Back to Basics: how to take and mount a speedlight off-camera

We explain how to take and mount a speedlight off-camera using simple tools that you already have.

Nikon Speedlight Stand AS-21

I bet some of you rolled your eyes when you saw the title of this article. Taking the first step in using a speedlight off-camera might not be so straightforward for beginners or for those who are used to have their flash constantly on-camera. Taking a speedlight off the camera creates many challenges, one of them being on how to make a speedlight stand by itself. We will talk about various options you might have for mounting your speedlight off-camera.

You will notice your speedlight won’t stand by itself once you take it out of the camera’s hotshoe. The first, and probably the easiest option is to use the stand you’ve received with your speedlight.

Nikon Speedlight Stand AS-21
Nikon’s speedlight stand

The stand that came with your speedlight has many advantages. For example, it takes very little space in your camera bag and it’s lightweight. Unfortunately, its big disadvantage is lack of versatility. You are limited to placing your speedlight on flat surfaces and you don’t have any control over the height at which you want to put your speedlight on. Another disadvantage is the lack of the receptacle for light modifiers, like umbrellas, softboxes, etc.).

The first step in overcoming these disadvantages would be to buy a light stand. There are so many light stands nowadays that it’s not easy for me to recommend only one. Instead, consider where you will be using it and if it’s size (when closed and extended) and weight are important to you before getting one. Once you know the size and weight you need, finding a light stand that meets your requirements is not hard. Most light stands will have at their end a stud with 1/4″ threaded adapter.

1/4" Threaded Adapter on Light Stand
1/4″ Threaded Adapter

Make sure yours has one because such adapter is compatible with your speedlight’s stand. Speaking of which, take the stand you received with your speedlight and look underneath it. You’ll see there a 1/4″ brass socket which fits onto the light stand’s 1/4″ threaded adapter that we just talked about. Neat!

1/4" brass socket for mounting the stand on a light stand (Nikon AS-21)
1/4″ brass socket for mounting the stand on a light stand

Instead of buying a light stand, you can also use a tripod. It has the same 1/4″ screw that fits your speed light’s stand but unfortunately it won’t allow you to position the speedlight as high as a light stand does.

An umbrella bracket with a 1/4" threaded adapter
An umbrella bracket with a 1/4″ threaded adapter

We have just solved a part of the stand’s disadvantages. To solve the other part we will have to buy another piece of gear, namely a swivel umbrella bracket. But don’t worry, these are not expensive and you can get one already for about $16-$17. You’ll be faced with choosing between 2 options: an umbrella bracket with a 1/4″ threaded adapter (similar to the one a light stand has) or a cold-shoe for your speedlight. Buying the former one will require using your speedlight’s stand. I’ve been using both types of swivel umbrella brackets and I can’t say that one is better than the other. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference.

An umbrella bracket with a coldshoe
An umbrella bracket with a coldshoe

As you can imagine, a swivel umbrella bracket not only swivels and gives you more options for choosing the angle under which you want to position the speedlight, but it also has an receptacle for a light modifier, like an umbrella or a softbox (we will talk in depth about light modifiers in the future). If you will need to have more power at some point in the future, there are also tri-flash brackets, which allow you to attach up to 3 speedlights onto a single bracket.

If you use other techniques for placing your speedlight off-camera, please share it in the comments section.

Konrad Dwojak is a professional conceptual and environmental portrait photographer. Originally from Poland, he now resides in Memphis, TN.

Konrad Dwojak
Konrad is an international photographer, born in Poland and currently based in the US. He lived in Belgium and the Netherlands before relocating to the US and worked around Europe on a variety of photography assignments. Although he enjoys all types of photography, he focuses on conceptual portraits and editorial photography.