How To Use A Camera Flash Without A Trigger

Last Updated on April 6, 2021

Flash photography is like an art — the more time you spend mastering it, the better images you’ll be able to produce.

An easy way to undertake this learning process is through trial and error: test out new techniques as they come up, without worrying about what mistakes you might make or what results they might yield — because we all know there will be plenty of those! There are lot’s of great photography guides out there (as well as on The Main Museum) so take a look through them and learn by example.

And in this guide you will learn how to use your external flash without a triggering device.

First, a look at how most flash triggers are set-up

photography studio setup

In a nutshell – most flash triggers are actually not triggered using the ‘FLASH’ command. Instead, they’re usually activated by some kind of external sensor. The flash emits light and the sensor looks for that light, setting things in motion to fire the flash-strobe(s).

If you own a camera that has multiple flashes (the Canon 5D MkIII, for example), these triggers can be used to fire all of them at once. This can be useful if you’re photographing a model with multiple flashes, or if you want to use flash to create a bright light source that can be used for illuminating your background.

How To Use An External Flash Without A Trigger

Now, we’re going to learn how to use external flashes without triggering devices.

One of the most popular techniques for doing this is to sync the cameras flash with the built-in flash on your camera.

Firstly, you’ll want to set up one of your external flashes for manual mode. Let’s assume that you’re using your left external flash for this example.

Set the power to about 1/8 or 1/16 and then set the flash to ‘S’ for ‘FP’. This will now allow your camera to use its pop-up flash to trigger your external. Now, adjust the exposure on your main camera so that the image you’re looking at through its viewfinder is properly exposed (or even slightly underexposed).

You can now use your camera’s built-in flash to trigger your external flash. All you need to do is set the ‘FLD’ command to ‘EXT’ and then adjust your camera’s pop-up flash so that it fires at the same time as your external, creating a sync between them.


And there you have it! You can now use your camera’s built-in flash to trigger an external flash without the need for a flash trigger.

Remember, these are just a few of the many techniques available to you as a photographer. Have fun with them and see how much better your images turn out when you take the time to learn new and different ways of capturing your subject matter.