High-speed sync flash photography

Background information

DSLRs and many, if not most mirrorless cameras require a mechanical shutter in order to properly expose larger digital image sensors. The default flash sync speed of my Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR is 1/200s: external flash units work with the camera at shutter speeds of 1/200s or slower; a black bar will appear on images at shutter speeds greater than 1/200s.

That’s a problem, especially if you prefer to shoot at faster shutter speeds. What’s the solution? High-speed sync. Rather than a single burst of light, high-speed sync uses imperceptible rapid pulses of light that enables your camera to work properly at shutter speeds greater than its default sync speed. Sounds great, right? Not so fast. As it turns out, the power output of external flash units is reduced by using high-speed sync.

Among other reasons that I bought the new Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite recently is because it supports high-speed sync (HSS), unlike the older model it replaced. I experimented with HSS so I could use a faster shutter speed in order to diminish/eliminate camera shake/vibration, a big problem in high-magnification macro phototography. Problem is, the Guide Number of the macro flash isn’t powerful enough to shoot HSS indoors. (Outdoors should be fine.) Again I ask, what’s the solution? More power! (Grunt, grunt.)

I  used wireless multiple flash photography by setting the macro flash in “Master” mode and two Canon Speedlites (580EX and 580EX II) in “Slave” mode: one of the macro twin lites is Group A, the other macro twin lite is Group B, and the other two flashes are Group C. All flashes fire at the same settings automatically, as configured currently. If the master flash is set for HSS, then the slave flashes also fire using HSS. The system works in either ETTL- or Manual modes. (I prefer Manual mode for macro photography.)

Test shots

Photo No. 1 is a test shot of the lens cap for a Canon EF 100mm Macro lens using high-speed sync flash photography. Notice the shutter speed is faster than the default sync speed of 1/200s.

No. 1 | 100mm | ISO 100 | f/18 | 1/320s | 0 ev

Photo No. 2 shows a Brook Snaketail dragonfly (Ophiogomphus aspersus) nymph that was collected by Bob Perkins on either 10 SEP 2017 or 03 OCT 2017 (the date is uncertain) along the New River in southwestern Virginia. The nymph was reared in captivity until it emerged on 31 OCT 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female. The following specimen is the exuvia from the nymph.

No. 2 | 100mm | ISO 100 | f/22 | 1/500s | 0 ev

Notice the f/stop is smaller and the shutter speed is faster than the first test shot. As you might guess, that means I increased the power output of the master- and slave flashes until the image was exposed properly.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 1 and 2: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode; and Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites in “Slave” mode.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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