Lets talk quickly about the two kinds of shoes out there for holding your flash off camera – Cold Shoe vs Hot Shoe – and when we might use which shoe. Combined with a bracket and light stand this is the foundation of your off camera lighting setup. Small flashes, or in Nikon’s case, Speedlites are extremely versatile light sources and until recent years where usually overlooked when stepping into the world of off camera lighting. They seem pretty straight-forward right out of the box. There’s a little foot on the bottom of the flash, and a shoe conveniently placed on the top of your camera.
Pop the two together and away you go. The camera and flash now communicate seamlessly and through the wonders of TTL even make the tricky flash exposure decisions for us, automatically. When you’re ready to take the next step and put that small flash to use somewhere else-off the camera top-suddenly more options present themselves. Where’s the shoe now?
This is a great place to start because it looks and acts most like the familiar shoe on top of our cameras. It’s “hot” which means there is a live connection made when the foot of your flash touches the metal plate inside the shoe. This connection communicates a signal through the shoe to your flash. A hot shoe like this is required if you want to connect your flash to a wireless trigger to reliably fire it. I like to use a combination of Nikon speedlites, hot shoes, and Pocket Wizard wireless triggers like you see here. It’s the most convenient and reliable way I’ve found to place my small flash whereever I want.
This is the most straight-forward of the two. The cold shoe is just as it sounds, cold, meaning no connection. It is simply used to secure your small flash to a bracket or light stand and to keep it there. This is a great solution if you find yourself triggering your small flash optically. Many lights can be set to a “Slave” or “Remote” mode, where they fire when they see the light from another strobe going off. In this case there is no need for a hardline trigger and a cold shoe will do the trick.
From here all you do is attach your small flash & shoe setup to an umbrella bracket, light stand, or clamp and you can place your small flash just about anywhere. The possibilities are endless now that you know which shoe to use with your Speedlite. Make sure to get creative and experiment with different setups, mobility is one of the major benefits of using small flash.