, which lives in the sky all day. (p.5)

So the focus of this book is more on practical solutions that help you get better results rather than on gear and settings and background theory. And, crucially, most of these are scenarios that can be handled by a solo photographer with one or two light stands. So you won’t need a team of assistants and a truckload of lighting equipment.

The Off-Camera Flash Book by Vanessa Joy

The book also covers a variety of looks, from the drama you can get from overpowering the sun to the subtle look where you hardly know there’s any artificial lighting at all (the photo used on the cover is an excellent example of that). Overall, it steers toward a natural look where the artificial light gently augments the natural light—but isn’t overpowered by it.

Of course, there’s more to that than just flicking on your flash’s fill-flash button. That’s often not a bad place to start, but it’s barely scratching the surface of what you can do with an off-camera flash. You will need some gear—a flash or speedlight, at minimum, and perhaps a trigger to use with it—but if you start basic, it doesn’t have to mean forking out big bucks right off the bat.

I’ve created this book for the photographer that wants to learn flash but doesn’t know where to start. Or maybe you tried to start, but got hit in the face with a firehose of information and got overwhelmed. Perhaps you grasped a little bit of information but still don’t have the mastery you’d like. This book is for you. (p.7)

The types of scenarios the book covers are those that any photographer at a wedding or couples shoot or family portrait session might run into at any given shoot. You might turn up to a beautiful garden venue but find that it’s pouring buckets outside. But there are ways to shoot indoors to make it look outdoors (pp.101-108). Or you’ve scheduled a sunset shoot at the beach, but the clouds aren’t cooperating, but you still want to get that golden color or dramatic sky (pp.31-66). Or you want to add some colorful pop to a room shot of the reception setup (pp.158-164). Or the speakers giving wedding toasts happen to be standing in the deadest light in the room and you need something to make the speakers stand out visually (pp.166-173).

The Off-Camera Flash Book by Vanessa Joy

I particularly like the way that the author breaks out each scenario. It starts with a goal, gives you a step-by-step solution, lays out potential problems and how to deal with them, and then suggests some practical uses for this technique. Each is handled in just a few pages, includes some very simple lighting maps to show you where the flash is relative to the subject, and along the way shows to really great practical before and after shots. It’s clear the author knows her stuff and has real chops as a working photographer.

Who is the Author?

This is the author’s official bio:

Vanessa Joy began her photographic journey in 1998, and has since earned five college degrees, received a PPA Photographic Craftsman degree, been named a WeddingWire Education Expert, and become sponsored by Canon, Profoto, and Animoto, to name a few. Vanessa has spoken at almost every major convention and platform in the photography industry, such as CreativeLIVE, The Wedding School, Clickin’ Moms, WPPI, ShutterFest, Imaging USA, Wedding MBA, WeddingWire World, and MobileBeat. She also hosts personal workshops and numerous small business and photography conventions around the globe. Recognized for both her talent and her business sense, Vanessa’s clients love working with her and industry peers love to learn from her generous, informative, and open-book style of teaching.

Table of Contents

  • Part 1: Getting Started With Off-Camera Flash (OCF)
  • You Already Know This
  • Getting Your Flash Off Camera
  • Getting the Exposure
  • Light Positions and Modifiers
  • How to Add More Lights
  • Part 2: Off-Camera Flash Techniques
  • Creating Golden Haze
  • Creating Golden Hour
  • Creating Twilight
  • Photographing at Sunset
  • Making a Magenta Sunset
  • Group Shots With One Light
  • Individual Portraits
  • Portraits of Couples
  • Enhancing Natural Light
  • Making Indoors Look Like Outdoors
  • Super Soft Portrait Light
  • Warming Up the Sky
  • Keeping a Blue Sky
  • Light Like It’s Coming Through a Window
  • Creating a Silhouette
  • Turn Day Into Night
  • Tiny Little Details
  • Table Details
  • Event Speeches
  • In Harsh Sunlight
  • Shooting With Reflectors
  • Event Bounce Flash
  • Using Gels for Fun Color Effects
  • Using Gels to Color Correct
  • Lighting a Dark Room
  • Making a Rainy Day Sunny
  • Lighting to Look Like Window Light
  • Making Front Bokeh
  • Filling in Shadows
  • Wow, This Indoor Light Sucks
  • Rim Lighting
  • Part 3: Features, Troubleshooting, and FAQs
  • WTF Are You Talking About?
  • But Light Doesn’t Do That
  • FAQs About OCF

Publisher’s Blurb

If your past attempts at learning flash have all ended in failure (not to mention tears and/or blind rage), then The Off-Camera Flash Handbook is about to change everything for you. For years, photographer Vanessa Joy has been using off-camera flash to create gorgeous portraits that look like they were shot in the most beautiful natural light at the perfect time of day. Well, guess what? That consistent look was not created thanks to the most amazing luck with the weather. No. It was created by a pro photographer who mastered her use of off-camera flash. And with her down-to-earth and practical explanations, that’s exactly what Vanessa teaches you in this book.

Vanessa breaks down off-camera flash into an easy-to-understand approach, and instead of focusing on the gear and the settings (which are also included, of course), she focuses on the kinds of shots you want to make. This book is about learning to use off-camera flash easily and quickly so that you can create beautiful, natural-looking light in any situation, at any time you need it . . . regardless of the weather or time of day.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One covers the fundamentals of off-camera flash, and it does so without blasting you with a firehose of information. Instead, Vanessa gives you the basics you need so that you can start shooting right away without becoming overwhelmed with technical jargon.

Once you’re set up and ready to go, Vanessa jumps right into Part Two with specific photo scenarios and real-world situations where you’ll learn key techniques for using your flash to create consistent, beautiful photographs. For each scenario, Vanessa provides the goal for the shoot, a gear list, the step-by-step shooting instructions, and images that show both the progress of the shoot and the behind-the-scenes shots or lighting diagrams of the setup. She also discusses problems you may encounter, variations on the shot, and additional practical scenarios for each situation.

Just a few examples include:

  • Recreating the golden hour at any time
  • Shooting groups
  • Making indoors look like outdoors
  • Enhancing natural light
  • Using flash at events
  • Working in harsh sunlight
  • Creating silhouettes
  • Shooting at sunset
  • Fixing an ugly-light room
  • And much more

Finally, Part Three tackles the questions you’ll likely have once you’ve got the basics under your belt and you’re already creating great photos with your off-camera flash—things like high-speed sync, sync speed, a practical understanding of the inverse square law, etc. There is also a helpful FAQ section at the end of the book.

The Off-Camera Flash Book by Vanessa Joy

Who It’s For

Most of the scenarios are geared toward wedding, event, and portrait photographers looking to add off-camera flash into their skillset to get better images for their clients or differentiate their business from the many natural light photographers out there. But the skills and advice will serve well any photography looking to dip their toes into the world of off-camera flash.

Where to Buy

You can find The Off-Camera Flash Handbook at Amazon.

Images and product information from Amazon PA-API were last updated on 2023-09-25 at 16:28. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon Site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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