What you need to setup an Off-Camera Flash

In this post, I'll show you which is the gear I use for food photography with flash. When I started I got a bit confused about what I needed and then I found it hard to make a choice, given the variety of existing products (e.g. the shapes and sizes of softboxes). So in case you would feel the same confusion, I put this post together with what I use and works for me.

Of course you need the flash in itself. I bought a canon speedlite years ago, and recently I've bought the cheaper Yongnuo speedlites to be able to work with two speedlights. I'm super happy with it. It's slightly bigger, but contrary to the canon speedlite, it has an integrated receive which makes me choose it over the canon time and again. 

You'll need batteries for your flash, and I recommend always have an extra, fully charged set ready. They should be rechargeable, because that's better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. I love these little boxes to keep them organized. 

The next thing is a wireless trigger to fire the flash off-camera. This consists in a transmitter that is attached to the hotshoe on top of your camera and a receiver that you have to put on your flash. Four some reason these little things have failed me two times already, I bought these and one receiver unit didn't work from the start and the transmitter would fall off the camera often and in general terms the quality was not convincing. Then the other receiver started failing sometimes too and I bought these, which at first felt like a better quality, more solid and worked well, but then suddenly stopped working in the middle of a session which was quite annoying. Then I bought these, and they still work, but I find it annoying to run back and fourth from camera to flash to adjust the settings and bought this flash controller which allows me to adjust the power of the flash (for multiple units) directly from the camera. For my canon speedlite I need one of the little receivers, my yongnuo speedlite has it integrated, so I usually just go for the latter. Both the controller and the little transmitter and receiver sets (they're sometimes able to both receive and transmit, in this case they're called transceivers) are often compatible with a large range of cameras from different brands, just make sure they're compatible with yours.

To make the effective light source larger and therefore get the soft light we're typically after in food photography, you'll need a diffuser. The cheapest option might be a 5-in-1 reflector set, I own them in different sizes and they come in handy in a variety of situations. The other options are a an umbrella softbox, I own this one and love it for how easy it is to mount and the little space it takes to store. However, for changing the settings (which I use to do quite a lot to test and make sure I get the result I want) it's a tad more uncomfortable than this kind of softbox. With this kind of softbox the flash is easily accesible at all times which is something I love. On the downside, it takes more time to mount them and while they take up as little space as the umbrella softbox when disassembled, I wouldn't want to assemble them every time I use them which is why I store them assembled. But they take up a lot of space. So if you don't have the space and plan to use your softbox more than once or twice a year, maybe the umbrella softbox is better. If you find a place where the mounted thing doesn't disturb, go for it, generally speaking I prefer them. I first bought this one and recently got the same, but a lot larger and with a honeycomb grid. The bigger softbox makes for softer light and, as it covers more of the food scene, I don't get a circle where light is especially intense as I sometimes do with the smaller softbox (that can be fixed with editing though). The grid makes for a faster fall-off of light and reduces the amount of light, but also makes it more directional, more to the front, as light is prevented to spread towards the sides. I also found that it creates a more natural look in food photography as it reduces the contrast between the area where the flash hits most and that is most illuminated and the rest of the scene. There are example images of grid vs. no grid in my free guide for setting up an off-camera flash in food photography.

Softbox and reflector

Softbox layers

Larger vs smaller softbox

Easy access

With any type of softbox you'll get, you'll need a stand to put it on and thus be able to regulate the height and inclination. I have this very basic model which works with the smaller softboxes, but falls when I attach my largest softbox. It's largest height is also rather low. I also own this light stand which cost me about twice as much, although it currently is on sale for not much more than the Neewer light stand, but even for the higher price, I still found it is totally worth it. It's a lot more stable, the quality is much better and it gets much higher. I plan to purchase another of those as I use it for my softbox, but also to hold reflectors and backdrops (using this attachment).

For any type of softbox you'll need a bracket to attach it to the light stand. The most typical bracket and the one you'd use for an umbrella softbox is this. For my octagonal softboxes, this is the bracket I use. It seems it could be used for an umbrella softbox too and I love how easy it is to fix the flash and how accessible it is all the time. That's what I use when I take images with flash. If you want to know more about when and why I use flash in my food photography, check my last blog post or my free guide.

Images above from Amazon.

In case you don't want to go through the text, here is a list of the gear I own, use and recommend:

- Canon Speedlite 340ex II

- Wireless Trigger

- Batteries AA

- Light Stand

- 5-in-1 Reflectors and Diffuser

- Umbrella Softbox

- 80cm/32'' Softbox with Bowens Mount

- 140cm/55'' Softbox with Honeycomb Grid and Bowens Mount

- S-type bracket (the round bracket)

- Flash Bracket/ Umbrella Holder

The links I use in this post are affiliate links, if you buy any of the products I recommend, I'll get a commission at no cost to you. I only ever recommend products I use and love. If you have any question regarding anything I recommend, I'll happily answer all of your questions, just shoot me an email or a DM on instagram.

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