How to Hack a Cheap Flash Trigger


CowboyStudio NPT-04

I wanted to trigger my speed lights remotely, but didn’t want to spend $200 on Pocket Wizards that I don’t need. So, I bought these cheap, terrible looking triggers online because they cost $20 and why not?

They suck exactly as much as you would expect them to suck. They work fine if you stand ten feet away and point your camera directly at the flash, but that isn’t really a best practice unless you like taking all-white pictures.

I got by using creative lighting set ups, such as one light behind an umbrella forward from the camera and to the right, and another behind the subject and to the left bouncing off rear wall, so that both flashes were visible from the camera and roughly in front of it, while pointing away and out of frame.

This worked alright, but was still annoyingly restrictive. Plus, if one stray leg or elbow got in the way of the flash trigger, no dice. This became too much for me a couple of days ago when I was trying to do a complex head shot involving a fan, blowing hair, and a couple of assistants, and the flash kept on inexplicably not firing.

So, I went home and figured out how to rig my terrible flash triggers so that they will work every time, from twice as far away, and around corners. Here’s how I did it.

1. Remove tiny the screw from the bottom of the trigger. Inside will be a battery, a circuit board, and a tiny black wire (the antenna.) Oh hey, if I poke the antenna up in the air and press the button, it works every time…


It’s ironic that I took the pictures for this post with a cell phone camera

2. Drill a small hole in the front, left hand corner of the trigger casing. I did this by heating up a pin and melting a hole. Thread the antenna through the hole, close the casing, and replace the screw.

3. Now the trigger should work every time, without the annoying misfires that otherwise seem to happen every three or four shots. It still won’t work if you’re too far away, or around a corner, though…



4. Borrow a three inch piece of copper wire from your roommate (thanks Kai.) Twist one end around the end of the antenna. Let it hang free. Now your trigger looks like a sad cyborg, but will work from far away, and around most corners.

5. Tape the antenna down with black hockey tape, or whatever you like to make it pretty.

6. For some reason that I would probably still not understand if I had paid attention in shop class, the trigger won’t work if the antenna is touching anything conductive. If you’re going to tape down the antenna, put tape under the area first, then lay the antenna down, then tape over top.

7. Enjoy.