Use A Cup To Learn Off Camera Flash

Want to learn about lighting and off camera flash? This simple exercise is easy to set up and will really get your photo brain working. The best part is you won’t need anything but some basic equipment.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

The rules are pretty simple. Setup your camera on a tripod. Then take your coffee cup and place it on a table. Frame up an image in any way that you choose. Once you’ve picked an angle, your goal is to take as many different looking photos of that coffee cup by only adjusting your flash and camera settings.—

You can move the flash, use different modifiers, try different power levels, bounce, and get creative—the only rule is you can’t move the camera or the cup, only the light.

Don’t own any fancy softboxes or snoots? Make your own! You can shoot through a paper towel, see what kind of barn doors you can fashion out of tin foil, shoot through your colander or a bedsheet—why not!

One tip is that I’ll recommend you use manual mode for your camera and flash. This allows you to more clearly see the effects each adjustment is having. You don’t want your camera’s TTL balancing out all the changes you make.


Try setting your camera ISO 200, f/8, and 1/125…then decide how much light you want, how far away you want your light, try out some side lighting, some front, some back. You’ll want your flash set to manual power so you can be in charge of how much light you’re putting out there.

Want a moody cup who is ready for some film noir, try setting your flash to a 1/64.

Perhaps you want a higher key cup with lots of light, see what you can do on full power.

Remember to change your camera settings or move the light back so you don’t just blow out the whole frame!

It will start to get tricky around 20-25 images in, so keep pushing through that.  You’ll start to notice that even though some images are not drastically different, you can add light into areas you hadn’t seen before.  

Feel free to link us your version of this project in the comments—we’d love to see how creative you can get with it

You also might be interested in this related post:

P.S. Don’t forget to play with the zoom setting on your flash and try out the bounce card to see what differences you notice. Also pay attention to the light on your cup vs. the light on the background. Can you make them look different or the same?

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