A good pho­to­graph with beau­ti­ful light can be obtained not only in a stu­dio where you are sur­round­ed by light­ing equip­ment for tens of thou­sands of rubles. How to take high-qual­i­ty pic­tures dur­ing a pho­to essay? What to do if there is not enough light out­side or indoors? Any begin­ner who thinks about it inevitably comes to the con­clu­sion that he needs an exter­nal on-cam­era flash. But buy­ing it is half the bat­tle. The main thing is to learn how to inter­act with it.

Let’s fig­ure out what set­tings the on-cam­era flash­es have, what they are for and how to get inter­est­ing effects on the pho­to with their help.


On-camera flash settings

Uni­ver­sal Flash Yongn­uo Speedlite YN-560 III / Pho­to by the author

Flash­es from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers have approx­i­mate­ly the same set­tings. We will look at the but­ton func­tions using the Yongn­uo Speedlite YN560 III bud­get flash as an exam­ple.

  • ON/OFF but­ton. Turns the flash on and off. It is impor­tant to hold it for a few sec­onds so that it has time to react. Oth­er­wise, the device will turn off with­out hav­ing time to turn on.
  • ZOOM but­ton. If you click on it, the flash dis­play will change val­ues: 24mm, 50mm, 105mm and so on. Affects how wide­ly the flash illu­mi­nates the scene.

To make it illu­mi­nate every­thing even­ly, choose the val­ue that match­es the cur­rent set­tings of your lens. For exam­ple, if you have a fixed fifty dol­lars, set the zoom to 50mm. If the lens is with the abil­i­ty to zoom in and out, with a vari­able focal length, then set the val­ue at which you are shoot­ing now. For exam­ple, if you are shoot­ing a por­trait with a 24–70mm lens and the lens is cur­rent­ly set to 70mm, then the flash should have the same num­ber.

  • A but­ton with a light­ning bolt and an icon that looks like wi-fi. Allows you to switch con­trol modes:

- on-cam­era mode;

- RX slave mode. In this mode, the flash responds to syn­chro­niz­ers, as well as to oth­er flash­es. The main thing is to put the flash on the same chan­nel as the mas­ter unit. For exam­ple, both should be on CH1. Dif­fer­ent flash­es have a dif­fer­ent num­ber of chan­nels on which they can be put;

- mas­ter TX mode (the new­er mod­el Yongn­uo Speedlite YN-560 IV has a mode). In this case, this flash will be the main one, “pulling up” the rest. For exam­ple, if you have two flash­es — Yongn­uo Speedlite YN-560 IV and YN560 III, then the sec­ond flash will fire in response to the first, with­out a syn­chro­niz­er. Also in this mode, you can con­trol the set­tings of the slave flash, which is in RX mode.

- mode M. Allows you to set the flash pow­er your­self. To do this, just press the but­tons to the right and left on the flash itself. For exam­ple, if you see on the flash the impulse strength 1/1 is the max­i­mum pow­er, 1/2 is half of the max­i­mum. The min­i­mum pow­er may vary depend­ing on the mod­el and man­u­fac­tur­er. For exam­ple, 1/128 or 1/64.

- M + RX mode. The flash is slave, but you can choose the pow­er lev­el your­self. To, for exam­ple, make a pow­er­ful back­light.


- S1 or S2 modes (from slave — aux­il­iary device). It is also the flash slave mode, but in this mode it reacts to the light pulse of oth­er devices. And on the light pulse of the syn­chro­niz­er as well.

In S1 mode, the flash fires after the first flash of the mas­ter flash. In S2 mode, the flash reacts to the sec­ond light pulse, ignor­ing the first one. To do this, the mas­ter flash must be in TTL mode (more on that below).

These modes are use­ful if you need to acti­vate sev­er­al flash­es locat­ed in the same room with one pulse at once.

Prob­lems with these modes can occur in bright sun­light — it can “inter­rupt” the sig­nal of the mas­ter flash.

  • MODE but­ton. Flash switch­ing between M and Mul­ti modes (in Nikon flash­es — Repeat­ing Flash Func­tion).

— M‑mode. You can choose the flash pow­er your­self, as described in the pre­vi­ous para­graph. And use the up and down but­tons to make the pow­er set­ting fin­er (it can be indi­cat­ed by the num­bers 0.3, 0.5 and the let­ters EV)

- Mul­ti (it is also called the strobe mode). In this mode, the flash fires sev­er­al flash­es per frame. You can adjust the pow­er, the num­ber of puls­es, and how fast they fol­low each oth­er (fre­quen­cy).

With pow­er, every­thing is clear — we talked about it above.

The fre­quen­cy is respon­si­ble for the speed and means how many times per sec­ond it should give an impulse. So, 1 Hz means that the flash should fire once per sec­ond, 2 Hz means twice per sec­ond, and so on. How­ev­er, not every­thing will nec­es­sar­i­ly work that way, because you can set the num­ber of puls­es your­self. So, if you set the num­ber of puls­es to 6, and the fre­quen­cy to 1 Hz, then the flash will fire twice per sec­ond.

This mode is need­ed for shoot­ing fast mov­ing objects in order to “freeze” their move­ment. Sev­er­al light puls­es increase the like­li­hood that the matrix will catch a sharp frame. Also, with the help of it, cre­ative effects are made, which we will dis­cuss below.

- TTL mode. Not avail­able in all out­breaks. The cam­era itself adjusts the flash pow­er, pre-mea­sur­ing the illu­mi­na­tion of the scene. If the cam­era decides that the room is dark, the flash out­put will increase, and vice ver­sa.

  • But­ton with lamp and note — dis­play back­light and sound sig­nals. Sim­ply press­ing the but­ton will turn the back­light on or off (use­ful if you’re shoot­ing in a dark room). If you hold and hold, the warn­ing sound of the device will turn on or off.
  • Pilot but­ton. If clicked, it helps to test the flash with the cur­rent set­tings and make sure they actu­al­ly updat­ed after the change. It also helps to check the bat­tery charge, to make sure every­thing works cor­rect­ly. In addi­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ers add light sig­nals for this but­ton. If it glows red when the flash is on, it means that the device is charged and ready to use.
  • Indi­ca­tor below the Pilot but­ton. When lit red, the flash is receiv­ing a remote sig­nal from the trig­ger. If sol­id green, the flash is either still charg­ing, or your bat­ter­ies are gen­er­al­ly low and will soon run out. If it blinks red, it goes into stand­by mode.

Points to remember when using an external flash

  • If you aim your flash to the side in the hope that the light will bounce off the walls or ceil­ing, con­sid­er their col­or — it can show unnec­es­sary col­or reflec­tions on the skin of the mod­el. And the black col­or will work like a flag and absorb the flash light.
  • If you get a white plas­tic reflec­tive paper or, if you call it cor­rect­ly, a built-in reflec­tive card, it will soft­en the shad­ows, as well as give a glare in the eyes of the mod­el.
  • If the flash shines nar­row­er than the lens (for exam­ple, the flash shines at 24 mm, and your lens is 15 mm), then there will be a dark vignette around the edges. Try to remove this with a dif­fuser — a trans­par­ent rec­tan­gu­lar plas­tic plate that extends and rests on the flash.
If you point the flash direct­ly at the face of the mod­el, as in this pic­ture, it will turn out flat — raise the “head” of the flash a lit­tle, point it at the walls or ceil­ing to make the light more inter­est­ing / pixabay.com
  • To pro­long the life of the flash, do not use it at max­i­mum pow­er (val­ue 1/1).
  • On the front of the flash­es there is an ele­ment of dark red plas­tic — this is a sen­sor that helps the flash work remote­ly with­out being con­nect­ed to the cam­era. This is pos­si­ble if you install a syn­chro­niz­er on the cam­era. If you cov­er this sen­sor with your hand, for exam­ple, the flash will not fire because it will not be able to receive trig­ger sig­nals.

life hacks

  • “Freeze” move­ment

It seems that every­thing is sim­ple and famil­iar: in order for the objects in the frame to be as sharp as pos­si­ble, set a fast shut­ter speed. But the flash itself can freeze the move­ment!

The low­er its pow­er, the faster it gives an impulse and “grabs” the pic­ture. At min­i­mum flash out­put, even fast-mov­ing sub­jects will be frozen.

But remem­ber: the weak­er the flash, the worse the frame is lit. Exper­i­ment — at min­i­mum pow­er, you can afford to make the shut­ter speed longer with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­i­ty.

This effect is suit­able for shoot­ing peo­ple in motion, as well as for dynam­ic prod­uct shoot­ing with fly­ing splash­es, water drops / pixabay.com
  • motion effect

Shoot­ing a city at night and want to cre­ate spec­tac­u­lar light stripes from the head­lights of pass­ing cars? Or maybe you need a “loop” for a run­ning per­son, enhanc­ing the dynam­ics? Then you need sec­ond cur­tain sync.

What is the dif­fer­ence? If you work in stan­dard mode, when the cam­era is syn­chro­nized on the first cur­tain, the cam­era will first freeze the move­ment, and then cre­ate the effect of move­ment. It turns out that a blur­ry train will be in front of the sub­ject. When syn­chro­niz­ing on the sec­ond cur­tain, the cam­era will first “gath­er” the light, and then turn on the flash and freeze the move­ment.

In this pic­ture, the syn­chro­niza­tion is on the first cur­tain, so we see the car, and in front of it there is a blur effect / pixabay.com

This effect can only be obtained when shoot­ing in motion. If the object is sta­tion­ary, then you will not notice the dif­fer­ence.

You can enable sec­ond cur­tain syn­chro­niza­tion in the cam­era set­tings. On the flash itself, you will not find this func­tion.

  • Sticky motion effect

Want to “freeze” an object or a mov­ing per­son sev­er­al times to increase the dynam­ics? Switch to Mul­ti mode, set an increased fre­quen­cy and num­ber of frames. The last para­me­ter affects how many “phan­toms” your mod­el will have.

Flash shot in Mul­ti mode / pixabay.com

After that, you need to find out the opti­mal shut­ter speed so that the cam­era can cap­ture the effect. How to cal­cu­late it? Divide the amount by the fre­quen­cy. For exam­ple, you set the num­ber of frames to 6 and the fre­quen­cy to 20 Hz. It turns out that you need to divide 6 by 20. Then your shut­ter speed should be 0.3 sec­onds.

As a result, in one pic­ture you will get sev­er­al “vari­a­tions” of the same object or mod­el, which shows the direc­tion of its move­ment.

  • Freeze­light — paint­ing with light

Put the mod­el motion­less, and give the assis­tants lumi­nous objects. It can be can­dles, flash­lights, gar­lands, and even a smart­phone with the dis­play turned on.

Take longer shut­ter speeds and put your cam­era on a tri­pod to avoid blur­ring. Most like­ly, you will have to pho­to­graph in com­plete dark­ness, so put the lens in man­u­al focus mode, focus, and then turn off the light. It is impor­tant that the mod­el does not move, oth­er­wise it will go out of focus.

A sta­tion­ary object, behind which a strip of light was passed at a slow shut­ter speed / pixabay.com

Ask assis­tants to move around mod­els with lumi­nous devices after the flash fires and “freezes” it. They can make beau­ti­ful lines, write a phrase, draw shapes around — stars, hearts, flow­ers, etc. The effect is suit­able for styl­ized por­traits or unusu­al prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy.


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