High Speed Sync with the new PWs ~ pictures and technique

Aug 17, 2009 | Flash, Location | 40 comments

1/4000th second at f/8 on a Canon 5Dmk11. Lit with a pair of 580EX11 Speedlites.

1/4000th second at f/8 and ISO200 on a Canon 5Dmk11. Lit with a pair of 580EX11 Speedlites on board Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 receivers.

Jonathan Phillips, one of my Evolve group 2 members had a bridal fashion shoot near Oxford today and I was on hand as a sort of technical director. I loaned Jonathan my Canon 5DMK2 for some exterior shots so we could make use of, and further try out the high speed sync capability of the new Pocket Wizard TTL system. Jonathan is a Nikon shooter and it looks like he is going to have to wait a few more months yet for the Nikon version of the MiniTT1 and the FlexTT5.

This shot was also 1/4000th second but at f/4

This shot of Jonathan’s was also 1/4000th second but at f/4. It’s great to be back at the open end of the aperture range with ultra reliable TTL flash photography in sunlight.

Our favourite exposure outside was 1/4000th second at f/4 and on ISO 200. The day warmed up and became very bright by the afternoon.

Our favourite exposure value outside was 1/4000th second at f/4 and on ISO 200. The day warmed up and became very bright by the afternoon. This shot is far from subtle but we all loved this flash to ambient lighting ratio so we kept it.

And heres how the shot above was lit. You can clearly see the FlexTT5 receivers in line doing their stuff.

And heres how the shot above was lit. You can clearly see the FlexTT5 receivers in line doing their stuff.

These are just a small selection of the 60 or so different set ups we worked through as a team. It’s great when hair stylists, make up artists, florists, models, venues and photographers get together.

It was a great day Jonathan and thank you for letting me share your pictures with the Prophotonut readers.

Please feel free to comment.


  1. damien

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment and opinion. I have to dissagree with you on some issues. A Speedlight, because of it’s inbuilt optical zoom can put out as much punch as a big flash system when used directly. I use the Bron Mobil 1200Ws and both systems bare faced are comparable. With soft boxes or beauty dishes the big flash wins hands down.

    Some of my best images were shot at 1/4000th second and flashed using Speedlights and Pocket Wizard. Even in full sunlight it is quite easy to make the ambient 2 or 3 stops under at these settings. Anyway, what really matters is we find kit we can use to make our pictures the way we want them. One photographers Range Rover is anothers Ferari.

    Enjoy your picture making,


  2. damien

    Hi John,

    I’m glad the Radio Poppers are working well for you. We are having a fab time with the advanced functionality of the PW products like the increase in efficiency that accurate flash timing generates. Shooting at f/4 and 1/4000th second in sunlight and getting the extra umph of power over the standard HSS system is a revelation. The Longer range that the RPs have is definately an advantage though. I just can’t see the RPs taking off in the UK. When WEX and Jacobs etc decide they are worth the risk then that situation might change.

    Thanks, Damien.

  3. John Doran

    Hi Damien,

    Thanks for the prompt response.

    I have tried that and still having issues. I even had to go down to 1/320th as the sync completely lost it… lol

    Having done a factory reset the PW’s seem only happy on the 550 @ 1/1250.

    Very strange…. I will be getting in touch with PW and seeking their guidance as this surely cant be right….

    Once this is sorted I may well end up on one of your courses, would have been sooner but there is no rest for the wicked…


    • damien

      Hi John,

      I hope you are all sorted now.

      Regards, Damien.

  4. John Doran

    Hi Damien,

    Firstly, thanks for sharing knowledge and putting together some great DVD’s.

    I just bought myself 2x TT5’s and a Mini TT1 for Canon and use the 550EX & 430EX Speedlights. Now, with the HyperSync function of the PW’s I am having a few issues getting them to sync above 1/1250sec whilst mounted on the TT5’s…

    Anything higher I get banding on the 5DmkI & 30D.

    I have selected the “H” for Highspeed on both flashes and yet nada… zilch,,, etc…

    Dont suppose you have any ideas??

    • damien

      Hi John,

      You don’t select ‘H’ on the Speedlights thats the problem. Just leave them set as normal. Let the PW take care of high speed sync and you will have no banding. Selecting H uses the canon system hence the banding etc.



  5. David Fenwick

    I’m very glad I read this thread. I was tempted to update the firmware to v5.2 but since my PWs are working reliably I shall stick with what I’ve got!

    I’m now using them at nearly every wedding I shoot. They’re creatively liberating (particularly once you’ve watched the Speedlight Mastery DVD.)

    Definitely worth the investment in time and money.

    All the best,


    • damien

      Thanks David.

      My PWs are behaving themselves now. The Canon and the Nikon ones. As you say, liberating :)

      Kindest regards,


  6. damien

    Hi John,

    There is no remote power adjustment facility on the Bron Mobil pack. The big packs yes, but not the Mobil.


  7. damien

    Hi John,

    The Pocket Wizards go through periods of working fine the not working fine. It seems that the software keeps getting updated and then new firmware is released to match new camera models. All this tinkering means that for periods of weeks at a time I’m left with a system that is flakey at best. I’ve tried downgrading to previous firmware versions but to no avail. I just wish they got it working and left it alone. The ST-E2 just works with any Canon and I can’t see why the introduction of radio should be so damn complicated. I can barely understand what all the options mean and I’m quite technically minded. So the short answer is the PWs work occasionally but there is no better system available at the moment. I’ve decided not to stock the Nikon PWs until they do exactly what they should do. The Canon units have been such a pain for us. Mine are going to be checked out over the Christmas holidays and hopefully they will come back working just fine. I will then not tinker with firmware updates and the like for ever more!



  8. Mark

    Firstly I’m a nikon user so perhaps that is where my confusion lies but anyway:

    How on earth does this work? The full power flash duration of an SB800 speedlight is 1/320 (measured actual, not the incorrect figure in Nikon’s literature) so shooting at 1/4000 you must get only a tiny fraction of the flash power. I just tried it using SU-4 mode to trigger and the reduction in flash power is so huge that it hardly registers at all even at f/4! Using high speed sync (FP-mode) is even worse in my tests.

    What magic is there in these triggers that lets the flash do a full power dump at such fast shutter speeds?

    • damien

      Hi Mark,

      It’s not a problem being a Nikon user :) I have a D700 and the HSS technologies are similar.

      The tiny fraction you describe is 1/12th full power at 1/4000th, (Three and a bit stops). Yes it’s a loss of power, but to get access to f/2.8 and action stopping 1/4000th second it’s worth it. I use a Broncolor Mobil flash and it is about 20x the power of a Nikon SB-900 so there’s plenty of power in hand.



  9. Nelson

    Hi Damien,

    Love the pics and find your work very inspiring. Just one small question, do you always zoom the speedlight heads to 105?

    I’ve been practicing with different setups and have tried some variations to the zoom usually between 50-105. I was just curious what you do.

    Thanks. Nelson

  10. damien

    Hi Dave,

    I shoot in all modes but when there is little light changing going on or I’m shooting off camera flash using TTL I have my camera set to Manual.

    It’s horses for courses and I’m getting very quick at shooting M through a lot more practice this year.

    I use multi patterned metering. This does effect the flash TTL exposures. Spot metering is always to be avoided.

    I hope this helps, Damien.

  11. DaveT


    Interesting to read how you now shoot in Manual mode.

    Out of interest which metering mode do you use with your Canon gear? I believe that it can make a difference to the end image.

  12. damien

    To further clarify my recent experiences of High Speed Sync shooting I would like to say that when you are using an ST-E2 piggy backed on a Mini or Flex on camera to control ratios it must be switched to ‘H’ in order to access shutter speeds above 1/200th on a 5D or 5D mk11.


  13. Michaelbs

    It does and I look forward to buying your next DVD as a christmas present for myself if i’ll be out by then?

    I love shooting in manual mode but find it inconvenient in shifting light shooting conditions where you have to be able to respond quickly to capture moments.

  14. damien

    Hi Michael,

    Yes lots of thoughts. There was a time that having just come from medium format with leaf shutter lenses on my digital Hasselblad that I’d cock up when using flash and choose 1/500th at f/8 and get a blank frame. Then I thought what I wanted was a system that selected a good aperture and shutter speed combination up to the max flash sync speed and then only close the aperture if the light level demanded thus enabling the flash to work at any ambient light level. That system is Program. Plus you can use exposure compensation and flash exposure combination as required and the Program system wont let you cock up. Great stuff!

    Now however I’m an all manual man as I find a new working system with the Pocket Wizards. I can shoot at any shutter speed again without the risk of cock up and my creativity is once more unleashed.

    Aperture Priority when used with flash often allows a shutter speed combination of between 1/60th and 1/250th (Nikon) and 1/60th and 1/200th (Canon 5D). It is clever enough not to let you make big mistakes and is the most common working system amongst my delegates when they start the day with me on an Urban Portraits workshop. Now I’m an all manual shooter and have found the system to last me my career I teach it’s subtlety to my delegates sure in the knowledge they will feel creativity unleashed like me.

    It’s a revelation really, just the sort of thing to make a film about and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve never shot the new PWs in P mode only in Manual mode in conjunction with ETTL11

    I hope this helps clarify my situation.


  15. Michaelbs

    Hi Damien
    Things worked out just fine. Thanks for your helpful input.
    I have all your DVD’s and they are superb and highly recommandable.
    One question regarding your flash technique: sometimes you use AV priority, sometimes Manual and occasionally P mode. It’s obvious when it is preferable to shoot in Manual mode but I can’t figure out from the flash-DVD your reasons to choose P mode over AV mode. My guess would be, of course, that P mode is used when blurring the background is irrelavant it’s but are there other considerations behind your choices?
    Especially with the new PW’s excellent HSS function P mode seems to be a less obvious choice – to me at least..
    Any thoughts on this?

  16. damien

    Hi Plevyadophy,

    This isn’t really the place to discuss wedding photography but just to clarify, the flash has no impact on the background as it is so far away, just the foreground. You can see my technique in use in my ‘how to’ wedding DVDs here.

    I hope this helps. Damien.

  17. plevyadophy


    Thanks for the very prompt reply.

    Sorry to be a bit dim, but if I recall, you were advocating this method for shooting the B & G coming down the aisle.

    But if the flash is doing enough work to expose the background well, wouldn’t it also blow out the B & G? Of course in asking that question I am asuming you have the flash mounted on camera?

    Or perhaps you ensure that the B & G are far enough away from you so that when using on-camera TTL flash the flash meter’s exposure calculation will be correct for both background and B & G?


  18. damien

    Hi Plevyadophy,

    I mean the latter 1/200th second so that the flash is doing more than half the job of lighting the B&G and any movement captured by the ambient exposure is negligible. The background won’t be a black hole either. It’s a good working solution.


  19. plevyadophy

    Hi Sir,

    Just a query in relation to your reply to Micheal.

    You said:

    —Quote ——

    Hi Michael,

    It’s not too risky if you have nailed the coming down the isle shot earlier. Use a flash on camera if you can’t hold it apart from the camera. Use ISO800 at 1/60th @ f/4 or ISO 1250 at 1/60th at f/4 depending upon the light in the church. I always aim for the ambient light level to be 1 stop less than my camera settings so that the natural movement blur is less noticeable and the flash freezes the action. 1 stop less ensures the church is not a black hole and there is depth in the shot.

    ——- End Quote ——–

    I didn’t quite get what you meant by “1 stop less than my camera settings”.

    Do you mean for example, that the camera indicates a correct ambient exposure of 1/100s f4 at ISO400 but you set your camera to 1/50s thus giving 1 stop more exposure?

    Or do you mean that you set your camera to 1/200s thus under-exposing the ambient by 1 stop?

    Thanks in advance.


  20. damien

    Hi Phil,

    Thank you for your expert input. I read the same as you but I was still none the wiser. Anyway I’ve since done a bit of testing and for my 5D mk11. I have set the HyperSync start point to 1/320th second. That way I find I can use all shutter speeds up to 1/4000th. At 1/8000th I get some unevenness and a stop less flash so there really is no reason ever to go there.

    I’ve just tested to 1/4000th at ISO100 and f/4 with the flash zoomed to 35mm and set 2.5m from a mid grey wall. Sounds dull, and believe me it is, but I do now know that my triggers are set up well.

    I’ve chosen to leave my configure one settings set to Auto for camera model number. I’ve done this so that users of other Canon cameras can use my triggers on workshops. They will need to fire one frame to allow the system to calibrate but it will be set up from then on.

    If you only have one type of Canon camera then you can set this configuration to your exact model number thus negating the test fire with each switch on. If you have two types of camera you can set configuration one for your main camera and configuration two for your second camera. It sounds complicated but believe me it’s not and you only have to set this up once (if you choose to do this at all) The default configuration for the PWs is set to auto so that it will work straight from the box.

    I’ve set my Configuration two to Canon 5Dmk11 for my personal work. Simples.


  21. Phil

    HI Damien,

    Regarding the HSS switch question above, I find that all shutter speeds are aviailable regardless of if the speedlights are set to HSS or not.

    I also notice that the HSS indicator in my 1DS MK3 is permanantly on when the transmitter is attached to the hotshoe.

    I have been doing some checking and after much searching I find the following in the manual:

    “If you have a flash in the shoe of the MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 on your camera, it must be set to
    High Speed Sync (FP Flash). If not, the camera will be limited to a 1/200 shutter speed and will not use
    HyperSync timings. If there is no flash in the shoe of MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 on your camera, HyperSync
    and High Speed Sync will be used automatically with your remote flashes.”

    If higher shutter speeds are not selectable it could be that the `Disable HSS` box has been ticked in the set up utility

    Hope this helps

  22. Pedro Moreno

    Hi if you ever do another wedding here in Spain I would love to be part of your team. There is anyway I can give you my information, phonenumber, equipment, etc.

    I speak english fluently and with me as an assistant will be a much easy task to work.


  23. damien

    Hi Phil,

    You need to press the ‘h’ button on the Speedlights when you rig them in order for the camera to give you the option to shoot at a shutter speed over 1/200th (5Dmk11 used in manual mode) It may be that I could change the priority of this in the custom functions of the flash, camera or the PWs but until I’ve had the chance to experiment further I just press the ‘H’ if I want to use any shutter speed. I do this for all the Speedlights I’m using.

    What I find amazing is that the camera knows weather the ‘H’ button has been pressed on a Speedlight 30 metres away.

    I’ve still got a lot to learn and no doubt someone will be along soon to let me know the best everyday settings to use.

    With the ‘H’ enabled any shutter speed becomes available in the camera and I like to get up to 1/000th – 1/8000th in order to open my lenses to my favourite aperture of f/4.

    Some of you blog readers may well not know that for over 6 years I only shot at f/4. ;-)


  24. damien

    Hi Pat,

    Thanks for following my blog. The good news is what you see is what you get. If I was to say that the first shot was -1 stop in the ambient someone would surely ask me is that spot metering or matrix? What time of day was it etc.

    You can see exactly how bright the background is in the picture. What is 1 stop down for me might still be too bright for you. You can see how bright or dark I have made the sky or the Cotswolds stone and you can even measure how close they are to mid grey if you so wish by opening these shots in photoshop and using the info tab and eye dropper.

    I make a guess at exposure, take a test picture, look at the camera screen, then choose to lighten or darken the background too taste. Once this is set, I add the flash.

    There is no messing around with plus a stop this or minus a stop that, I leave the camera in manual and disregard the light meter.

    On a workshop I teach my delegates to design the mood of a shot using exposure and I teach just how easy it is to light creatively. The process is dynamic and through one full day of instruction and hands on shooting they all achieve a heightened level of mastery that no amount of book or forum reading could ever instill.

    Using exposure creatively is like seasoning a meal with salt and pepper. It’s such a personal thing that effects the outcome so very dramatically. At least with pictures in a blog you can ‘see exactly how much ambient exposure I have used and how brightly or darkley (should be a real word :) ) I have rendered the sky or walls.

    I hope this helps. And yes you are right to exclaim joy at the UK Pocket Wizards being available here as they are already transforming the way I shoot. Yesterday’s wedding at Claridges was no exception.


  25. damien

    Hi Rob,

    I’m not sure there is any hurdle with the Nikon PWs just for a relatively small company like Pocket Wizard they had to decide which one to do first and they probably went with the biggest market share first. That’s my guess and probably what I would have done.

    Now that the Canon system is released the main bulk of effort can go to the Nikon system leaving a few whiz kids to trouble shoot any firmware tweaks necessary for the Canon kit.

    We saw what problems arose for PW by launching the US spec before the kit was finally ready. Hopefully when the Nikon kit is released it is fully ready. Because the PW TTL systems are firmware upgradeable all early adopters will benefit from future enhancements and developments.


  26. damien

    Hi Pedro, I was in Spain a few weeks ago to shoot a wedding. The only trouble I have is I can’t speak Spanish so it is best for me to concentrate on giving seminars in places where English is spoken more readily. A lot gets lost in translation so I would have to limit myself to teaching only English speakers. Not the best of situations but I’m sure it’s one you will understand.

    In Marbella there is no problem as you can imagine but in Santiago where I was a few weeks ago I struggled to be understood.

    Thank you for your kind and eloquent words.


  27. Phil

    Great pictures Damien.

    Do the speedlights have HSS switched on when using the new PWs or is it taken care of automatically ?

  28. Rob

    I’m waiting for the Nikon friendly version to be available. Why does the Nikon system seem more of a hurdle to produce than one for Canon?

  29. Pedro Moreno

    I really love your book and I must say eventually I will assit to one of your seminars. Reseantly moved to Vigo, Spain from Venezuela. I think your book did open my eyes in many issues not only in technics to be a better photographer but in the business sense.

    Thank you. Also I hope you come to Spain some day to do a seminar. :)

  30. Pat Bloomfield

    Hi Damian,

    These are lovely pictures but without knowing the ambient exposure the figures given don’t help.

    The first shot appears to have been under exposed more than the others in respect of the ambient exposure. The others appear much more balanced, maybe just under exposed by a 1/2 or 1 stop?



    PS It’s great to see these Pocket Wizards hitting the UK now :-)

  31. damien

    Hi Michael,

    It’s not too risky if you have nailed the coming down the isle shot earlier. Use a flash on camera if you can’t hold it apart from the camera. Use ISO800 at 1/60th @ f/4 or ISO 1250 at 1/60th at f/4 depending upon the light in the church. I always aim for the ambient light level to be 1 stop less than my camera settings so that the natural movement blur is less noticeable and the flash freezes the action. 1 stop less ensures the church is not a black hole and there is depth in the shot.

    My advice is nail the shot then experiment. Never rely on an experiment at a wedding – Seat of the pants stuff that at worst has a bride in tears at the viewing saying ‘where is the shot of me and my husband coming down the isle?’ Not good.

    I applaud your willingness to experiment in order to raise the standard but do practice at home first.



  32. michaelbs

    Thanks for your response, Damien. I absolutely agree with you.
    Only..there’ll be no rehearsal so that’s out of the question. I was thinking as a start to have the remote flash placed in the same region of the church as myself a little to the side so a 10-15% angle would occur. At this stage I wasn’t thinking in terms of backlighting the B&G or anything experimental. Thus flare would not be an issue. My main goal would be to avoid total frontlighting and not having to worry about swiveling the flash in the flash bracket for vertical shooting.
    You still reckon it’ll be too risky without rehearsing the technique?

  33. damien

    Hi Michael,

    It’s a great question. My answer is don’t practice on a real wedding. Go to the rehearsal and have a practice there and then. You will need to plan the shot carefully and ensure you don’t get flare etc. If you’ve properly researched the shot and you make it happen, you might just start a style craze. I did that with my monopod aerials and overhead camera shooting. but it took practice, practice, practice. Good luck.

    Once I have the ‘coming down the isle shot’, I move to the side to let Julie, who is outside at this point take a clean shot of the B&G as they exit the church. She will be on ISO200 f/4 on Aperture Priority with minus 2/3rds stop compensation dialed in.

    Our pattern of shooting is set and we know exactly what to shoot and what settings to use. Consistency is our goal.

    Once you have created a fab system stick with it an make it your own. If it involves PWs then you can be sure other guests at weddings wont even come close.


  34. damien

    Hi Ziggy,

    Thanks for your support. I know what you mean about the PW imagery. I bought an SB-900 last month and I was shocked to see what images Nikon have chosen to inspire photographers in the colour booklet that was in the Speedlight box.

  35. michaelbs

    I have a question about the miniTT1/FlexTT5 that’s not related to this post but I hope for some advice anyway..
    I have a wedding on saturday (August 22th). When the ceremony in the church is over and B&G are making their exit would it be a good idea to have my assistant stand close to the entrance holding a 580ex/Flex5 rig and I could shoot with a miniTT1 on top of the camera. This might give a more pleasing lighting pattern on B&G and I would be free to move and shoot horisontally and vertically.
    I know from your excellent videos that you hold camera in one hand and the flash with a stofen in the other hand but I have the 1ds mkIII and I think it’s too heavy to use your approach.
    My problem is that I haven’t got the time to try it out in advance and I mustn’t screw up.
    What do you think?
    Thanks in advance…

  36. Ziggy

    Having followed your recent posts regarding PWs, just visited the Pocket Wizard website. Really good videos demonstrating their use. However, surprised to see you were not represented as a photographer considering the ‘tame’ imagery they were producing compared to yours.

    Talk about unleashing potential. Have to start saving very hard.