Hot Shoe vS Cold Shoe: What’s the Difference and What Are They Used for?

Today I want to go over a question I receive from a lot of my photography students – the difference between a hot shoe and a cold shoe, and how you can properly use them.

What Is a Hot Shoe?

DSLR hot shoe close up

A hot shoe is located on your digital or analog camera and is used to plug in different devices that can work with your camera. These devices can include another flash, a GPS device, or even an electronic viewfinder. Once connected, your camera will be able to communicate with said device.

A hot shoe is typically located next to your camera’s pop-up flash or on your camera’s highest point. The best thing about a hot shoe is that it gives you the opportunity to use other devices with your camera without you having to hold them separately.

What Is a Cold Shoe?

cold shoe mount on vintage camera

A cold shoe is another part of the camera used to connect devices to it. A cold shoe, however, does not communicate with the camera. Devices that are used with a cold shoe are usually connected using wires.

Cold shoes can include anything from an external microphone to another small camera, such as a GoPro. A cold shoe can also be used to mount flash guns on tripods. Many cold shoes come with adjustable arms that allow you to point your flash gun in any direction.

The good thing about a cold shoe is that it holds your device close to the camera’s gravitational center. As a result, you won’t have to worry about your camera tilting to one side when trying to take a photo.

How Do I Use a Hot Shoe?

Those who have never used a hot shoe before may be unsure of whether or not they can. Luckily, a hot shoe is incredibly easy to use. To use it, you first need to locate the metal square located on top of the camera.

To use the hot shoe, you will need to make sure your connecting device has a plate on it so that it can connect to your camera. You should easily be able to slide the device onto your camera’s hot shoe. You may think you’re done, but there is still one final step involved – making sure you tighten the device onto your camera to keep it from falling off.

Typically, the device will have some kind of lever or wheel that allows for you to safely and securely attach it to the camera.

How Do I Use a Cold Shoe?

To operate your flash remotely, you must use a wireless trigger that receives a command from the camera through radio signals. This is because unlike a hot shoe, a cold shoe does not have an electrical contact.

You can also purchase a cold shoe extension, which is made up of metal or plastic brackets that can extend from your hot shoe to the other side of the camera. Photographers purchase cold shoe extensions for the purpose of providing an off-camera flash while it is still attached to the camera.

The reason the extension extends left or right is so that you aren’t using the flash directly in front of the person or thing you are taking a photo of. These extensions are most commonly used by photographers who capture news and media events as they allow for extra flash without the need to carry around a light stand.

If you are interested in purchasing an extension, you should be aware that they come in different shapes and designs. Some extensions are adjustable, while others come in an L-shaped design. There are even some extensions that allow for you to attach more than one flash onto your camera.

What Are the Differences Between the Two?

The major difference between a hot shoe and a cold shoe is the fact that a hot shoe has electrical contacts that send signals directly from your camera to your flash. A cold shoe on the other hand, does not have this feature, hence why it is called “cold.”

A cold shoe is essentially the same thing as a hot shoe except for the fact that it can’t communicate with the camera on its own and needs a separate cord or extension to do so.

Both a hot shoe and a cold shoe are essential parts of a camera that should not be overlooked.


Keep in mind that the hot shoe communicates directly with your camera while the cold shoe does not. Depending on the equipment you use, both are vitally important and understanding what and how to use them will make you a better photographer.