Nikon flash photography tips

maximum flash sync speed, and the Nikon SB-900 / SB-910 speedlight

Because of the way the focal plane shutter works in DSLRs, shutter speed doesn’t affect our flash exposure … while we don’t go over maximum flash sync speed. When we go into high-speed flash sync, our flash output drops. (The linked article there explains it thoroughly.)

However, when we work with ambient light (and intend to add flash to our subject), then a change in shutter speed has an indirect effect on our flash exposure. A change in shutter speed will mean a change in aperture, and this is what affects our flash exposure (with manual flash), or our flash output (with TTL flash.) Check this article for how manual flash and TTL flash differ.

Therefore when we add flash to ambient light, then our shutter speed choice becomes important.

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flash photography tutorial – balancing flash and ambient light

An email I received recently from someone explained how she is struggling with flash. The basic building blocks of photography are all there and understood, but it somehow doesn’t gel when she uses flash. She explains how she understands exposure metering, but “the minute I attach my flash, nothing makes sense.” Having read my book and scoured this blog, she admits that at the point where she uses her flash and needs to set aperture and shutter speed, she is completely lost.

I’m sure this is something many many photographers struggle with – just feeling baffled by where to start. So while this stuff at some level is easy once you understand it, flash photography also seems to be one of those subjects where you have to immediately grasp a whole bunch of things for it all to fall into place the first time.

So I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for a few weeks now. I thought of how to break this down in a different manner that would help with that “aha!” moment shining through. I have written a few other articles on how to balance flash with available light, which are all linked in this off camera flash photography page. But it might be that I need to find another approach in my explanation of balancing flash with ambient light.  Break things down in a different way. And in breaking things down, we can see where we get stuck.  And break that down again. Finally we might get an “oh!?” moment of clarity.  And for other regular readers, this might just be a useful reinforcement of the concepts.

Now, at the very start of this,we have to realize there are two exposures taking place – flash and ambient light. This is the key. Then we have figure out how we’re going to combine them.  The ‘how’ then includes exposure metering, but also includes direction of light.  For this article, we’re just going to look at balancing flash with ambient light. We’re going to use a few simple portraits of our model, Camille, as illustration here for an understanding of how to add flash to ambient light. We’re purposely going to keep it simple to have things fall into place first.

Let’s see where this leads to …

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high-speed flash sync / auto FP .. vs .. normal flash

There have been a number of questions about high-speed flash sync (HSS), and how it affects the output from your flash.  There were also some questions asked about high-speed flash sync with this recent post where we tried to reverse-engineer a photo.

I decided to do a series of comparison photos, so we can actually see what happens before, at and beyond maximum flash sync speed.  And we can also see what happens with high-speed flash sync. To do this, I set up very simple portrait lighting using a single speedlight and a large umbrella.  A simple white paper-roll backdrop, and our model, Rachel. Here is the setup in my dining room …

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