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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 9 of 28

Flash Settings: TTL

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

9. Flash Settings: TTL

Lesson Info

Flash Settings: TTL

So, let's now talk about flash settings, getting your flash set up properly. There's, as I mentioned, there's TTL flash and then there's Manual flash, okay? So let's go through TTL. And to do this, I'm gonna grab my other camera that has my flash, I'm gonna grab my... You know what? I think I'm just gonna grab my other flash. All right, so this flash is a Nikon flash, and this is the Nikon SB5000, okay? So this is Nikon's newest one at the moment. You know the Canon world, you're shooting like the 600EX or the 430EX. Nikon has a whole line of flashes too. And again, everything I'm gonna say here, I'm just gonna talk at the high level. I will show the detailed buttons to push, but that only pertains to this specific flash model. Even within the Nikon flash world, all the buttons and dials are different, and it drives me crazy. 'Cause I own every single Nikon flash they've ever made, and I'm like, oh yeah, this one. How do I? They don't have a button consistency. You'll find the same thi...

ng with Canon. They're not consistent with buttons. You'll find the same thing with Youngno or whatever that other flash model is or even this other one, this Amazon Basics flash. They all have different buttons. So don't worry about the buttons as much as the concept, okay? So this, I'm gonna turn the flash on, and if you look here on the very top, it'll say which flash mode. So here we're in what's called TTL, and then there's some other stuff after it, and in the Nikon world, there's TTLBL and there's this other thing called FP. Don't worry about that other stuff for now. In general, the one thing I want you to think about is just TTL. All right, so how do I change that? Well most camera, most flashes have a button that's called Mode, the Mode button. So if you just push this, in this case, it's the right side of this multi-selector. If I just push the mode button, and I just keep pushing it with my thumb, you can see I'm changing the flash modes. Now this flash actually, I think it has six modes, and I only care about two. I care about TTL and I care about M. I'll show, there's M. M is Manual mode. So what is TTL? Let's just start with TTL. So TTL. TTL stands for Through The Lens Metering. And if this system is gonna take a picture of me, here's what happens in TTL mode. You aim the camera, the camera then, you go to take a picture. In TTL mode, this flash actually sends out a, what's called a sample pulse of light or a preflash (ping) like this. Before the shutter even opens it goes (ping), and it sends a reflected amount of light back to the camera. Then the camera makes a decision very quickly, and it says ooh, that's dark. Hey flash, add more light, and so then when it actually takes the picture, the flash adds more light, okay? And it happens this fast. Ah. Right? It happens that fast. That fast it's like, sent out a pulse of light, it measured it, and then actually took the picture. I can't actually see you guys right now. So I hope you're still there. So that TTL is very cool because you don't have to think very much about the process. You're like, oh please, Canon, please Nikon, do it for me, and the truth is, based on where we were 15, 20 years ago, flash technology has really come very far, and it does a pretty good job most of the time. All right, so I say TTL is easiest, but it's not always best. And it's not always best because of my last bullet point here. It's not repeatable and consistent. You will see this all the time when you shoot TTL flash. Especially like if you have to photograph an event. I'm talking about a wedding, a bar mitzvah, a fundraiser, you know. Someone comes up and they're wearing a black tuxedo, TTL looks at that black tuxedo and goes, that's really dark, add more light. So now the black tuxedo brightens up, but what happens to the person's face? (buzzing) And then, right next is the bride. And the bride's wearing a white dress, and what does TTL do there? Oh, white thing, reduce the brightness. (buzzing) And now the dress is darker, but also what happens to the bride's face? Very, very dark. So TTL isn't consistent. You'll find this all the time. Take a picture here, it's a little bit brighter. Take a picture there, it's a little bit darker. I use TTL, and I use it a lot, but I use it usually when I'm traveling. You know, I go on vacation with my kids and we're at the beach, I know that my kids are gonna flip out on me if I'm like, stand there just a few more minutes while I'm in Manual mode. Shutter speed, aperture, manual 1/3rd power minus, you know, and I take my picture, and I'm like, hold on, hold on. Yep, another third of a stop up. Okay, hold on. You know, you see TTL mode allows you to just go take the picture. And then if you're shooting raw, a lot of times in raw, you can kinda come back to it and fix your exposure in post processing if it's not spot on. So I kinda think of TTL like this. TTL's like yeah, pretty close, I think I got it. Good enough. I'm on vacation, I wanna move fast or maybe I'm shooting sports or I'm working with an athlete, and stuff's really dynamic. TTL's gonna do a pretty good job most of the time, but it's not consistent. If I wanna repeat that exact scene over and over and over again, TTL's not the right way to do it. 'Cause any movement, like if the subject moves from this side of the frame to that side of the frame, TTL's impacted also by what's behind the subject. Okay? This here, TTL is the cause I think of most frustration with new flash photographers. It's like I bought this $600 flash, and I have $1000 camera, why does my photo look horrible? Well, TTL is a part of that. I'm not saying TTL is bad 'cause TTL works well in the right situation. I'm gonna show you today how we can wrangle TTL. Just remember that it's always based on what the subject is wearing or how bright the flower is or how bright the background is. Once you start understanding how TTL thinks, ah, well then you can come right along side of it and make it work for you, but the key is to understand how it's thinking. I use TTL in aperture priority mode, but TTL also works very well in Manual mode on your camera. I know a lot of people are like what? That doesn't make sense. You can shoot manual mode? Like, I can pick my shutter speed and aperture, and then let the flash do it's thing? Uh huh, yeah, and I do that. Just set your shutter speed and aperture on the camera. That reduces some variability, and then let the flash just kinda fill in the foreground in TTL mode. That's actually not a bad way. In fact, when I shoot events, I'm shooting a fundraiser coming up here real soon for an organization, and I'm gonna set my camera up at about a, you know, a 40th of a second, 30th of a second so I can get the nice house lights. This really, they've always got these really cool LEDs that makes the background look very, very cool. So I set a little bit longer shutter speed, and I just fix the camera in Manual mode, and then TTL for, you know, when people come in front of the camera. Click, click, click, click, click.

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.