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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography- Part2

Start Flash Photography in 9 Steps!


So you just bought your first Speedlite, and are looking forward to all the possibilities it offers. You take it out of the box and…what comes next? In this article, we guide you through the steps for setting up your new Speedlite flash to shoot in the E-TTL Auto flash mode. You will learn some basic concepts and about the role of each Speedlite function along the way—which will certainly help you get the hang of external flash photography!

*The illustrations and screenshots in this article use the EOS 77D and Speedlite 430EX III-RT. Other cameras and Speedlite models might feature different menu screens and operating procedures, so please refer to the relevant user manuals for more details.

external flash attached to a canon DSLR camera


Step 1: Mount the flash on the camera and turn on the power

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. Turn off the power of the flash before you attach or detach it from the hot shoe.

Mount the Speedlite

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


Lock the Speedlite

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

Don’t mix batteries of different brands or types

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 leakage.


Step 2: Reset the flash settings

You can easily reset the flash functions and Custom Functions of the external Speedlite with the [Flash control] menu. Carrying out a reset for every new shooting session helps to avoid accidentally using settings from your previous shoot.


Reset the flash function settings


Shoot2 menu – Flash control

Mount the flash onto the camera, then turn the mode dial to set the shooting mode to one of the Creative Zone modes, such as Program AE (P). Press the MENU button on the camera and select [Flash control] from the shooting menu.



Clear settings

Select [Clear settings].


Clear external flash settings

Select [Clear external flash set.]. On the next screen, you will see a prompt confirming that you want to “Clear all external flash settings”. Select [OK].

*On the EOS 1300D/EOS M3: From the [Flash control] menu, go to [External flash func. setting]. Press the “DISP” button to select the [Clear Speedlite settings] function. Select [OK].


Reset the flash custom function settings

Clear external flash custom function settings

On the [Clear settings] menu, select [Clear ext. flash C. Fn set.]. On the next screen, you will see a prompt confirming that you want to “Clear all Speedlite C. Fn settings”. Select [OK].

*On the EOS 1300D: On the [Flash control] menu, select [Clear ext. flash C. Fn set.]. Select [OK].


Step 3: Select a flash mode

You can choose to set the flash mode either using the camera or using the flash unit. (On the Speedlite 270EX II, set the mode using the camera.) There are two possible modes: E-TTL (Evaluative Through The Lens) mode or Manual flash mode.

E-TTL II flash metering mode is the default mode on Speedlites. In this mode, the flash is fired automatically, and the flash output metering is automatically determined by the camera. This is ideal for when you want to take a quick picture using the exposure that the camera’s metering system decides.

Manual flash mode (M mode) allows you to set your preferred flash output level. You can use it when you need more control over flash output, as is necessary for professional-level flash photography. One example is when you want to make use of multiple flash units to create shadow effects.


On the camera


Choose flash mode item

Go to [Flash control]→[External flash func. setting]. The default mode is “ETTL” mode (or more specifically, E-TTL II flash metering mode), which fires the flash automatically.



Select ETTL mode

Select the “ETTL” icon to display the [Flash mode] menu. Use Manual flash mode if you want to manually set the flash output level.

*On the EOS 1300D: on [External flash func. setting], select [Flash mode] and then the appropriate mode.


On the flash

Setting ETTL mode on the flash

Press the “MODE” button, then press the “SEL/SET” button.


Tip 1: In Manual flash mode, you can adjust the flash output level

In Manual flash mode, the "Flash output level" item will appear. (It is not displayed in the E-TTL flash mode). 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, “1/4” for a quarter of the full flash output and so on. This is different from the flash exposure compensation function present in the E-TTL flash mode (see Step 8).


On the camera

Setting flash output level on the camera

To set the flash output level, select the “Flash output level” item. Numbers to the right result in stronger light from the flash. Numbers to the left result in weaker light. “1/1” means full output from the flash.


On the flash

Setting flash output level on the flash

In Manual flash mode, press the "SEL/SET" button, and use the Select dial or the cross keys to scroll to the flash output item (red box). Turn the dial to select the flash output, and then press the "SEL/SET button again to confirm the selection. Alternatively, press the “+/-“ button to call up the flash output item. Note that if you are in E-TTL flash mode, the flash compensation item will be displayed instead.


Tip 2: With Speedlite 430EX III-RT and Speedlite 600EX II-RT, you can configure settings for multiple flash units

Multiple flash control

When you get more experienced with flash photography, you might want to try shooting with multiple flash units. The Speedlite 430EX III-RT and Speedlite 600EX II-RT are additionally equipped with an Individual group control (Gr) mode, which lets you configure settings for multiple flashes. The steps are the same as those for setting E-TTL and the Manual flash mode, and they can be performed on either 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.

Mode Dial

Turn the Mode Dial and select the desired shooting mode. Select Shutter-priority AE when you wish to capture moving subjects without motion blur, or make use of motion bur 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 carry out deep focusing. Make a choice based on your intent.


Tip: You can use E-TTL flash with any shooting mode, but flash compensation might not be possible in some modes

Creative Zone and Basic Zone on Mode DIal

Red: Creative Zone
Blue: Basic Zone

You can carry out flash photography in E-TTL mode, with in any shooting mode in the Basic Zone and Creative Zone of the camera. However, flash compensation (see Step 8) 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 more control over your photo. On the other hand, the Manual Exposure mode is recommended when manual flash mode 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

After selecting the shooting mode, select a flash synchronization 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.


On the camera


Shutter sync mode item

To set shutter synchronization using the camera, go to [Flash control]→[External flash func. setting]→[Shutter sync.], and select the icon below the flash mode item.



Shutter sync modes

The shutter synchronization modes available are (from left) first-curtain sync, second-curtain sync (also known as “slow-sync flash mode”), and high-speed sync. Select the mode that suits your intent.


How to set shutter sync on the flash unit


Setting shutter sync mode on the flash

Press the “SEL/SET” button and navigate to the flash sync mode icon, indicated in red. Press “SEL/SET” again to display the shutter sync mode options.



Select shutter sync mode

Use the Select dial to select the mode. Press the “SEL/SET” button when done.


Step 6: Adjust the ISO speed

The ISO speed setting directly affects the exposure and finishing of a photo. Adjust it if your photo turns out darker than expected, or when the chosen shutter speed is slower than intended. You can do so by pressing the “ISO” button on your camera to display the ISO speed settings menu.


Tip: Changing the ISO speed can change the look and feel of your image

Flowers at ISO 100

Shot using ISO 100


Flowers at ISO 1600

Shot using ISO 1600

In flash photography, the overall brightness of a picture can be adjusted by changing the ISO speed. A higher ISO speed increases the image sensor's sensitivity to light, and enables weak diffuse light from the flash that is undetectable at a low ISO speed to be captured and reflected in the photo. You get a brighter image as a result. A higher ISO speed also helps to prevent camera shake and motion blur during both normal and flash photography. However, it can be difficult to gauge how the exposure will turn out following a change in the ISO speed, so you should ideally take test shots whenever you change your ISO speed setting.


Step 7: Use exposure compensation to adjust the background brightness

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, especially if it is outside the range of the flash. In mid- and high-spec cameras, 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, hold down the exposure compensation button and turn the Main Dial to adjust the exposure compensation.


Setting with the Quick Control Dial

Quick Control Dial

On most Canon EOS cameras, you can adjust exposure compensation by turning the Quick Control Dial while pressing down the shutter button halfway. Turning the dial to the right increases brightness, while turning to the left makes the image darker. If your camera does not have a Quick Control Dial, hold down the exposure compensation button and turn the Main Dial to adjust the exposure compensation.


Step 8: Use flash exposure compensation to adjust flash output

Exposure compensation adjusts only the ambient exposure. This makes the background brighter, but the subject might still not be as bright as you desire. As long as the subject is still within the range of the flash, you can adjust the flash output to make your subject brighter. In the E-TTL mode, this can be done using flash exposure compensation, which tells the flash to give more or less flash output relative to the output determined by the camera. Only the flash output is affected, so there is no impact on background brightness.

We show the instructions for adjusting this setting via the Quick Control screen below, but you can also access the flash exposure compensation menu through the [External flash func. setting] menu.


On the camera


Adjusting flash exposure compensation on Quick Control screen

Press the Quick Control (“Q”) button on the camera. Select the item highlighted in yellow above.



Adjust flash exposure compensation level

Adjust the flash exposure compensation as necessary.


Tip: Using the flash to set flash exposure compensation overrides the settings on the camera

Flash exposure compensation disabled

On some flash models, you can also set the flash exposure compensation on the flash. However, doing so will disable (grey out) the flash exposure compensation option on the camera, and the setting made on the flash will override the one made on the camera. To avoid confusion, we recommend that you stick with use the camera for this setting.


Step 9: Adjust the angle of the flash head

If your external flash has an adjustable flash head, you can change its angle to enhance the result of your photo. For example, to get a softer lighting, you can carry out bounce flash photography by angling the flash towards a wall or ceiling.

Adjust the angle of the flash head

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


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

A genuine external flash allows adjustment of not only the angle of the flash head, but also the flash coverage (the range covered by the light of the flash). This gives you more control over the direction and intensity of the lighting, which is necessary for advanced flash photography.


On the camera

Flash coverage (flash zoom) item

1. Select the Zoom item in the [External flash func.setting] menu.


flash zoom focal length selection

2. Select a focal length (angle of view).


On the flash unit

Adjusting flash zoom on the flash

Press the "Zoom" button and turn the Select dial to select the focal length. Press the "SEL/SET" button to confirm the selection. If “AUTO” is selected, the optimal flash coverage for the attached lens will be used, and no focal length will be shown next to “Zoom” on the flash display.

*For Speedlite 270EX II, adjustments are made in two phases by manually pulling out the flash head.


In conclusion

Now that you have set up your external flash, the next step to take is to go out and shoot! The best way to improve your flash photography is through trial and error, so when a shot does not turn out right, alter your settings, such as the shooting mode, synchronization mode, and ISO speed, and try again. This is what makes digital cameras wonderful for flash photography—you can take as many test shots as you desire.


Happy shooting!


Check out the following article for some tutorials on external flash photography:
In Focus: The Basics of External Flash Photography


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