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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 5 of 28

Camera Setup: Flash Synchronization

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

5. Camera Setup: Flash Synchronization

Lesson Info

Camera Setup: Flash Synchronization

So the next thing that we have to choose on the camera body is what's called the synchronization mode. Okay, so we've talked about shutter speed, right. So when we take a picture, if, I'm gonna set the camera for a long exposure and I'm gonna put my microphone here real close to the camera so you guys can hear this. So as I take this shot (camera shutter clicks) Do that again. (camera shutter clicks) Clunk, clunk. Okay so what'd you say, is that a long shutter speed or a short shutter speed? Long shutter speed, okay cool in fact that was about a, what was that, about a half of a second or so. Clunk, clunk. And then here's a fast shutter speed. Right you all know this, I'm just making a point here. So here's the shutter speed of a sixtieth of a second. (camera shutter clicks) Clunk. (camera shutter clicks) Alright so what's happening there? Well, regardless if you have a long shutter speed or a fast shutter speed, the camera still has what's called a front curtain that opens up, and the...

n a rear curtain that closes behind it, and then they both reset to home. So every photo has a front curtain and a rear curtain and then they reset. Okay so let's go slow because that's easy to understand. So front curtain opens. And your flash can fire right then, pow. And then your shutter can stay open for a while, half a second. And then it closes and then they reset. So that's called front curtain sync or front curtain flash sync, right. The shutter opens, flash fires, it waits, and then it closes and bla, bla, bla. The other one is rear curtain sync. Okay, tough question. When do you think the flash fires for rear curtain sync? (laughing) At the rear, yes, good. (laughing) Give her a gold star. Alright, cool. So here we go. Just to make the point. Curtain opens. (loud mouth noise) And it waits. And stuff happens, people move. And then the flash fires and then immediately the curtains shuts. So you need to decide on most of these cameras when the flash fires. And if your shutter speeds are fast it really doesn't matter. It doesn't really matter to the photo. If your subject is stationary, like not moving, again it doesn't matter. Okay, it doesn't matter if the flash fires at the beginning or the end. But let's say that your subject is moving. Let's say you have a seven year old son and he's into skate boarding, okay. So now you're going to go outside and you're going to photograph your son. He's going to jump off a ramp. He's wearing a helmet and.. you can tell I'm a parent. Yeah. He's all safetied up but he's going to jump off a ramp, okay. So when you're taking that photo, let's say you're going to use flash. Do you want the motion blur of your son to be in front of his movement or do you want the motion blur to be behind the movement? Yeah you definitely want it to be behind the movement. Alright so let's think through how that works, actual mechanically. So he's going, he's moving and he's in the air. Your camera is stationary. Shutter opens and motion blur is happening. So let's just take the picture with no flash. Shutter opens and he moves across the screen and you got motion blur. Alright, so where does the flash need to fire to kind of get the frozen part of him, you know the pulse part of him? Does it need to fire at the beginning of the blur, (popping noise) or at the end of the blur? (popping noise) Like my, yeah it's very impressive sound effects. It needs to fire at the end of the blur, right. That's rear curtain sync. So, let me do that again. So shutter opens, he's in the air, he's moving. And then at the end of that the pulse of light happens and kind of freezes him in the frame. So most people haven't really thought through do I need front curtain sync. Do I need rear curtain sync. You can see in the studio it matters not. No impact. But when people are moving or things are moving you definitely want to use rear curtain sync. So how do we do that? On most Nikon cameras there's a flash button here on the side. And if your Nikon camera or your Canon camera doesn't have that flash button, you can go into the menu system into the flash settings and you'll find sync. It will say front curtain or rear curtain. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna push this button and then I'll show you here on the back of the screen how to change that. So, info screen. I'm pushing the flash button here. And then, let's see, my flash is sticky. Too many times in Africa. There we go. Alright, so down here it says flash mode. And then I can rotate my thumb here and hopefully the cameras can catch it. You can see I'm going through different flash modes. And then down here at the base, it's given me a little read out. So here you can see it says rear, rear curtain. So if I take a photo now with that setting the flash will fire at the end of the exposure. Okay notice there's nothing that says front. Well the default on all cameras almost is always front curtain sync. So your flash is going to fire at the beginning of the exposure, okay. So again, for most photography front curtain sync is just fine. But the last thing you want is for, you know, when the bride and groom are dancing, when they move this way, you don't want the motion blur to be in front of them. You want the motion blur to be behind them. So the way I remember this is blur to the rear, rear curtain sync, okay. (laughing) I got a clap on that one, that was cool. Blur to the rear, rear curtain sync. Those two things work together. Blur to the front, yeah, we don't do that. It just looks weird. You don't put blur in front of your movement.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 
  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits, and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off-camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers, and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors with your off-camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 250 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 1000 dollars

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Yasemin Soyen

First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.