Small Flash: High-Speed Sync

[tps_header]My name is Erik Valind and I’m hooked on high-speed sync. Now that I’ve come clean, let’s discuss just what high-speed sync is and why this unique option has been garnering so much attention lately among small flash and big strobe shooters alike.

Using high-speed sync offers more creative control through selective focus via a shallow depth of field, even in bright sunlight. At the same time, it comes through in a clutch when shooting outdoors by enabling quick bursts of fill flashto soften those harsh shadows cast by the midday sun. High-speed sync is a pretty hefty subject to describe in full technical detail, so I’ll stick with a quick breakdown and how to put it to use in the field.

When we add strobe light to an image, we go in expecting to be confined to the limitations of our camera’s maximum sync speed and our flash’s respective power output. Once we reach that max. sync speed (1/250 on my Nikon D700), the shutter curtains are moving so fast that they only reveal a small portion of the camera’s sensor as they travel across it. This clipping is what causes that infamous black bar across the bottom of your pictures if you go over 1/250. Well, Canon and Nikon have ingeniously figured out how to pulse their dedicated flashes in synchronization with the faster shutter speeds, allowing them to fire through the duration of the exposure, thus overcoming our old sync speed barrier. Best of all, they baked this functionality right into the gear we already own; all we need to do is turn it on. In fact, I leave this function on all the time, so when I shoot at shutter speeds faster than1/250, my camera and flash seamlessly switch over to high-speed sync mode. I regularly take advantage of this feature when using my Nikon Speedlights on camera, or with my Nikon SC-29 off-camera TTL cord. The new PocketWizard FlexTT5 system uses this feature to allow high-speed sync wirelessly, as well.

Canon users: High-Speed Sync is Activated in the Canon Flash settings.

Nikon users: Auto FP High-Speed Sync is Activated in the Nikon Camera settings.


Step One

valind_flash_hss_1More important than how this is achieved is what we choose to do with each of these great tools and techniques. High-speed sync frees you to create beautifully lit and isolated portraits with minimal gear and little regard for the time of day. Let’s jump right into shooting one. Just likeI would normally approach an outdoor portrait, I begin with a test shot to determine the ambient exposure. With my camera’s default ISO 200 and a little balancing act, I came up with an exposure of 1/1600 at f/4. 

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