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Balancing background and manual flash

simonn1974simonn1974 Member
edited August 2013 in flash & lighting
I'm pretty new to photography, or at least to speedlights and off-camera flash. My question regards off camera flash and in specific manual flash. Chapters 5 and 6 of the book 'Off Camera Flash' (Metering and Balancing Flash With Ambient Light) are pretty comprehensive and very well explained but I’m uncertain on how to choose the manual flash level for the very first shot? Take Anelisa in image 5-5 for example. The flash-light on her and the ambient/background light are perfectly balanced. Even using a flash-meter the flash needs to be set to a level before shooting for the first time. Do I just need experience and some trial and error simply to have a good idea what to set the flash to before I begin? Things are so much easier with TTL! I'm sure I've just missed something in the book, but if anyone can help I will be very grateful as I 'd like to have more control using manual flash. I hope my question makes sense. Thank you in advance.


  • I would start @ about 1/4 to 1/2 power unless you have a flash meter. To perfectly balance ambient and flash a flash meter really helps but with trial and error there is no standard start point. Over time you get to know what your start point is so the set up is quicker.
  • Yup, the best place to start is TO start. After a few times you'll have a rough idea in your head to what your flash will and will not do at given apertures and isos and you'll be enjoying your equipment instead of sweating every time you have to use it.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited August 2013
    Zenon/Mike offered good advice.

    General rule of thumb, in shade 1/8th; against sun 1/1 or slightly below; fill 1/16th are good starting guides.

    LCD is your friend and the histogram also if no light meter.
  • Thanks guys, appreciate your comments. Practice makes perfect, as they say. Better save up for a light meter though!
  • It all depends on the shoot and time of day. Balanced to me means a midday shot. For a natural looking flash capture you want to balance your ambient to flash. First you get your ambient exposures via a meter, then turn on your flash and match it again with a meter.

    For a sunrise/set shot you meter your ambient to taste then adjust flash output to taste depending on the look you are going for.

    Here is a thread with a similar question and some pretty good replies.


    This may be helpful.

  • Thanks Zenon, the video was ridiculously easy to understand. I'm really going to have to get a flash meter, stupid not to after watching that. It still seems that the level the flash is set to for the first shot does come down to practice, experience and trial/error though.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    simonn1974 said: It still seems that the level the flash is set to for the first shot does come down to practice, experience and trial/error though.
    Yes, it does. But even though I have a light meter, experience gets me there quicker because even if using a meter, you still have to fire some of test shots.

    The advantage is, during a wedding, you don't have to have them 'waiting' while you get the light, take a meter reading, count back/forward the number of 'clicks' [each click represents a 1/3rd stop] you need to make to adjust power and generally can get it correct in 2 tests, but experience does help.

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