Getting Manual Flash Exposure Quickly

I always love hearing from people to find out what things people are struggling with and one of the most common things is how to get your exposure dialed in quickly when using manual flash. Once you know a few simple tips, getting an exposure dialed in should only take a few seconds. Once you get the speed down, you can really open up your creativity in your lighting setups.

Why Manual?

One question that a lot of people have at this point is why would you want to use manual flash when you have eTTL mode available and the camera will try and determine the lighting? There are actually a number of reasons why that isn’t always the right answer:

Usually eTTL will try to give you a pretty balanced lighting so it does not always give you what you are trying to achieve. By understanding how to use manual flash you can create dynamic lighting that may otherwise not be possible.

Fear Not The Flash

So why are people intimidated by manual flash? Mostly because they think its complicated and they don’t know where to start. So let’s break it down into some basics. First off, If we look at the range of a flash there is really only eight stops between full power and the lowest setting of 1/128th power. While better strobes like the Canon, Nike, and YN560 also have incremental settings in between each stop, let’s just look at the primary settings to get started.  So long as the flash has enough light output, the proper setting is going to fall somewhere along this scale.

Keeping this in mind if you start with a mid-range setting such as 1/16 or 1/8 power the worst you can be is already halfway to the best setting. Take a test shot and then adjust the power up or down accordingly. With just a small amount of practice you should be able to get your lighting dialed in within a two to three shots.

Keeping it SAAF

SAAF is a little acronym that you should learn as well, this stands for Shutter/Ambient – Aperture/Flash. What this helps you to remember is that shutter speed will control the ambient light and aperture will control light from the flash. If you need more ambient light, slow down the shutter speed. If you need more light from your flash, use a larger aperture (smaller f-stop number). Being able to use your aperture to control the light from the flash also allows you the ability to fine-tune the light to get exactly what you want.

Putting It Together

Hopefully this has helped demystify manual flash lighting. If you have a Canon or Nikon speedlite, I highly encourage you to put it in manual mode to learn how to use manually rather than relying on the automatic modes. I have put together a little video to help go over the concepts I have talked about here.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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9 Responses

  1. Alexis says:

    Oh, that SAAF thing is very helpful. Thanks for that tip!

  2. dpg says:

    That the single BEST explanation I've seen regarding manual flash usage, thank you very much!!

  3. Kale says:

    This was very helpful. I don't do much electronic flash work, and this was simple to remember. Thanks!!

  4. Liz says:

    Excellent video – you are right – aperture is the way to go. Please post some more videos.

  5. Liz says:

    Excellent video – you are right – aperture is the way to go. Please post some more videos.

  1. December 5, 2010

    […] Flash en mode manuel: Comment obtenir rapidement la bonne exposition? […]

  2. January 21, 2011

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