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Using Sync Speed

Lesson 3 from: Film Photography with Strobe Lighting

Sandra Coan

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Lesson Info

3. Using Sync Speed

Lesson Info

Using Sync Speed

The first thing you need to know when you decide you're gonna get ready and you're gonna do this strobe artificial light thing with your film camera, is that you need to know the importance of shutter speed. It plays a little different role than it normally does when we're using studio lighting. First of all you need to know your camera's sync speed. The sync speed of a camera is the fastest shutter speed recommended for your camera when working with a strobe or flash of any kind. Every camera has a sync speed, digital cameras and film cameras. But what happens is, if you go over your sync speed you start to get this black line. Has anyone ever seen that in their work? You ever gotten that on accident? I have. What that line is is actually your shutter. So the strobe comes in and it fires, and if you're above your camera's sync speed your shutter can't get out of the way in time and you're actually catching a little bit of it in the photograph. This is another huge difference between w...

orking with digital cameras and lighting, and working with film cameras and lighting because the average sync speed on a digital camera is around 1/200th of a second, which is actually pretty fast; Whereas the average sync speed on a film camera is around 1/60th of a second. So it's huge. And this was where I went wrong in the beginning. When I first started trying to teach myself strobes, I did what I think a lot of people do which is, I got out my digital camera, and I set it up, and I played around with my settings, and I looked at the back of my camera until it looked good. I was like, done, I've got this figured out, I'm amazing. I wasn't metering, I didn't really know what I was doing, I just knew it looked good in camera, on the back of my camera. So then I decided, okay, well easy peasy, I'll just go in and I'll put those same settings in my film camera, and all done, I've got this figured out. And I got this image, ruh roh. So I've got a sync speed issue, because the sync speed on my digital camera is 1/200th, and the sync speed on the camera I shot this on is 1/60th. So that was a big problem right away. The other thing you'll notice, if we didn't have this, is this image has exposure issues. Do you see that, down there, it's kind of grainy, kind of color shifts? That's because I was metering this, or setting up that lighting, I wasn't actually metering because I didn't know what I was doing, but I was shooting it like it was a digital sensor. Like we saw in that previous slide, light responds differently on a digital sensor than it does with film. So when I was getting a good looking image on my digital sensor, that meant that I was putting my film probably around two stops under where it needed to be. So I've got the sync speed problems, and I've got the underexposure problems. It's important to know this stuff. Here's some sync speeds for more popular cameras, and you can see we have a lot of 60th, 60th, 60th. Pentax 67 if your just the body, it's 1/30th of a second for sync speed, which is really slow. So if you're going in your treating that like it is a digital camera, you're gonna be in trouble. I do wanna talk about the Contax for a second because when I first started with strobes, and I was doing research, I kept reading everywhere that the Contax sync speed was 1/60th of a second, and so I shot my Contax at 1/60th of a second for years. Honestly I still do 'cause I like it. Then I'd read on the forms, well if you change it to x, you can shoot at 1/90th of a second, so I tried that, and that works too. Then, you know, I decided to, hey maybe I should look at the manual, see what the manual says. In the manual, it says it's 125. So I've shot my new Contax at 125, and that sync speed works great; But when I shot my old Contax at 125, I'd get a little bit of a shadow. Sometimes that happens with these sync speeds with these older cameras. The reason is, like I said, these are all vintage cameras, even if it was made in the 90's, it's a vintage camera, and shutters get tired, and sometimes that happens with old cameras. So every once in a while, you'll be at your camera sync speed and you might not have that thick black line, but you might have a little shadow of a line, where you're getting a little bit of the shutter and that might be a nice little reminder that you might wanna have that camera serviced. That your shutter's getting tired, or you can just go to a lower sync speed and be fine. So like I said, I routinely shoot my Contax 645 at 1/60th of a second, I pretty much just shoot all my film cameras at 1/60th of a second, because it's a safe bet if you don't know what your sync speed is. If you wanna know what the sync speed is for your particular model, it's pretty easy to get on the Google and do a search and find a PDF of your cameras manual, and you can look it up. Now, how many people are saying, 1/60th of a second, there is no way I can shoot at 1/60th of a second, right? And I know that this is a common concern, but what I want you to know is that shooting at 1/60th of a second with flash and strobe, is different than shooting at 1/60th of a second with natural light. This again is why we need to talk about shutters and shutter speeds at the very beginning of this class. So, when you're shooting with strobe, okay, so when you're shooting with natural light, we often times use that shutter to freeze motion, that shutter speed to freeze motion, right? When you're shooting with strobe, that power of that flash and the strobe is actually gonna freeze the motion for you. So in most lighting situations, shooting at 1/60th of a second, is a non-issue. Like I said, I do it all the time, still do it all the time. Now, if your camera has a leaf shutter; A leaf shutter, I'll just tell you real quick, is actually a shutter, it's usually in the lens, or just behind the lens in the camera and is actually made of these metal plates, or leaves, and it goes ch ch, like that, instead of an in camera shutter. If your camera does have a leaf shutter, or you have a leaf shutter in your lens, like that Pentax 67, that's 1/30th of a second sync speed, you can get a leaf shutter lens for that, which kind of changes it all up because, if you have a leaf shutter camera, or a leaf shutter lens, then, you don't have to worry about sync speeds. Sync speeds don't apply. With leaf shutter, you are free to control your shutter speed, put it at whatever you want, which is great, which is nice, so why does that even matter? If we can still get a good shot at 1/60th of a second, why does it matter that you can now control your shutter speed a little bit more with a leaf shutter camera? The answer is, because when working with ambient light, so if you're in a situation where you are mixing your strobe with natural light, so you have ambient light in your scene, that shutter speed will help control how much ambient light you let into that image. Again, it's a different function for the shutter speed than we're used to using when we're shooting with natural light. A high shutter speed, well here, before I get into it, so, with this example, this is what I'm talking about. Girls are jumping on the bed, right, still shooting at 1/60th of a second, but I wanted to close down some of that ambient light, you don't want too much, and this is why. With strobe lighting, your speed controls how much ambient light you get in, okay, so this is why. So a low shutter speed means more ambient light. So when we are down at 1/60th, and we're in a situation where we have windows coming in, that 60th of a second shutter speed is gonna let in more ambient light. You can see it in your images. This one was shot at 1/60th of a second, I'm gonna show you another image that's shot in the exact same room in just a second, and I want you to see how the background changes. So in this room, I have a backdrop, this is in my studio and I have these high windows at the top so I do get ambient light that comes into that room every once in a while. How much of that makes it into my images has to do with what shutter speed I'm at. So a higher shutter speed, I'm gonna cut down less ambient light. So now this is just a stop difference shot at 125, but you can see a difference in the back drop. The light is a little more focused on her and less ambient in the background. So here's the two, do you see it? It's really subtle, but it's there. That's one of the great things about having a leaf shutter camera, is that you can have a little more control. Digital photographers will do this all the time because again, they have that high sync speed at 200, so they can make decisions on do they wanna let in more ambient light, or do they wanna let out less ambient light. They have a little more room. We have less wiggle room if we're at 1/60th of a second, but if you do have a leaf shutter camera, it's good to know.

Class Materials

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Discount Codes from Richard Photo Lab
Studio Gear List
Color Film Stock Exposure Tests
Black & White Film Stock Exposure Tests
Great Photo Labs
Noritsu Frontier Comparison

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Wow! with a lot of online stuff out there one can become rather overcome with too much information, however, the way Sandra presents her courses is just perfect! Her honest and simple and easy to understand approach was just what I needed. Not once did I think she was just going through the motions, she really loves what she does and it shows. To be able to rewatch and rewatch was also a key for me. Since I have dyslexia I have to take things one half step at a. time. After completion of the class I had a new found confidence when using strobes. A must have.

Micah Hewett Images

Out of all the classes I own on Creative Live, Strobe Lighting with Sandra is my FAVORITE! She is an incredibly kind and gifted teacher. She explains everything on a simple level and then gradually build to more complex issues. I am 100% happy with this course. Thank you Sandra!!

Gabby de Janasz

Sandra Coan is a lighting genius! I loved watching her high-energy and super informative class. I learned way more about studio lighting than I ever thought was possible. I'd definitely recommend this class to literally any person in photography, not just studio photographers. Thanks Sandra!!

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