- Daniel Linnet's Top 10 Speedlite Tips
Although it might seem daunting at first, the Speedlite is actually one of the easiest tools to operate straight out of the box.
I call it “sun in a can”, simply because it allows me to place the light exactly where I want it, when I want it, opening up a whole new world of creative possibilities.
Just like learning how to use your camera for the first time, it requires a little bit of practice and a touch of perseverance but the reward when you finally grasp it are well worth it. Here are my top tips to get you started.
Using flash should never be a frightening experience, in fact these days the communication between the camera and your flash (ETTL or Evaluative Through the Lens) is so advanced you can often just switch it on and it will give you good results straight up. Great results however, take just a little bit of extra know-how and exploration.
My suggestion is always to first get a basic understanding of working with natural light before progressing to using flash. Often you will either be trying to emulate, substitute or supplement natural light with your flash. Learn to understand and see lighting directions such as front, side, rear and 45 degree light. This is of great value when deciding on where to place your flash when using it off camera.
Whenever I use flash, I find it helps me predict what effect it will have on my image by visualising each Speedlite as portable sunlight that is placed in the ideal position for my desired effect.
Above Image - single Speedlite placed high at camera right to recreate light coming through a small window near the roof of this underground bakery.
Flash can be used in a number of practical and creative ways.
Above Image - single on camera Speedlite in ETTL mode (+/- 0) to balance the subjects with the brighter background.
This is the fastest shutter speed at which the flash would synchronise with the camera. Generally for DSLR cameras it is between 1/160sec and 1/250 sec. The newer breed of mirrorless cameras are able to sync at much faster shutter speeds (often up to 1/2000sec) for that very reason there’s no mirror to pop out of the way.
This flash mode allows you to synchronise the flash at faster shutter speeds, but with a trade off. The best way to describe the difference is that during normal sync, when the mirror is up and out of the way and the shutter fully open, the flash discharges during that exposure. With high speed sync, the exposure happens during the flash. In other words the flash starts firing just before the exposure adding to the existing light for when the exposure happens. As a result you get considerably less power output and greater drain on the batteries. This is best used for fill flash in bright contrasting environments.
Because the flash burst happens so fast it can often be used to freeze movement when using slower shutter speeds to bring in more of the available light or create movement effects. Try using flash at slower shutter speeds like 1/30th, 1/15th or even slower to get something like this:
Above Image - shot at a slower shutter speed (1/30 sec) to capture the existing background lights and colour with single on-camera Speedlite in ETTL mode. Aperture was set at f2.8.
The lens flash metering uses your cameras internal light meter to measure the required flash output based on your selected aperture. This is aided by other information being relayed to the flash at the same time, such as the distance of the subject to the camera (from lens focusing information) for greater exposure accuracy. Turning the flash on and selecting the ETTL mode is basically all you need to do to get started.
Above Image - Three Speedlites set in a studio style lighting configuration. All lights are in full ETTL.
To measure the correct exposure through the viewfinder the camera measures the light reflecting back off the subject, which means that there are instances (i.e. a bride wearing a bright white highly reflective dress) where the exposure can be fooled. Just like the exposure compensation feature on your camera, the flash has one of it’s own, allowing you to increase or decrease the output of the flash to match the required exposure.
As a rule: the power output of the flash is adjusted to match the selected aperture on the lens.
Adjusting your shutter speed in a flash exposure does not affect the brightness of your flash. Instead it allows you to control the brightness of your background or environment, which is not being lit by the flash itself.
The more you increase your ISO the more powerful your flash becomes. With today's incredible high ISO performance, the Speedlite has become a very serious lighting tool.
Certain Speedlites gives you the ability to zoom your flash giving wider or more focused concentration of light, covering focal lengths of 20-200mm, or 14mm with the slide out wide angle diffuser.
The big advantage of having a swivel head on an on camera Speedlite is that it allows you to bounce the light into walls and ceilings or into a reflector, umbrella or soft box, changing the characteristics of the light.
Above Image - Left shot only using window light. Right shot using a single Speedlite bounced into a wall to emulate effects of window light.
Daniel Linnet is a Sydney based commercial and fine art photographer and educator, specialising in People, Automotive and the Environmental photography. A Master of Photography with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, Daniel also founded and runs Sydney Photographic Workshops.
Daniel’s Portfolio - www.linnetfoto.com