Flash In Photography – Advanced Lighting With Speedlights

flash in photography nikon speedlights

Flash in photography is all about creating the best light for your subject in order to produce high-quality images.

I’ve only recently discovered how vital it is to have a dedicated and flexible flash unit to enable subtle lighting when taking portraits or closeup shots. In fact, I now have two Speedlight flash units.

Rather than relying on the camera’s built-in flash, it’s better to have a dedicated lighting system that is completely flexible. Having at least one light source that can be moved around independently of the camera body itself is beneficial. This is where the useful Speedlight comes in.

To operate a remote camera and flash, I use some amazing units called Pocket Wizards. They are triggering devices that communicate wirelessly.

You’ll need one unit for each item you wish to trigger. If you haven’t come across these yet, do look into them – your creativity will blossom.

Successful shooting!

What Is A Speedlight?

Photographic flash units

Speedlight is the brand name used by Nikon for its photographic flash units. Nikon’s standalone Speedlights (those not built into the company’s cameras) have the SB- prefix as part of their model designation.

Current Speedlights and other Nikon accessories make up part of Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. This includes the Advanced Wireless Lighting, which enables various Nikon cameras to control multiple Nikon flash units. Encoded pre-flash signals are sent to slave units.

Nikon competitors Canon and Ricoh use the similar name Speedlite for their flashes. Both names indicate that strobe flashes produce much shorter and more intense bursts of light than earlier photographic lighting systems, such as flashbulbs, or continuous lamps used in some studio situations.

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight Flash

nikon sb910 speedlight

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

The SB-910 is a very sophisticated and capable flash, fully supporting Nikon’s various i-TTL modes. (i-TTL=intellegent through the lens, meaning the camera monitors the flash). This model has been my flash of choice for small parties, shooting portraits, and even some macro work.

Great Lighting performance with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System

  • The SB-910 gives an extraordinary lighting performance both in the studio and in the field.
  • The unit is compatible with both FX and DX-format D-SLRs.
  • It features Nikon’s versatile i-TTL metering for precision on-camera or wireless flash control.
  • Also, it can operate either as a hot shoe mounted Speedlight, or a remote unit or a wireless Commander (with up to four channel options) capable of controlling up to three remote groups (A, B and C).
  • Ergonomically designed, the SB-910 well-illuminated buttons to assist the user in low light.
  • Has improved thermal cut out protection.
  • Manual with power ratio.
  • Three illumination patterns for specific shooting environments.
  • Wide zoom range from 17–200mm.
  • Streamlined controls and menus.

When it comes to flash in photography, the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight is one of the most versatile to choose from.

Canon Speedlites

The Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash can control (master) and be controlled by (slave) the Canon Speedlite 550EX Flash and the Canon ST-E2 Wireless Transmitter. The Canon 420EX Flash can act as a slave unit too.

Canon Speedlites use light for simple but useful wireless flash communications.

Technical Details:

  • E-TTL II for compatible Canon EOS cameras and EF series lenses.
  • Flash controls settable through camera’s LCD screen on compatible EOS digital SLR models.
  • LCD information panel.
  • The flash head can be tilted and swiveled for bounce flash.
  • Built-in wide-angle pull-down diffuser panel (covers focal lengths down to 14mm on a full-frame camera).

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras

This is a solid flash unit. It has a metal foot with a twist-lock that holds it securely to the top of the camera, yet removes in less than a second when you want to take it off, this makes an excellent flash unit even better.

How To Use Flash

Sync Modes

Surprisingly enough, any time you photograph people outdoors you should turn the flash on, and then turn it off, or use SLOW sync mode when indoors.

Using flash outdoors in harsh light will help light up people’s faces and dark portions of the image. This will allow them to look natural on film. Do this even with disposable and point-and-shoot cameras. The Nikon flash system almost always gives great results with no fooling around.

Indoors use the SLOW sync mode. It allows the background of the image to fill in with light and look natural. If the flash is used indoors and the SLOW mode is not selected backgrounds will be dark and nasty. And if you shoot prints they probably will get printed too light and wash out your subjects.

In A and P exposure modes and normal flash sync mode, most cameras go no slower than 1/60 regardless of how dark things get. Selecting SLOW sync mode is the way to get the backgrounds to fill in with natural light you see with your eyes.

Try the rear sync mode, too. If the exposures get long in SLOW mode the normal action is for the flash to go off at the beginning of the exposure. When this happens your subjects think the picture is done, when in fact it is just starting. REAR mode saves the flash for the end of a long exposure, so people tend to stay still for the duration of your photo.

Yes, slow sync mode causes some motion to blur as is often seen in National Geographic Magazine, so get used to it.

You probably don’t need the red-eye reduction mode so long as you have an off-camera flash. The red-eye reduction modes really annoy people when you are photographing them, and it also makes you miss the shot. Forget this mode!

Why Should I Use A Speedlight Or Small Flash?speedlight

Most DSRL cameras have a built-in flash to help light the subject. So, why would you bother spending more money on another flash unit that goes on top of the one you’re using?

Here are a few reasons why you should own one (or more).

  1. Power output. As they put out more power than your built-in flash, you are able to light subjects further away should you need to.
  2. Longer battery life. A Speedlight has its own set of batteries so you’re not relying on your camera’s battery for the flash. This means that you can get more shots out of a battery charge.
  3. Angle of light. Speedlights have a tilting and rotating neck which allows you to change the light’s main direction. This means that you are able to bounce the light off a ceiling or sidewall to diffuse your main light source.
  4. Autofocus assist. The autofocus assist on a Speedlight usually appears as a red grid so your subject won’t even be aware of it. This is really useful if you’re shooting people candidly so as not to distract them with any focusing light beam.
  5. Off-camera lighting. The Speedlight can be used off-camera. This gives complete creative freedom.


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