I’m here to tell you that in the long run, the more you learn about flash, the better you will get at photography in general, the problem is, it’s anxiety educing. When you’re just starting out, it’s a hassle to go through and learn another technique, but trust me, your photos will look more polished and professional if you learn at least a little bit about it. With these 5 easy steps, you will become a rich and famous celebrity photographer. This is why doctors hate me.
How it works
Flashes and cameras speak the same language, but only if they’re compatible to work together. For example, I have a Godox 685(C), which has a computer built to communicate with Canon cameras. There are also models like the Godox 685(N), for (you guessed it) Nikon cameras, and the S model for Sony. This is super important for when you buy a flash unit, you need to make sure it works with the camera you are using. Yes there are native flashes that Canon, Nikon, and Sony produce, but those cost a pretty penny compared to something like the above mentioned Godox unit, and depending on your needs, they do a great job to producing that burst of light needed to illuminate your scene and they have good compatibility for the most part.
The Language of ETTL
So what is ETTL anyways? We know it is a setting on our flash but let’s dive a bit more into it. TTL is Through the Lens metering in your camera and the flash uses that system to adjust the output, or power of the flash burst. Before flashing the main burst, the flash will pre-fire a little check flash to see what the luminosity level is of your environment. It is such a small and quick burst that it is not even visible to the human eye, but the capabilities of this technology is amazing for use cases like event photography or press coverage where you are running and gunning and don’t have time to be always checking your settings. This way, you know that the systems are doing their job and you can focus on things like composition and graphical elements in your scene.
Using TTL and Zoom(if speedlite)
TTL is great in that you can simply set a ratio instead of a flat flash output that manual uses. On my Godox 685c, that ratio goes from -3 to +3. Which takes a lot out of the fiddling around to set up. If you flash at 0 and the scene is too dark, flash again at +1 and do this until you’re happy with the photo, it’s just that easy! I love things that do the work for me.
Another setting in your flash, if it is a speedlite type flash with a Fresnel head (square looking thing), is called zoom. I’ll use my Godox as an example again, it goes from 20m all the way to 200m – I like to think of zoom as another power setting in that the flash will adjust for the distance between the subject and the flash source. The further the zoom, the further the mechanical element is focused in in an attempt to reach its target and it increases its output. For me, that adds a lot of functionality. If you want to create a spotlight affect with just a bare speedlite, you can easily do this by setting the speedlite to 200, and there you have it. If you’d like to stick it in a softbox and want to be sure that the burst is spread more evenly across the reflective material, set it to 20m, that way the arc of light is more even.
Let’s put the theory to action with our flash. How you set it up depends on the scene but I’m going to just set up a simple set that features a stack of my beautiful business cards(that I hand designed myself), my trusty camera, a 50mm lens, 1 flash unit and my huge double sided backdrop. The effect I would like to create is a long shadow in front of the stack. Check out the set:
So let’s have a look what we get when we just take a photo in this particular lighting environment. Where the only light is the faint natural light pouring in from the window. So here it is without the flash, this was taken with a 50mm lens on a crop sensor at ISO100, f5.6, and the shutter speed was 4 seconds.
Yeah, it’s rough, but that’s where flash comes in, it wouldn’t work any other way with this kind of setup. Here’s the shot with a little bit of editing in post.
The best part is, I didn’t even have to adjust the TTL setting at all, I just plugged it in and it worked at 0. The possibilities are just endless and I hope you thought of something yourself so you can make your own lighting setup for your next project.
Next time I get around to covering flash, I’ll go over manual mode, how lighting modifiers affect the photo, and how to determine what kind of modifiers you need for your specific project.
Until next time!