If you want to use a non TTL radio remote set up to trigger your Speedlights or you want to know how to use them in manual mode, follow this guide. Manual operation of Speedlights is desirable when you require a series of repeat shots of identical brightness, when shooting event pictures for instance.
Speedlights set to manual mode perform exactly like other manual flash units you might find in a studio or powered by a battery pack on location. If you are familiar with their operation you will be ready to go with Speedlights. (Speedlite is the Canon spelling of the word and Speedlight is the Nikon branding).
Nikon set up
If you are a Nikon shooter and are fortunate enough to have a camera with a pop up flash you can use the built in commander mode to set the manual firing of all your remote Speedlight without the need for any additional equipment. You just have to navigate to the ‘pencil’ menu on your camera, select ‘bracketing and flash’, then ‘flash control for built in flash’, ‘commander mode’ and then assign a channel and set each group A, or B, to Manual. You will want to set the ‘built in flash’ to off by asigning it ‘–‘ using the mode selector. Then set independent power values for A and B as required. This is great if you have flashguns high up on stands and avoids the need to grapple with each unit in turn.
If you don’t have a pop up flash and want to remotely control your Speedlights you will have to invest in an another Speedlight to act as a master unit or buy yourself an SU-800 commander. These cost about £250 and do the same function as the built in flash commander but have three added advantages:
1. There is no pre flash to cause blinks in your subject.
2. The functions are readily available without the need to navigate through menus. This means you can change the power of a remote flash with just 1 press of a button.
3. You get to be able to set 3 groups of flashes remotely.
If you don’t have either or you want to work at greater distances than the infra red trigger system will allow then you need to use a radio trigger system like a pair of Pocket Wizard Plus 2s. To enable this set up to work you need to connect each remote SB-800 or SB-900 flash unit to a PW unit using the sync socket on the flash using a PC sync to 1/8” mono jack lead. You will then need to set the flash to Manual mode and set the desired power level locally on the flash head. The other PW unit goes onto the camera.
Canon set up
If you are a Canon shooter you can set either a 580EX or a 580EX11 Speedlite to be a master controller or use a dedicated ST-E2 commander. The 430 and 430EX11 Speedlites do not have a ‘master’ enabled function. The ST-E2 commander has three distinct advantages over the 580 ‘master’ option.
1. It is a fraction of the weight of a Speedlite and when working hand held this makes a big difference.
2. It doesn’t emit a pre flash that causes blinks in subjects.
3. At just £150 it is a fraction of the cost of a 580 Speedlite and frees up your flash for off camera use.
Once you have set your master transmitter you can set the remote Speedlite to manual mode and select the power setting required without touching the Master unit. The power of each subsequent flash unit is then set locally and not by using the ratio function on the ST-E2 Master Speedlite.
If you don’t have a suitable Master unit or you want to work at greater distances than the infra red trigger system will allow then you need to use a radio trigger system like a pair of Pocket Wizard Plus 2s. To enable this set up to work you need to connect a remote 580EX11 Speedlite to a PW unit with the sync socket on the flash using a PC sync to 1/8” mono jack lead. If you have a 580EX , 430EX or 430EX11 You will need to use a hot shoe adapter with a PC sync take off. You then need to set the flash to Manual mode and set the desired power level locally on the flash head. The other PW unit goes onto the camera.
Exposure balance system for both Nikon and Canon
This is what it’s all about. How do you get the balance between the ambient light and each flash set so that the picture looks right? Follow these steps…
1. Set the camera shutter speed to a value within the sync capability of the camera. If you are hand held you might want to choose 1/125th second.
2. Set the ISO to a desired value, only experience will tell you what value to use for a given situation. For bright daylight I suggest ISO 100 or 200.
3. Leave the flash units off and set an aperture that gives the desired exposure to the background. Use a test and measure system to achieve this. Adjust the aperture each time you take a shot until the correct look is achieved.
4. Then switch each flash on in turn and adjust the power of the flash as required, or move the flash in or out from the subject to set the desired brightness. If you move a flash that is 12ft away from the subject to a new position that is 6ft away you increase it’s brightness by 2 stops.
5. Finally shoot with all the flashes switched on and make fine adjustments as required. Adjusting the shutter speed up or down will affect the ambient exposure and adjusting the aperture will affect the ambient and flash exposure together.
To go from 1/125th at f/11 to 1/60th at f /16 will leave the ambient exposure exactly as it was but cut the flash by a stop and to go from 1/125th at f/11 to 1/250th at f/11 will cut the ambient exposure by a stop but leave the flash exposure exactly as it was.
The new DVDs will be showing this technique in use with both Speedlights and big flash units.