The Art of the Manual Flash

Started Jun 9, 2013 | Discussions thread
OP NYCphotoman Regular Member • Posts: 134
All/Pure Manual Flash is workable for an event

You stated that manual flash is totally unworkable for an event which is absolutely not correct.  I know a lot of event photographers around here who use manual flash all the time.  The funny thing is usually the older photographers in their 60s cruise around on full manual while the younger more energetic guys go with TTL/Auto modes.  What did they do in weddings during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s without the benefit of ETTL-II?  Think about it.

It seems complex, but its rather simple.  In manual flash photography, the flash is set at a constant power...1/4, 1/2, etc. The variables are the ISO, shutter and aperture.  Usually most photographers do not change the ISO or the aperture so the shutter speed becomes the only variable for them.

When you use TTL/Auto mode on a flash then the settings become the constant with the flash changing power around the settings.  The problem with TTL/Auto mode is you have no idea how the flash is programmed to work and the sensor on the camera gets fooled.  Ask any photographer how the onboard TTL is programmed to work and you will get some shrugs.  No one really knows how it was programmed to work, but it just seems to work for them and they accept that.

While I dont know how TTL works because I am not a programmer of flash systems, I do know a lot about aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.  I can push the limits if I bring the handle mounted on bracket flash to full power which is not advisable with your $600 Speedlights, but I can do it all day long with my Quantums.  I can bring the flash to full power and push the aperture, ISO and shutter speed to the limit.

If you use TTL all the time then you are basically stuck with however its going to turn out as governed by the electronics in the body.  There are other creative avenues with manual flash.  Its not as daunting as you make it seem.

If you tell me you have too many things going on then thats like a US Marine telling me they cant work their rifle because too much is going on around them.  As a professional, you should know your camera so well that even in the most distracting environments you should be able to make the adjustments.  At my events, there is never any warning of anything and so adjustments oftentimes have to be made on the spot with very little time.

CraigBennett wrote:

NYCphotoman wrote:

I want to get away from TTL flash.

CraigBennett wrote:

NYCphotoman wrote:

Shot a gig last night with Auto and TTL mode and it didnt quite work the way I expected it. Usually these modes work great for me, but this was a large dining room with high ceilings and it fooled the sensor. I didnt have time to fool with the flash.

So Im going to start getting back to manual flash photography. This is where you set the flash or flashes to one specific power and control the exposure with the camera settings (ISO, shutter speed, aperture). You monitor the exposure with the LCD screen and on Canons they have this highlight detection.

What are the techniques you use for manual flash and event photography?

Nikon has a good flash control system, not familiar with Canon's, but I'm sure it is similar.

I shot an event last night in a fairly large hall and used two flashes in room set at manual, from 1/32 to 1/16 power and used my on camera flash set for TTL, used it for fill. Worked great for me. camera on manual, shutter at 1/125 shutter (no ambient to speak of), aperture set to what I wanted. I relied on flashes for the exposure.

I never use Auto for my remote flashes, it varies too much. Manual setting is the most stable. TTL on camera flash or using an assistant for light pole works well for fill, just dial down or up the flash exposure compensation for the fill you want.

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You asked for how we do it, this is how I do it. Not to use TTL flash on camera and only use manual for everything, IMO is a non-workable solution for event work. Too many things going on to try and balance your fill for every situation. Fill is the only time I use TTL in this situation. It works, is predictable, and consistent.


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