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Why use Camera Manual with Flash Indoors?

Russ MacDonald (Arkayem)

Keywords: nikon, speedlights, lighting, flash

I am often asked why you should use your camera in Manual Mode when shooting flash in low ambient conditions, and why is that better than shooting in Aperture priority. This study will explain the reasons, plus I will show the effects of Rear Sync versus Front Sync when there is any subject motion involved in flash pictures.

But first it is important to fully understand that when you use your camera in Manual mode and your flash in i-TTL, the flash handles the exposure of the subject, as long as the ambient is dim, and the subject is in the center of the frame. So the image is still exposed automatically even though the camera is in Manual mode.

Here are my conditions that do not change during this study:
- Dim ambient light
- ISO 400
- f/2.8

Image 1 below: Test Image, Flash off, 1/60th, Manual Mode.
The purpose of this image is to indicate how much ambient light there is. You can see that at 1/60th, it is about two stops underexposed. When using the camera in Manual mode and the flash in i-TTL mode, you want the camera controls to always underexpose the ambient by about two to three stops. Also, I moved my hand, so you can see what motion blur looks like without the flash.




Image 2: Flash ON, Aperture Priority.
I was moving my hand toward my face. Look closely at my fingertips. That orange blur on each finger is called ghosting or ghosting trails. The flash froze my moving hand and then the ambient caused the ghosting. Also, noticed the direction of the ghosting trails. The ghosting trails appear to preced the motion of my hand. This is what we call ghosting trails on the 'wrong' side of the motion. The position of the ghosting trails was caused by using Front sync.


Image 3: Flash ON, Camera Manual Mode, 1/120th shutter.
I was moving my hand toward my face. Notice that there are no ghost trails. This is because the shutter speed was increased high enough to eliminate the ambient from the image.



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Robin Hancock (robBiker54) on May 19, 2020

Brilliant and clearly written explanation of the use of flash in TTL mode and manual mode on the camera. I have several books on flash photography and none of them explain how to use and set up flash in the way this article does in so few words! I think I should consign the books to the bonfire?!

JOSE SILVA (Jcasilva) on August 2, 2018

Very good tip; I wonder about rear sync even in manual mode in ambient dim light if is it necessary to avoid ghosts?

Steve White (boogie34950) on January 1, 2017

Thanks again.

Bob Arkow (Bob Arkow) on January 16, 2016

Interesting article, Thanks. Bob

Preston Moochnek RPh. (massulo) on June 12, 2015

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning a Nikonians Annual Photo Contest Ribbon awarded for his win in the 2018 Best of Nikonians Images Annual Photo Contest

Excellent article

Henry M. Ford (Team) on January 20, 2015

I'm really enjoying my membership.Big Thanks

Mark Cremona (MarkCremona) on November 7, 2014

great little refresher for us Pro's too. Thank you.

Doug Murphy (Douglas1) on October 2, 2013

Thank you , thank you. No more Aperature priority and 1/60 sec speeds

Robert de Jonge (RobertS46) on September 30, 2013

At last someone who can it explain in simple term and very clear.Tonight I will do some experiments. Thanks !!!!

Tim Marchant (timpsm) on September 28, 2013

Yow, look at that . . . when I select rear sync and release the button the display shows slow sync also selected . . . I never noticed that and I never knew what slow sync was used for . . . okay, back to the manual for another read . . . thank you Russ

Jim Troxell (FFN) on September 26, 2013

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This kind of article is why I subscribe to Nikonians. Thank you.

User on September 26, 2013

The pictures make this clear. The bit about slow sync in aperture priority might explain some missed shots. Thanks once again, Russ!

George McLelland (georgemc) on September 25, 2013

Thank you very much. I have had trouble with this. Now I know (I hope). I'll experiment.

DONALD J MCKAY (djmckaytx) on September 25, 2013

Thanks for this...

David Ziff (davidziff2) on September 25, 2013

I'm a professional photo-journalist shooting events and I always shoot auto flash with manual settings. Not sure why you're discussing rear or front sync at all. The usual mode is manual flash with auto flash. I'm not challenging your position here. I just don't understand it

Verne Wonderlich (Cowboy Charley) on September 25, 2013

Excellent, very informative giving and showing the why and why not theory .

Conny Eriksson (Mindmeld) on September 25, 2013

Nice info, thank you :)

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on September 24, 2013

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Thanks Russ, well done and informative.....again!

Y V Tyagi (yvtyagi) on September 23, 2013

Some camera models offer an option of choosing slowest shutter speed when using TTL flash (like D800E). Would there still be any difference if A or P mode is used in flash photography in low ambient light?