How to Shoot with your First Flash


Lesson Info

Camera Setup: Shutter Speed

Every camera's different when it comes to what's called the synchronization mode, or the shutter synchronization mode. You need to look in your manual. This is one time that it's okay to actually go into your manual and figure out what your maximum shutter synchronization speed is. It's something you need to know. If you're going to be a flash photographer, you have to know this number. Every camera has a maximum synchronization speed. And specifically what I'm talking about here is, remember, I'm going to go back to my shutter thing here. So your shutter opens, whoosh. And then behind it, the shutter closes, whoosh. And then they both reset. There's a point in time where the shutter speed is so fast that the rear one actually follows the front one up. So it goes like around a thousandth of a second. Here's what happens. The front curtain opens and then right behind it, the rear curtain goes like that. And then it closes. So what happens when the flash fires, in this situation? Half ...

light. Half light. Or a quarter light, or whatever. You don't actually fill the frame with the flash. There's some technologies that allow us to deal with that. It's called high speed sync. Maybe you've heard of that term before. I'm not gonna go into high speed sync today, because it's kind of the next level. But, for most of the studio work that you do, the fastest sync speed is a 200th of a second. So at a 200th of a second, that's where both shutters are still out of the way. The flash can fire, pow. And then they closes. So most cameras are about a 200th of a second. With some of the higher end cameras, can go up to a 250th of a second. So, in the studio, like we are here, you generally want to cut out the ambient light. And a fast shutter speed allows you to do that. So, typically what I will do, is, again, I'll remember that the camera that I'm shooting, and this one has a shutter speed, maximum shutter speed of a 250th of a second, I'll set my shutter speed to a 250th. That's one variable I don't have to worry about anymore, for the rest of the day. Why did I choose a 250th, in the studio, why did I choose a 250th versus maybe a 30th? What do you guys think? Reduced movement. Reduced movement. Motion blur. Great, reduced motion blur. Well the other reason I do it, is because I want to cut out the ambient light. Remember that? Shutter speed controls the ambient light. So, if I don't want these house lights to impact my photo, I'm gonna use a really fast shutter speed, and now, gone. No ambient light. And, when we start practicing in a little bit, I'll show you that. I'll show you how, if I take the picture at a 250th with no flash, it's black. Completely black. And that's a good starting point. So, know your camera's synchronization speed. Know that a fast shutter speed cuts the ambient light. And that a slow shutter speed allows the ambient light. So, you guys can all see me here. Your eyes have adjusted to this room, and it feels kind of bright in here. Really it does, it feels kind of bright. But I tell you what, a 250th of a second, and then with your aperture maybe at f5.6, there's gonna be almost no ambient light here. You won't even see it in the photo. So, again, that's the cool thing about flash photography. You get to control what the camera does. See with ambient light photography, you have to work with this. You have no way around it. You have to work with the house lights. Maybe you can use a reflector, but you're still kind of, you're stuck with a 30th of a second, or a 60th of a second. And that's when we get to that motion blur problem. You ever tried to take a portrait of a puppy dog at a 30th of a second? (laughter) Or maybe your toddler, your 18 month old toddler? You just can't do it. Even grown up adults. You tell them to hold still, they're still doing stuff like this, and you're getting motion blur. So, flash allows you to freeze that motion blur, and a faster shutter speed doesn't necessarily freeze the motion blur. What's freezing the motion blur in flash photography? Flash, yeah. Your shutter speed actually, even though it's a 250th, the flash is still firing for just a short period of time. Just a little pulse of time. So, really what freezes the action in flash photography, is the flash. And, shutter speed doesn't matter as much for motion blur. Alright, any questions on shutter speed? Mike, I actually have a question from Madge's Hatbox, and Robin Estrada, back to front and rear curtain. When would you use front? Yeah, great question. You can use front for most of your photography. The truth is, is that the cameras, the Canons and the Nikons, they all pretty much default to front curtain sync. And again, as long as your subject's not moving, or you're not anticipating getting any motion blur, then front curtain sync is just fine. To be honest, most of the time in the studio, I shoot front curtain sync. I go to rear curtain sync anytime I do my outdoor flash photography, and there's sports or action involved. I love the outdoors. I love mountain biking, and skiing, and rock climbing, and mountaineering, and anytime I'm photographing those kind of outdoor adventure activities, I'm anticipating there might be some movement. You know if my buddy's rock climbing, and he's moving his hand, from this hand-hold to that hand-hold, and I'm shooting with a flash, I want that motion blur, so there I use rear curtain sync. So, the specific answer to that question, most of the time front curtain sync's fine. Only when there's action and movement, I think should you move to rear curtain sync. Thank you. Yeah, cool. So, my question is really more of, so let's say you're in a wooded shot, but you want the woods to be dark, your subject to be lit up. So obviously you'd use a faster shutter speed. Yeah. And front- Front curtain. Right. Yeah, so really the gist of the question is, hey, I'm outdoors and I want to photograph, but I want the woods to be dark. So I'm thinking like a red ... (snapping) Red Robin, Red Rider, Little, what's ... Little Red Riding Hood. Yeah that one, Little Red Riding Hood. (laughter) So I'm thinking, kind of a dark scene, where the trees are ominous, and yeah. So there you would, you're exactly right. You would meter the scene, with your camera, without a flash. And this is the way that I work. So I'm just gonna recreate your shoot, mentally. So, I can be in manual exposure mode. So I set my camera for manual. And then I just kind of look through the camera. I'm in matrix metering. And I set my exposure, so that it's on the minus side. Let me turn this so that the house cameras can see. I'm in manual mode here. And here's my exposure line. And if my shutter speed and aperture are set up. Let's say I'm shooting at f5.6. Say that. And now I just set my shutter speed, so that it's more on the minus side. See it goes to the minus here. So here I'm at about minus one, minus one and a third. I then take that picture. Click. And I look at it on the back of my camera, and I go, oh, that's about as dark or as light, or whatever, as I need it to be. Maybe it's too bright. Well then I just bring down the exposure even more. Okay, so that's phase one. You've set your ambient light exposure. Hey, I do that in the studio as well. I set my ambient light exposure. Maybe I want my ambient light to be zero, whatever. So now I look at it, and I go, oh yeah, those woods, I'm back to your question, those woods are now dark, or darker, now I need to construct the flash. So how bright do I want Little Red Riding Hood to be with the flash? So now, we're getting there. But, you're exactly right. So, did that answer your question? Okay, cool. Great question, I love it. Yeah, McKenna? A couple more questions coming in, Mike. One is from HDL Photo. How does rear curtain sync work with a leaf shutter? Hm, good question, HDL. Yeah, I don't have a lot of experience shooting with a leaf shutter, and I don't think that curtain sync is as big of an issue with leaf shutters. The synchronization speed, in general, is much higher, so you can shoot a lot of times up to a thousandth of a second or more. But you know with a leaf shutter, basically, it doesn't have the curtain that opens like this, and closes like that. Really it's more just open and close. And so it's all, or partial, or nothing. Its not linear like a regular shutter. So, without knowing the details of the camera he has, I'm gonna say I'm not sure exactly how rear or front curtain interfaces with his camera. If the camera has that option, then the behavior is still the same, in terms of the light. In terms of the motion blur. So, I'd have to know specific camera, and specific interface with the flash.

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. 



  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Mike, is a fantastic instructor. I have taken other flash photography classes, but I find Mikes’ to be the best laid out, clear and concisely demonstrated class, with great detail and not overly "techy" terms to confuse the listener. Though lots of technical information is shared, it is done in a way anyone can understand and follow along. Great examples explained, to help apply what we are learning to real life scenarios. Like Rear Sync Curtain explanation, really helped distinguish the difference and why.
 Great sense of humour too!
 Hope Mike, will be back to teach more classes, maybe a sequel… one on multi flash use? 
~ Christine