Manual Flash Power

Manual Flash Power Mode

Do you need it? … Yes

If you’re thinking of buying a speedlite then you’ll want one that has a manual flash power mode. This won’t be too difficult as all the speedlites reviewed in this website have a manual power mode. Manual power mode allows you to increase or decrease the power output of the flash by simply pressing a button or turning a dial. You are in charge of the speedlite’s flash power. Becoming a competent photographer is about being in full control of your image exposure or at least knowing when to turn “auto” off if it isn’t giving the results you want. You’ll want a flash with manual mode.

The maximum power output of a particular speedlite is written as a 1/1. This just means full power. All other power settings are written as a fraction of full power.

The next full setting down is 1/2 or half power. Half power equates to half the brightness of the maximum flash output and, in photography terms, is known as 1 stop less. The next full setting down is 1/4 power, then 1/8, then 1/16 power, then 1/32 power, then 1/64 power and finally 1/128 power. Each setting is half as bright as the previous setting or 1 stop less. The majority of speedlites have 8 stops difference between full power 1/1 to minimum power 1/128. Some of the more powerful lights will even have a 1/254 power setting – these are usually a cross-over between speedlites and studio lights.

Let’s look at the AmazonBasics Electronic Flash. This is a fully manual flashgun and is probably one of the cheapest and most basic on the market. It looks a bit rubbish and you’ll lose all street cred if you turn up to a photographers’ workshop with this on your camera but it is easy to use and is more than powerful enough for most needs especially in the studio. While other photographers are trying to remember which button to press or why their exposures appear to be completely random you can be concentrating on the finer arts of photography such as form and shadow, posing and expression.

Simple is good. Insert batteries. Place on camera hotshoe and tighten locking wheel. Turn camera on. Turn speedlite on. The speedlite can be set to manual mode by pressing the mode button until the “M” lights up. The flash output can then be controlled by pressing the “+” button to increase power or the “-” to decrease power. There are 8 bars that light up to show the power output. The bar on the far right represents full power 1/1 and the bar on the far left represents minimum 1/128 power. The 8 bars from left to right represent
1/128, 1/64, 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1/1 power.
For a more detailed review of this speedlite see AmazonBasics Electronic Flash Review

When to use manual flash power

Manual power is great in a situation where the distance between the speedlite and the subject isn’t changing. It may take a bit of trial and error to begin with to initially find the right speedlite power that will give you a well exposed image but once you’ve found it you don’t have to worry about it again. You can leave the speedlite in the same position and keep the same camera settings and you’ll get exactly the same exposure time after time. This is the great advantage of manual power mode. This will allow you to concentrate on posing the subject and other creative aspects of the shoot. Talking to the subject and making them feel relaxed and comfortable will result in much better images than if you are panicking around changing your camera and speedlite settings every few seconds. If you move the speedlite closer to the subject the image will be brighter and if you move it further away it will be darker so as long as you always keep the speedlite at the same distance from the subject you can move it around and still keep the same exposure.

How to use the manual flash power setting

If we are going to use a speedlite to take some portrait images in a studio environment then we only want the light from the speedlite to be illuminating the subject. We need to set our camera to eliminate all of the existing light in the room which isn’t caused by the flash (this existing light is known as the ambient light). If you set your camera to manual mode and dial in an aperture of f/8, use a shutter speed of 1/125 second and an ISO of 100 then this should take care of removing the ambient light. If you now take a photo with the flash turned off the image should look black or very very dark. If it’s not then try increasing your shutter speed to 1/160 sec or even 1/200 sec. Increasing your shutter speed will let in less ambient light. If the image still isn’t dark enough then you’ve got too much sun coming through the windows. Draw the curtains or use blackout material to block the light from outside.

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