Shooting with Flash/Strobe/Speedlite

How I do it ….by Kevin Dawson – Part 1

This is a multi-part ‘how to guide’ that I have put together for shooting with off
camera flash or Speedlite.
The same principles apply when using studio strobes.
I’m no expert and this is based on things I have picked up at various courses
and with practise.
Before you start you need to make sure you are familiar with:
Creating a blank or black image in a room or space that is already lit.
Learn what the maximum flash sync speed is.
There is more but we’ll come to that.
What do you need to know?
That depends on where you are shooting.
Let’s deal with indoors first.
It’s easiest.
You want to control the light.
You need to therefore work out how to take a shot with none of the light in the
space affecting your shot. (Ambient light)
What do I mean by that?
You need to learn how to take a shot, that is completely black, in a well-lit
Does this sound daft?
It’s not.
Using flash or strobe, you want to be in control of the light.
But shooting in a dark room is not the best idea.
You tend to trip over things. Well I do.
This way, you can shoot knowing that the only light source that will be
displayed is the one you control.
The flash, strobe, Speedlite etc.

But how do I do that?
Actually, it’s not that hard.
Now, I will state here, this is the method I was taught.
Over flavours of doing this are available.
My starting position for cutting out ambient light:
Mode Manual
ISO 100
Aperture f/5.6
Shutter Speed 1/200th of a sec.
If that doesn’t work, the first thing I will change will be my Aperture.
Usually dropping by 1/3 increments, so f/6.3, then f/7.1, f/8 and so on until I
achieve Nirvana (darkness).
I know some people use Manual, ISO 100, f/8 at 1/125th of a second as a start.
As long as you are not exceeding the flash sync speed you will find your own
Find one that works for you as a start point and stick with it until it becomes
second nature.

Why Manual?

These three images illustrate “why Manual”. These were taken in the space of
a minute and hand held. Hence the blur in image 2

Image 1 Full Auto

Camera settings ISO 1600, f/4,
1/60th of a second and camera
activated the pop-up flash.


Image 2 Aperture Priority

Camera Settings: ISO 100, f/5.6, 2
second exposure
The shutter speed was selected
by the camera.

Image 3 Full Manual

Camera settings ISO 100, F/5.6,
1/200th of a second.

Effectively the only difference between Image 2 and Image 3 is I set the shutter
This is why you use manual.
And the best bit.
Once you have achieved Nirvana (a completely black image) you don’t need to
change your camera settings again. You can, you just don’t have too.
The reason you don’t have to change your settings is because you change the
power of the flash/strobe to get the correct exposure for the settings you have
This applies if you are shooting in a normally lit room or in a studio using
strobes with modelling lights.

Flash sync speed, what is it?

Flash sync speed is the fastest shutter speed at which a camera and flash can
Don’t know what it is? RTM
Canon 70D is 1/250 sec
Canon 6D is 1/180 sec
Canon 5d mkiv 1/200 sec
Sony a77ii is 1/250 sec
Nikon d750 is 1/200 sec
So, every camera is different. These were found after a quick internet search
so may be wrong. Best resource is the manual that came with your camera.
Why is it important?
Because if you exceed it, and you are using flash/strobe you will end up with
black bands across your image.
The next part will deal with the flash itself. What I use, how to trigger them,
and how to set them to the correct power.

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