Thursday, May 27, 2010

The new flash

So, the Speedlite 580 EX II arrived yesterday. Got a chance to mess with it today.

I'm amazed, intimidated, confused, and intrigued by it. WTF, flash photography?!

The screen at the back with all the buttons and icons --- no idea what anything does. I read here and there to set it to ETTL (no idea what that means), and I read here to use a shutter speed of 1/200 or 1/250 when in a small room so that the flash will be the main source of light, and it won't be overexposed due to ambient light. Plus, if there are more than two types of main light with such different color temperatures (tungsten = warm; flash = daylight), the shot won't look that great.

...actually, I'm just talking about out of my you-know-what, here; I have no idea what I'm doing! Trial and error, baby...

Here are my five experimental shots, with absolutely ZERO editing whatsoever, SOOC:

No flash, Av:

M, 1/250, Flash, aimed straight at subject:

M, 1/250, Flash, aimed straight up:

M, 1/250, Flash, aimed straight up with built-in bounce card out:

No flash, M, with the exact settings that I used for the flash:

Obviously, the shot with flash straight up and bounce card out is the most appealing one. Now I just have to learn the intricacies of it all. Shooting outside in daylight and using flash for fill will be a whoooole different animal.

(P.S. -- All shots here were at ISO 200, f/3.2. All but the first were with a shutter speed of 1/250. The first one (in Av) was at 1/8 of a second.)

I wanted to try also just taping a white index card to the back to use as a larger bounce card -- just to see how much of a difference the size makes. Next time.

Wow, flash. Never thought I'd be here! I'll get it eventually...


  1. Hi Abbie.

    Let me share with you a few things I wish people had told me when I first started shooting with flash, if you don't mind. (and if you do, don't read on). :)

    1) Set the camera to M when you want flash to be the PRIMARY light in the image.

    2) Set the camera to Av or Tv when you want FILL flash; the camera will meter for the ambient light and the flash will meter for fill.

    3) There are two exposures with every flash photograph: the ambient light exposure, and the flash exposure. These are absolutely separate exposures, and we can use that fact to make better images because we can control both.

    4) When in M and using the flash as your primary light source:

    a) Shutter speed will CONTROL THE AMOUNT OF AMBIENT LIGHT IN THE IMAGE. Slower shutter speeds allow more ambient light in the image (regardless of flash settings).

    b) Aperture will CONTROL THE AMOUNT OF FLASH EXPOSURE. This isn't as important when using ETTL (which stands for Evaluative Through-the-Lens metering), where the camera will control flash exposure, but it's good information to help you grasp what the camera and flash are doing to make the image. Later, if you get into off-camera flash, controlling your aperture will determine the flash power needed for a "proper" exposure.

    Now, we can use the information above to make better images. For instance, knowing that shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light in the image helps us create images that don't look like typical point-and-shoot images (and we both know you didn't buy a DSLR to make those kinds of images). I'm talking about images that look like they were shot in a cave, with the background nearly black. In your images above, that didn't happen because your flash had the range to light the wall behing the subject, but in a larger room or at an event, it will happen.

    By LOWERING SHUTTER SPEED, WE ALLOW MORE AMBIENT LIGHT IN THE IMAGE (sorry to keep yelling, but blogger doesn't allow bolding). This is known as "dragging the shutter". You can shoot an image at, for instance, 1/40, with the flash off, and see how much more ambient is allowed in the image by using a slower shutter speed. We needn't worry about camera shake or blur, because the second exposure is the FLASH EXPOSURE, and it happens in a period of time that's on the order of 1/10000 of a second. In your final image above, at 1/200, you're seeing the "shooting in a cave" effect. You're letting in very little ambient light. By lowering that shutter speed (and remember, we're shooting in M), and choosing an aperture appropriate for the depth-of-field we desire, we will make a better image.

    I could go on for days, but those are a few of the things I wish I didn't have to do tons of research to learn.

    Happy shooting with your new flash!


  2. Bret ---- thank you so much! Your advice is very, very welcomed, don't worry.

    Like I said on POTN, I'm shooting with my friend outside after work, so I'm hoping to do some trial and error.

    With fill flash in Av, should the flash still be in ETTL mode?

    Also, I read that for fill flash for portraits, I'll want that little H symbol on (high-something?)...

    I'm so new at this it's embarrassing :)

    Thanks again!

  3. In Av, the camera will *meter for ambient*. Remember this: it's making what it considers a "normal" (histogram centered) exposure. It basically ignores the flash, and the flash does the work of metering for the fill. Leave the flash in ETTL so that it can do this. Otherwise, you would have to decide on flash power (which is entirely reasonable, but takes time making test images and checking the histogram to get a good exposure, or using a light meter -- things you'll likely learn later).

    The H symbol is for High Speed Sync. It pulses the flash to allow you to use it at a shutter speed above your flash sync speed (which is 1/200 on the 5D). The reason people say to use it for fill-flash outdoor portraits is because you'll often want to use a large aperture for shallow depth-of-field (to blur out distracting backgrounds), and when shooting at a large aperture outdoors in good light, you'll find that the camera meters for a faster shutter speed than 1/200. HSS allows you to use higher shutter speeds, at the cost of flash power.

    {The "Sunny 16" rule tells us that, on a sunny day, we should use a shutter speed that's the reciprocal of our ISO setting at f/16 (for instance, at ISO 100 we should shoot at 1/100).

    So, if we want to shoot at f/2.8, that's five stops faster than f/16, so we have to increase shutter speed by five stops, meaning we would need 1/3200 at f/2.8 and ISO 100. }

    So yes, use HSS outdoors for fill flash. 1/200 isn't fast enough and you'd get massively over-exposed images.

    Jon gave you a good piece of advice on POTN: get that flash off the camera, as soon as you can. sells all those accessories and are great to work with, and very popular on POTN.

    Good luck and have fun. Flash is a pain, but well worth it.


  4. Okay, so ETTL is the magic mode for almost everything?

    It's a little frustrating, because I've read through a lot of the manual and am still confused about something as seemingly basic as the flash modes. Ah well -- I suppose it will come with time.

    Av + ETTL + HSS for outdoor portrait fill. Will give that a try tonight.

    Thanks again, Brett!

  5. Well, ETTL is the way the flash meters using the camera (thus the "through the lens" part). It's fully automatic, other than the fact that you can dial in Flash Compensation on the camera.

    The only reason it seems "magic" is because it keeps you from having to calculate exposure, use a light meter, or wing it with test shots and checking the histogram.

    So yes, you'll want to use ETTL for the most part. It's not some crutch; it's very accurate and until you know more about flash photography, it's your best bet. In fact, until you are ready for off-camera flash, it's the mode you should stick to.