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Understanding flash modes

From: Foundations of Photography: Flash

Video: Understanding flash modes

As we've seen, when shooting with a flash, your camera does There are many different flash systems and vendors often,

Understanding flash modes

As we've seen, when shooting with a flash, your camera does all of the things that it normally does when you're shooting. It uses its light meter to determine exposure settings to properly capture the ambient light in your scene. And just like when you're shooting without a flash, in your camera you have access to different metering modes that take different approaches to measuring that light that's in your scene. Like your camera, your flash probably has different metering modes. It has to do a lot of analysis to figure out how much light it needs to output.

And it performs this analysis by measuring the light in your scene and making some decisions about how much light there is, where light needs to be added to the scene, what exactly needs to be done to balance your exposure. Like your camera, your flash has different metering modes that take different approaches to measuring light. You can usually change the flash mode using controls on the back of the flash, but you might also be able to change them from the camera itself. Almost all flashes these days, whether an external flash or a built in flash, offer metering modes that are fundamentally pretty similar to each other.

More than likely the default advanced metering mode on your camera is some version of TTL metering. TTL stands for Through The Lens. This indicates that the flash will use the same meter that your camera uses for measuring its ambient exposure. In other words, the light that your flash is measuring will be measured through the lens of the camera. This is as opposed to the light being measured by some kind of external sensor on the flash itself. Now, this is significant because it means that we're actually measuring the light that will strike the image sensor rather than the light that's striking the flash somewhere up above the camera.

So, when you press the shutter button all the way down during a flash shot, the camera fires a tiny pre-flash just before it opens the shutter. If your flash is in a TTL metering mode, the light from that pre-flash bounces of your scene, comes back through the lens, and is measured by the camera's light meter. Where one flash system will differ from another is in the analysis of the data that is gathered during that process. Different vendors have very different ideas about what kind of analysis yields the best flash exposure.

Some flash systems will take your focus point into account and assume that it's sitting on something that should be your subject. Some flash systems will take distance information from the lens and include that in the calculation. The meter itself is gathering data from all over the frame. How it chooses to average and combine all of those readings, that's another part of this very complex calculation. This is a tricky problem. The flash doesn't know if you want just fill light or a full on key light, it doesn't know how much background you want to preserve, how much ambient light you want visible, how you want those things mixed.

That said, a good flash system can make very intelligent assumptions about these things and you'll have very good results automatically. You're flash might actually have multiple TTL modes. For example, this Nikon flash has a TTL mode that assumes that you want only a keyline on your subject. It makes no effort to preserve the background. But it has another TTL mode that works to balance the flash light with the ambient light in your scene, so that details are well-lit throughout the entire picture. Because TTL modes require a pre-flash, there's a very slight delay between the shutter button press and the opening of the shutter.

What's more, those flashes might, very rarely, cause some people to blink. It's more prevelant in children and animals and you won't encounter it that often, but it is a possibility. Because of this, your flash might offer a non-TTL mode of some kind. Now in one of these modes, instead of using a pre-flash, when you press the shutter button, the flash will be turned on and a meter in the flash will measure the flashlight that's bouncing back off of your scene. And then shut the flash off when it thinks enough light has been added. That eliminates the pre-flash, but it possibly creates less accurate metering.

Your flash might have a number of specialty modes, such as a multiple mode, which lets you configure the flash to fire multiple times during a single long exposure. This allows you to take a moving subject and freeze slices of it in different places through the frame. Finally, there will be a manual mode, which can also be very useful in certain situations, and we'll be looking at manual flash use in great detail later. There are many different flash systems and vendors often, regularly change the way modes work on their flashes.

Covering the workings of a specific system is just beyond the scope of this course. But your flash manual will have detailed descriptions of all of your flash's modes. And you should now know enough about how to decode the basics of what different modes are doing. All flash non-manual modes have to solve the problem of how much flash needs to be added and how much ambient light needs to be preserved. Automatic systems will fail in some circumstances. And throughout this course we'll talk about situations that might challenge your flash system. But for our first forays into shooting, you want to just stick with your flash's TTL mode.

In fact, you might not ever need to switch your flash out of its default TTL mode. Modern TTL systems are good enough that you can very likely rely on them for all of your flash shooting. Using them well, though, can require some thought and a few tricks. And we'll be looking at those throughout this course.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Flash
Foundations of Photography: Flash

40 video lessons · 19539 viewers

Ben Long

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  1. 1m 35s
    1. Welcome
      1m 35s
  2. 33m 1s
    1. Exposure revisited
      2m 22s
    2. How flash works
      2m 12s
    3. Balancing ambient light and flash
      3m 54s
    4. Shutter speed, aperture, and flash
      4m 11s
    5. Fill and key light with flash
      4m 13s
    6. Understanding flash range
      2m 47s
    7. Understanding flash modes
      5m 16s
    8. Flash sync options
      3m 2s
    9. Some notes about your camera's built-in flash
      5m 4s
  3. 32m 50s
    1. When to use fill flash
      1m 39s
    2. Using fill flash in auto and program modes
      2m 44s
    3. Fill flash in priority or manual modes
      2m 38s
    4. Using flash exposure compensation
      9m 14s
    5. Using fill flash to eliminate unwanted shadows
      5m 46s
    6. Using fill flash to darken a background
      5m 1s
    7. Using flash to supplement ambient light
      3m 48s
    8. Filling in for a bright sunset
      2m 0s
  4. 33m 53s
    1. Shooting a portrait with flash as the key light
      4m 27s
    2. Why use an external flash?
      3m 34s
    3. Flash power and recharging times
      4m 21s
    4. Flash zoom
      1m 45s
    5. Taking the flash off camera
      5m 35s
    6. Using a softbox
      5m 3s
    7. Balancing flash and window light
      4m 22s
    8. Paying attention to the light in the room
      3m 39s
    9. Flash and white balance
      1m 7s
  5. 54m 20s
    1. Bouncing flash to improve lighting
      13m 8s
    2. Alternative options for bouncing flash
      5m 12s
    3. Using slow sync with flash
      8m 50s
    4. Rear-curtain sync
      11m 54s
    5. Using radio controls to fire a flash
      4m 32s
    6. Working with manual flash
      10m 44s
  6. 25m 16s
    1. Building up to multiple flash units
      13m 3s
    2. Adding the second flash for fill
      5m 19s
    3. The third flash as a backlight
      6m 54s
  7. 7m 50s
    1. Which brand of flash should you buy?
      1m 27s
    2. Guide number considerations
      3m 13s
    3. Shopping recommendations
      3m 10s
  8. 42s
    1. Next steps

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