Getting the most out of your flash

This article is directed to those shooting multiple shots (i.e. wedding photographers, studio strobists etc..). I recently had a conversation on this exact subject with another photographer and hopefully this article will help them as well as some others.

For some of us, getting the most out of our flashes can be a tricky task. There are so many variables such as available light, flash power vs. recycle time, ISO and aperture settings and your shutter speed. Hopefully I can help shed some light on the best ways I have found to get the most out of your flash.

Lets lay it out in the worst scenario.

  1. You are shooting in a wedding hall
  2. The ceiling is a dark color
  3. There is very little available light
  4. You need to take a high volume of shots (Entrances, first dance etc…)

So what should we do you say? Here is what I would do:

Hopefully you have a lens like the 24-70mm F2.8 or similar (the most common wedding lens of all time!).

For ISO settings you have 2 choices. Set your ISO manually or use the cameras auto ISO function. Setting your ISO manually gives you more control of the overall shot (lighter or darker) where the auto ISO always tries to properly expose the shot no matter what.

My recommendation is to set your ISO to anywhere between 1600 and 3200 and leave it there. Your ISO setting will depend on what your camera can handle, but most modern DSLR cameras can handle up to 3200 fairly well. This way you can change the exposure of a shot by increasing or decreasing your aperture.

The assumption is because you are shooting in low light you will be shooting either wide open or really close to it. So lets set our aperture to F2.8 and our shutter speed between 1/125 – 1/200 of a second because we are shooting something with motion. You can always make a slight adjustment on the go!

And now for the dreaded flash! I never use my flash on full power because the recycle time will kill you, especially when you are firing multiple shots. My flash is generally set anywhere from 1/16th to 1/4 power. At 1/16th power you can pretty much fire away without waiting while at 1/4 there is a slight delay but nothing too crazy.

Now because the ceiling can not be used as a bounce, we will likely need a modifier because we will be pointing the flash at our subjects instead of the ceiling. You can use any modifier, but we will stick with the one that came with the flash to avoid any debates on modifiers!

The modifier takes away any harsh light coming from the flash, diffuses it, and spreads it out evenly. This way you will not get any blown highlights or ghostly faces.

The last thing we need to talk about is white balance. For ease of editing, set your white balance to a specific setting whether you do it in the custom menu or simply choose one of the cameras pre-programmed settings.

The reason for this is when you go to edit your photos in say Lightroom, you can edit the white balance of the first photo and apply that correction to the entire set. If you don’t do this you will be setting the white balance on every photo which proves to be a royal pain! In fact, if all of your images are shot with roughly the same settings, I recommend fully adjusting the first image of the set and applying those settings to all the images in the same set. You will be pleased when you realise that this just cut your editing time in half. You will still have to tweak the images one by one, but most of the work is already done from the applied settings.

Lets recap our settings here so you don’t have to read everything all over again!

Shutter Speed: Between 1/125 and 1/200
Aperture: F2.8
ISO: Between 1600 and 3200
White balance: Pre-programmed or custom white balance
Flash: Between 1/16th and 1/4 power

Adjust your aperture or shutter speed to get the proper or desired exposure on the fly.

Now try these settings at home and see how they work for you. Dim the lights in your living room and shoot away!

These settings are only a guide and will need to be tweaked to get the acquired exposure / effect you are looking for.

Hopefully you have found this article useful!! Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

This is written directly from my experience and not from the specific flash specs so please dont quote from a users manual.x

Posted on January 5, 2015 in Blog

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About the Author

I am a freelance photographer and web designer / graphic designer with a flair for creativity and a passion for anything digital. I love to learn about new and emerging technologies. I currently reside in cambridge, ontario with my beautiful wife and 2 (mostly well behaved) children.

Responses (2)

  1. Scott Barrie
    January 5, 2015 at 5:51 pm · Reply

    Thanks for this, Tim. The last flash I bought was in 1973 or so and it hasn’t seen any use since about 1981…:-) But having said that, I just ordered an SB-700 and so your timing – and advice for getting started – is impeccable. Thanks, again.

  2. Tim Piche
    January 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm · Reply

    Good choice Scott! This article was written with the SB 700 in mind.

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