Adding Functions to Your Off-Camera Flash

One of the things I discovered years ago when I started shooting with an external flash was that it’s far better and more versatile than the built-in, pop-up flashes that most of our cameras have. My next discovery was that flashes are darn expensive, especially the high-end, full-featured units.

Based on my budget, I ended up buying a few brand-name flashes, but I could only afford the entry-level models that don’t have all the features or the strongest flash. They were far better than any pop-up flash, but a lot less powerful than the top-of-the-line flashes. I was shooting Nikon, so I bought a couple of (now discontinued) Nikon SB-600 Speedlights.

DIY for Off-Camera Flash

The Problem

Because they were pretty bright, actual flash power was never an issue, but my problems started when I bought a more powerful, non-Nikon flash and a nice studio strobe, and I wanted them all to play nice together. You could fire multiple flashes simultaneously using radio triggers, but that’s somewhat pricey. In addition, my SB-600s don’t have a jack for an external trigger. Only the hotshoe (or Nikon proprietary IR wireless) can trigger an SB-600. Then a friend told me about Flash Zebra. (This may sound like a commercial but it’s not. I’ve paid for everything I’ve ever gotten from them, and they don’t even know I’m doing this article.)

The Solution

Flash Zebra ( makes and sells these little flash adapters that can give your flash the ports and functions that it’s missing. My SB-600 was missing a PC jack (so I could trigger it with a radio remote), and I was able to buy an add-on that requires zero technical skill to attach to my flash—you just slide it onto the hotshoe. And it cost around $15! 

DIY for Off-Camera Flash

DIY for Off-Camera Flash

Flash Zebra Hotshoe Adapter

At the time I hadn’t bought any radio triggers, so I knew that was going to be an investment. But then I spotted an optical slave trigger for around $10–12, and added that to my order, too.

DIY for Off-Camera Flash

Optical Slave

For around $30 (including shipping), I’d added a PC port and an optical trigger option to my flash.

A word about optical slave triggers: They work best indoors. You can use them outside, but glare and glints from shiny metallic objects (like a passing car) can trigger them accidentally. The range is reduced outdoors, too. Finally, since any flash will trigger an optical slave, environments where there are multiple flash photographers shooting are going to give you a hard time.

DIY for Off-Camera Flash