Canon 550 Ex Flash

If you’ve read my wedding photography tips to get amazing images, you’ll remember that I talked about adding off-camera flash. There are a number of ways to trigger off-camera flashes, but in this post, I’ll be covering how to use Canon’s built-in infrared system so you can get off camera flash without spending a fortune.

Master Flash
In order to use Canon’s infrared triggering system, you’ll need a flash that acts as a master to tell other flashes to go off. Since you’re on a budget (who isn’t?), I’d recommend getting a Canon 550 EX Flash. It’s not the latest and greatest, but at the time I’m writing this, you can get the 550 for about half of what you can get the Canon 580EX II Flash for. There are some benefits to going with the 580, but there is the cost benefit plus one other benefit I’ll discuss below to buying the 550 instead. The choice is completely yours.

Slave Flash
The master flash isn’t going to be doing much triggering without another flash to trigger. So you’ll need to pick up one or more slave flashes to be your off camera light sources. Again, the choice is up to you as far as which Canon flash you get as your slave, but I’d highly recommend getting the Canon 430EX II Flash. The 430 EXII is the latest in the series, and it’s definitely a great choice for an off camera flash.

Master Flash Setup

To set up the 550 EX in master mode, turn the flash on (the middle position). Then turn the master/slave switch to master. You’ll notice that there will be a channel displaying on the flash now. If you accidentally put the flash in slave mode, the red light would be blinking in front. Double check to make sure it’s not.

Slave Flash Setup

To set up the 430 EX II in slave mode, turn on the flash. Check to see if the flash is already in slave mode. If so, you’re done. You can check by looking for a channel on the display or by looking for a red blinking light on the front of the flash. To switch between slave and non-slave mode, press and hold the zoom/Z arrow button. You’ll know it’s kicked over to slave mode because the display will change to show the channel.

Triggering The Slave
Position the slave flash wherever you need it to fire from, and start shooting. If you’ve got ETTL on, there are no additional settings you need to adjust before starting to use your off camera flash. A word of warning though, the infrared system is only good for line-of-sight shooting. That means that if your master flash can’t see your slave flash, the slave won’t fire. Also, the further out you move your slave from the master flash, the less likely the slave is to fire.

Future upgrade
We ended up getting pretty frustrated with the built in infrared triggering system. The reason it’s great is because it’s built in, and you don’t have to buy another triggering system to get it to work. If you’re shooting a wedding a weekend though, you’ll probably want to consider upgrading to Pocket Wizard FlexTT5′s (see my Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 review). The good news about the upgrade is that your current flashes won’t be a waste. As long as you got the Canon 550 EX Flash and Canon 430EX II Flash like I suggested, you’re ready to roll with a couple Flex TT5′s. Some flashes work better with the Flex TT5′s, so the recommendation for the 550 EX and 430 EX II is based on how well they work with the PocketWizards.

If you guys end up having any problems getting the built in triggering system to work, leave a comment, and I’ll do what I can to help out. I’m not an expert on all Canon flashes, but maybe between me and the rest of the readers, we can figure it out.

Canon 550 Ex Flash

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7 Responses to “How To Trigger Off-Camera Canon Flashes”

  1. Will Crocket is doing a webinar Friday, March 11th at on wireless TTL flash using pocket wizard slaves. The great thing is its free. Check it out.

    • TJ says:

      I’ve never actually done one of the Friday Photography School webinars. Are they pretty good? What time is that TTL webinar on Friday?

  2. Don Monteaux says:

    It starts at1PM EST.

  3. At my wedding tomorrow, I’ll be experimenting with several 580EX’s and a Pro Foto monolight, synced with the new pocket wizard slaves. I was successful last week with just the mini flex, now I’ll be using the transceivers as well.

    • TJ says:

      I’ve never used the PW’s with the 580′s. I’ve heard a lot of complaints. Let us know how it goes.

  4. I’ve got my fingers crossed.I’ll let you know how it works for me. I noticed you all over the blog world today. Saw some post on Linkedin. Does that help with SEO as well?

    • TJ says:

      I tried LinkedIn for a while, but I didn’t see much success with it. Some people apparently really like LinkedIn for generating business – it just didn’t work for me. As far as SEO, I haven’t really heard of anyone promoting LinkedIn for SEO value, although I’m not going to say it wouldn’t help at all.