Tips & Tutorials

Start Flash Photography in 9 Steps!

After purchasing an external flash, mount it to the camera and try taking some photos. In the following article, we will explain the operation procedure of the E-TTL Auto flash system using the EOS 600D and Speedlite 430EX II. External flash photography is much easier than you would expect once you have obtained a grasp of the basic theory and the role of each function. As the operation varies according to the model used, please refer to your instruction manual for detailed description.

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Step 1: Turn On the Power After Mounting the Flash On the Camera

Insert the external flash into the hot shoe on top of the camera. Once fully inserted, slide the mounting foot lock lever to lock it into place. Switch on the power supply of the camera, followed by that of the flash. The power of the flash should be turned off before attaching it to or detaching it from the hot shoe.

Slide the mounting foot of the flash all the way into the hot shoe.


Then, slide the mounting foot lock lever until a click sound is heard, indicating that it is locked. Power on the camera, then power on the flash. To detach the flash from the hot shoe, slide the lock lever in the reverse direction while pressing the lock release button.


Tip: Do not use a mix of batteries


When replacing the batteries, ensure that all of them are new and of the same brand. Do not use a mixture of new and old batteries, different brands, or alkaline and lithium batteries. Not only will that shorten the life of the batteries, it may also result in problems such as battery leak.


Step 2: Reset the Flash Settings

For cameras with "Flash control" menu, the flash functions and Custom Functions of the external Speedlite can be reset easily. To avoid errors such as the settings left from the previous use, it is safer to reset at the start.

How to reset the flash settings


Mount the flash onto the camera, then set the shooting mode to one of the Creative Zone modes such as Program AE (P) using the Mode Dial. Press the "MENU" button on the camera and select [Flash control] from the [Shooting menu] (in some models, the [Set-up menu]). Select [External flash function setting] (1), and press the "INFO" button (in some models, the "DISP" button) to start [Clear Speedlite settings] (2). Then select [OK] (3). For the EOS 70D and EOS 700D, select [Clear settings] in screen (1), then select [Clear external flash set.] in the next displayed screen.


Reset the flash Custom Functions settings


Select [Clear external flash Custom Functions settings] from the [Flash control] screen (1). Selecting [OK] and pressing the "SET" button in the [Clear external flash Custom Functions settings] screen (2) will reset the external flash settings . For the EOS 70D and EOS 700D, select [Clear settings] in screen (1), then select [Clear external flash Custom Functions settings] in the next displayed screen.


Step 3: Select a Flash Mode

Choose either E-TTL or Manual flash mode for the flash unit. Flash settings can be adjusted on the camera or the flash unit. Select E-TTL flash when you want to take a quick picture with the entire photo in standard exposure, and manual flash for professional-level flash photography such as by making use of multiple flash units to create shadow effects.

To set the flash using the camera, select "Flash mode" from "External flash function settings". For auto adjustment of the flash output, select "E-TTL."


Push the MODE button, and select "ETTL" or "M."


Tip: Adjusting the flash output when using manual flash



Setting Screen of the Camera Menu


Setting Screen on the flash unit

The item "Flash output" appears in the camera menu (not displayed in the E-TTL flash mode) when Manual flash mode is set. The manual flash output guide number is indicated as 1/1 for full output of the attached flash unit, 1/2 for half the flash output, and 1/4 for a quarter of the full flash output. Please note that the method is different from the flash exposure compensation of the E-TTL option. For Speedlite 430EX II, it is as per the display shown in the photo, whereby you press and hold the "SEL/SET" button for a moment, select the flash output using the "+/-" buttons, and press the "SEL/SET button again to confirm the selection.

Tip: Multiple flash units can be set with Speedlite 600EX-RT or Speedlite 580 EX II

Speedlite 600EX-RT and Speedlite 580 EX II are additionally equipped with a Multi flash mode. The steps for multi-flash setting are the same as those for setting E-TTL and the Manual flash mode, and they can be performed on the camera or the flash unit.


Step 4: Select a Shooting Mode

Select the shooting mode suited for the intent and contents of the photo you wish to take. Flash photography can be used in any shooting mode.

Turn the Mode Dial and select the desired shooting mode. Select Shutter-priority AE when you wish to capture moving subjects without blurring, or make use of blurring to express movement. Select Aperture-priority AE if you wish to control the depth of field to make use of the bokeh effect, or to produce a pan-focus shot. Make a choice based on your intent.


Tip: You can select any shooting mode with E-TTL flash



Red: Creative Zone

Blue: Basic Zone

If the flash mode selected is E-TTL, flash photography can be carried out in any shooting mode in the Basic Zone and Creative Zone of the camera. However, flash compensation is not possible in the Full Auto and scene modes. Thus, Program AE, Aperture-priority AE and Shutter-priority AE are easier to use if you want to convey your intent in a photo. On the other hand, the manual exposure shooting mode is recommended when manual flash is chosen. Determine settings such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO speed in accordance with the intent of the shot, and you can adjust the flash output manually based on these conditions.


Step 5: Select a Shutter Synchronization Mode

Select a flash synchronization mode after selecting the shooting mode. Use High-speed sync when the desired shutter speed is higher than the maximum speed the flash is able to synchronize. Consider using first curtain sync or second curtain sync for long-exposure shots. To perform setting using the camera menu, choose the desired mode from [Shutter synchronization] in the [External flash function settings]. To set using the flash unit, press the "High-speed sync (FP flash)/Shutter-curtain synchronization" button. Pressing this button each time allows switching between high-speed sync and shutter-curtain sync.

Setting screen of the camera


To perform setting using the camera, select [Shutter sync.] from [External flash func. setting] and choose the item.


Setting screen of the flash unit



Set to High-speed Sync


Set to 2nd Curtain Sync


Step 6: Adjust the ISO Speed

ISO speed adjustments directly affect the exposure and finishing of a photo. ISO speed can be adjusted when the photo turns out darker than expected, or when the chosen shutter speed is slower than intended. To adjust the ISO settings, press the "ISO" button on the camera, and select an ISO speed such as by using the Main Dial.

Tip: Photo image changes dramatically with different ISO speeds in flash photography


Shot using ISO 100


Shot using ISO 1600


In flash photography, the overall brightness of a picture can be adjusted by changing the ISO speed. With a high ISO speed, the image sensor's sensitivity to light is increased and weak diffuse light from the flash that could not be detected at a low ISO speed can be captured and reflected in the photo, thus resulting in a brighter overall photo image. However, as it is difficult to gauge the changes in exposure when the ISO speed is changed, it is advisable to take test shots along with the ISO speed changes. A higher ISO speed is also effective against camera shake or movement of the subject in both normal and flash photography.


Step 7: Determine the Background Brightness Using Exposure Compensation

Often, in flash photography, light from the flash does not reach the background. In such a situation, Exposure compensation can be applied to adjust the brightness of the background. Exposure compensation can be relied on for brightness adjustments beyond the range that can be brightly illuminated by light from the flash. In mid- and high-spec models, the amount of compensation can be set by turning the Quick Control Dial while half-pressing the shutter button. For camera models without the Quick Control Dial, exposure compensation can be adjusted by operating the Main Dial while depressing and holding down the Exposure compensation button.

Exposure compensation button and Main Dial

Set the amount of compensation by turning the Main Dial while pressing and holding down the Exposure compensation button. Turning the dial to the right increases brightness, while turning to the left makes it darker.


Quick Control Dial of the mid- and high-spec models

The amount of compensation can be set by turning the Quick Control Dial while pressing down the shutter button halfway. Turning it to the right increases the brightness compensation, and turning to the left decreases the brightness.


Step 8: Determine the Brightness of the Subject Using the Flash Output

To adjust the brightness of a subject within the range of the flash, adjust the flash output. Use flash exposure compensation if you are using the E-TTL flash mode. Only the flash output is changed during flash exposure compensation. Thus, it is possible to moderate only the brightness of the subject within the flash range without any impact on the background brightness. For mid- and high-spec models, adjustments are made by pressing the Flash exposure compensation button and turning the Main Dial. For cameras such as the EOS 600D, which are not equipped with a Flash exposure compensation button, press the Quick Control button to display the Quick Control menu, and make the necessary adjustments there. If Manual flash mode is selected, flash output can be adjusted directly.

Flash exposure compensation of the camera


Tip: Flash exposure compensation via the camera


Flash exposure compensation can be set directly on the flash unit for models such as Speedlite 430EX II, Speedlite 580EX II, and Speedlite 600EX-RT. However, by doing so, priority would be given to the settings specified on the flash, and the ability for adjustments on the camera is lost. Therefore, in flash photography, it is better to adjust the flash exposure compensation on the camera.


Step 9: Adjusting the Angle of the Flash Head

By using an external flash with an adjustable flash head, the flash angle can be adjusted to enhance the result of a photo. It will also be possible to use reflected light by bouncing the light off a wall or ceiling for a softer finish. The greatest merit of flash photography using digital cameras would be the possibility of taking as many test shots as desired. When a shot does not turn out right, the shortest way to improvement would be repeated practice by altering settings such as the shooting mode, synchronization mode, and ISO speed.

The angle of the flash head can be adjusted. Find the angle that most suit your photographic intension.


Tip: Adjust not only the angle of the flash head, but the flash angle as well



Set with the camera


Set with the flash unit

A genuine external flash allows adjustment of not only the angle of the flash head, but also the flash angle (width of light coverage). Controlling the flash angle helps to widen your scope of photographic expression. To perform setting on the camera, select [Zoom] in the [External flash function settings] menu, and choose a focal length (angle of view). To set using the flash unit, press the "Zoom" button and select the focal length using the "+/-" button, followed by confirming the selection using the "SEL/SET" button. Optimal flash coverage will be automatically selected to match the lens in use when Auto is selected on the camera (the M of M Zoom will not appear on the flash). For Speedlite 320 EX and Speedlite 270 EX II, adjustments are made in two phases by manually pulling out the flash head.


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