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Best camera settings for flash photography

  • Tutorials
  • 28/08/20

What you can see here is the camera’s live view, HDMI output that shows the exposure with ambient light. It’s important to mention the big difference between using continuous or ambient light on the one hand side and then flash on the other is that you largely control the exposure, which means the brightness of the image, by adjusting the intensity of the flash. That means you leave the camera settings untouched unless you can’t achieve what you want to achieve by changing the intensity of the flash.

Let’s go through the camera settings one by one. And let me explain why I’ve selected those specific settings. Let’s start with the exposure mode. We choose manual exposure mode as this gives us maximum control over the results. And in this mode, we can control the ISO, the shutter speed, and the aperture manually.

File formate: we are going to shoot in RAW as it gives us complete control over how we want to develop the RAW files in the RAW converter. So that means in the RAW converter we can adjust the white balance, the noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, or we can recover the highlights.

White Balance: you don’t want to shoot in Auto White Balance, because in this case, the camera would establish the white balance on a frame by frame basis. That means that the white balance can slightly deviate from image to image.
To avoid this we shoot in a default white balance and because we are using flash, which mimics daylight, we are going to use Daylight as a White Balance.

Working with Flash means that we usually have plenty of light available and that allows us to work with the lowest native ISO of the camera, which in most cases would be ISO 100. This will give us the best dynamic range and image quality.

The aperture affects the depth of field. Wider apertures create a shallow depth of field and smaller apertures create a greater depth of field. When we use Flash, we tend to work with small apertures as the flash is generally very strong and they rarely go down to an intensity that would allow us to achieve apertures of f1.4 or f2 for a shallow depth of field. So that leaves us with great depth of field. So here I suggest f11 or f16, depending on the setup, to make sure that everything is sharp from fore- to the background.

You could think that the faster the shutter speed, the better. But it’s important to remember how a shutter actually works. You have to shutter curtains and if you use a shutter speed of one second, then this first shutter curtain goes down and exposes the sensor to the light from the lens for this amount of time. Then after one second, the second shutter curtain comes down and covers the sensor again.

If you select faster shutter speeds, then the time between those two shutter curtains gets shorter and shorter and until you reach the so-called flash synchronizing speed. In most cameras, this would be a 1/250s. So that’s the fastest shutter speed when the entire sensor is exposed. If you select faster shutter speeds than this, only a gap between the two shutter curtains exposes the sensor underneath.

Let me show you what I mean by taking a picture with a 1/2000s. You can see this is pretty dark, right? It’s because the gap between those two shutter curtains is so small that no light can come in. Now, let me change this to 1/1000s. Now we can see a tiny gap at the top. 1/500s, now half the image is exposed. But you can still see one of those two shutter curtains at the bottom.

This would be a 1/250s and then a 1/200s. You can see some slight improvements at the bottom. And then we’ve got a 1/160s shutter speed. This would be the final setting in terms of exposure. We’ve got ISO 100, aperture f11, and 1/160s shutter speed.

And I’m going to leave the camera settings just like that.

To adjust the exposure, I control the flash. So if the image is too dark I will increase the intensity of the flash.

You can see that when you use flash, you leave the camera set at these specific values and control the brightness of the image by changing the intensity of the flash. Here’s a summary of the camera settings:

  • Manual exposure mode – to be able to control the ISO, shutter speed, and the aperture manually
  • RAW – for the best image quality and flexibility in post-production
  • White Balance set to daylight – as flash mimics daylight in terms of white balance
  • ISO 100 – for the best image quality
  • Aperture f11 or F16 – for great depth of field
  • 1/160s shutter speed – to make sure we don’t have shading by the shutter curtain
  • Control the brightness of the image by adjusting the intensity after flash