Helpful Tutorial Breaks Down The Basics of Understanding Flash Sync Speeds

When you’re first starting to experiment with using strobes, it’s easy to get confused by all the talk of flash durations, flash sync speeds, and the other technical aspects of lighting up a scene. Heck, it wasn’t until two years into my photography career that I understood how it all worked.

But, with this very helpful video put together by photographer Karl Taylor under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to knowing how it all works in just 13 minutes time.

Breaking down the various technical components of how flash photography works, Taylor uses visual metaphors and simple illustrations of how everything is working inside your camera to help you really understand what’s happening.

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At thirteen and a half minutes (30 seconds of which is a sponsor mention for Squarespace) the tutorial is well worth the watch, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned vet looking for a refresh.

There are also a great deal more tutorials available over on his YouTube channel — plus a few in our archives — if you appreciate Taylor’s easily digestible presentation style.

(via Reddit)

  • tttulio

    Electronic Global shutters will make this a thing of the past.

  • BastardSheep

    I bought a 430 EX II for my 60D, looked through the manual, most of it was gibberish to me. I’ve randomly hit buttons so it seems to mostly work and that does me for now. In the meantime I’ve been trying to find something that will explain it to me in plain english, or slowly bring me up to speed on terminology. Hopefully this video does that (at work atm so will have to watch later).

  • Brian Fulda

    This was really informative and explained in such a manner that even novices can understand. Thanks for posting.

  • Flying Tanooki

    very informative video! :)

  • sean lancaster

    So I watched the video, but I am still unclear. If I want to do fill flash on my Sony A7 with 1/250 maximum sync speed and it’s sunny out then I shouldn’t put my shutter speed more than 1/250, right? I only ask because I often need 1/2000 or faster . . . even up to 1/8000 in direct sun if I am shooting wide open with an f/1.4 lens. So I take that to mean that using a fill flash is out with this camera in the sun, correct?

  • Alex Tardif

    A7 doesn’t have leaf shutter, right? I’m pretty sure it does not. So if the max sync speed is rated at 1/250, your only solution to get it to sync above 1/250 is to use HSS.

  • Steve Goossens

    You could use an ND filter to stop the light down instead of changing the aperture. Then you can sync wide open. It’ll just be dark or impossible to see through the viewfinder, and autofocus may not work – just focus manually or without ND filter

  • QimP

    …’the flour of the flash’.. made my day!!

  • sean lancaster

    Yeah, no leaf shutter (the RX1 has a leaf shutter). I don’t even own a flash at this point, but I want to be informed if I ever make a purchase. Both solutions here seem doable. Thanks to you both.

  • Andrew Tobin

    Would be good to describe how some compact cameras like the Sony RX1 or RX100 or Canon G9 can sync effectively at up to 1/2000th of a second – you don’t need a Hasselblad.

  • Babs

    sooooooooo…………if my camera’s synch speed is 1/200 yet I wanted to shoot some semi fast action outside in twilight condition at, let’s say, 1/320 – I wouldn’t be able to take a clear picture even WITH a flash?

  • Zos Xavius

    I don’t think you understand how flash works. When you are at sync speed you are essentially exposing with the flash, so your exposure is only the duration of the flash, which, depending on the flash used, is more than enough to freeze all sorts of action. The 1/200 shutter speed is much, much longer than the time that the flash fires. The reason that sync speed is limited is because its the shortest period of time that the shutter can keep stay open all the way. Try using a flash above sync speed and you will see one of your shutter curtains for sure. If you have enough ambient light, it will also fill in your shot, but anything moving will be frozen by the flash. Set a longer shutter speed (.5-1s is a good starting point) and a trailing curtain sync (where the flash fires at the end of the exposure) and you will get some cool effects for sure. The duration correlates to the power value, so firing a flash at 1/1 will result in a much longer flash duration than say 1/64. The flash constantly outputs at the same power level, but just varies how long it stays lit for. So that’s how power level is controlled. I hope this makes sense. You asked. If you need further clarification, feel free to respond to this.

  • Zos Xavius

    Do note that HSS results in a pulsed flash that results in reduced power levels. In good light an ND filter shouldn’t be that hard to use. A reflector can go a long way at creating some really great fill light too. IMO catch lights in the eyes looks really wrong in daylight.

  • Babs

    thanks for taking the time to reply Zos. Of course I don’t understand how flash works, that’s why I asked ;) To be honest, I am a novice trying to get to grips with things and your answer is way too complicated for me, clearly you know your stuff and I will just keep on practising until it all falls into place one of these days ;) The reason I asked – I shoot with a super basic Nikon D5000 and have just bought a speedlight. Having seen the tutorial I wondered what my camera’s synch speed is and discovered it’s quite low (as is to be expected from an entry level camera I guess). I ended up thinking there was no point at all in buying a speedlight at this stage so wanted some form of clarification but I guess I asked the wrong question?

  • Ridicule12

    Very explanatory video and highly informative. Thank you, Karl.