Learn the speedlight TTL basics with the best entry-level flash
Jan 18, 2024
Jay P. Morgan
Learn the speedlight TTL basics with the best entry-level flash
Hi, this is Jay P. Morgan. Today on The Slanted Lens we’re going to take a look at speedlights. How to set up TTL with a speedlight using what I think is the best entry-level speedlight on the market. It’s the Westcott FJ80se. Great price, great features. Let’s see how we set up TTL with that speedlight, which is what most people use their speedlight for, is TTL. That TTL application, if you don’t understand how to do it, it can be very difficult to do. And it doesn’t look very good. So, let’s see how we set it up. Let’s get some great images.
I’ve got Jamie here with me today. So let’s see how we set up that TTL.
So why do you use a speedlight? A speedlight is really an essential item for most photographers because it allows you to have a run and gun, a fast way to give yourself light in very, very quick-moving situations.
Event photography, wedding photography. It’s compact, it’s small, you can carry it in your bag. It’s just easy to have on you. It doesn’t require a stand usually. Although you can use it on a stand. So a speed light just becomes a very quick piece of equipment you can use to give yourself good light.
If you understand how to do TTL you’ll get excellent light with it. So let’s see how we set it up. Because there are really four main points you need to understand to set up TTL on your camera and your strobe. And once you master these four, it’ll give you beautiful images every time. If you don’t master these four it can to be very difficult to get a nice image.
I remember the first time I shot with a flash. I was shooting at a big event. I was shooting way too, my aperture was like f/11. It was a big auditorium. All I was seeing was a little flash on the people and they were in a black room. I just as well have been shooting them on a black seamless. And I just was so frustrated. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. When I finally figured out how to solve that problem the room became contextual. I saw the event where they were at. I had a nice light to open up their faces.
The reason I choose the Westcott FJ80se is first off, price. It’s a very reasonably priced piece of equipment. It’s down into a category where you can get a professional level strobe for a reasonable price. Also, it really, it functions with all my other Westcott equipment. So it’s going to use the same trigger as my FJ400s, my FJ200s. It allows me to integrate that entire system. It works on the same channels as all those others. You can put it as one of the channels if you want to use it as a backlight if you’re doing a three-light setup.
So it gives me the ability to use this as a part of my Westcott ecosystem. Which I have 200s, I have 400s. This becomes a great light. So I think just the price point and the features allowing you to do TTL. You can have it as a host. You can have it as a client. It allows you to use it in many different ways. But the reason we do TTL, the reason we have speedlights is just because it’s a fast piece of equipment. Event photographers couldn’t live without it. Wedding photographers couldn’t live without it. If you’re just doing images for family, for any kind of quick events it’s just a really great piece of equipment to give yourself beautiful light with the people in the image.
Another feature I love about the Westcott FJ80 series is that you can, they’re compatible with any camera. It’ll work with Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, most all your, Olympus, all of your major brands and in manual mode for Sony.
So the speedlight, you can shoot it in manual. You can shoot it in TTL. You can use it as part of a host or a client system. But today we’re going to talk about TTL. That’s probably the most important one because TTL allows you to really, through the lens, it’s going to give you a correct exposure. And because this platform is so good when you’re at events or any kind of wedding that you’re shooting fast, TTL becomes the preferred mode that allows us to work. So you can use it as a manual flash and we’re going to talk about that when we go outside and shoot some stuff with a softbox out on location. But if you’re going to use it as an event or a wedding kinds of applications it’s going to be TTL. So TTL is really important to understand. So let’s get into it.
Set camera to Manual
So first we’re going to set our camera on manual and then we’re going to get an exposure for the room. The reason we set our camera on manual and not on one of the automated modes is because TTL is an automated process. We only want to have one automated process going on at once. So TTL is it, not the camera. So Jamie’s ready to shoot. Let’s do it.
Set the correct ISO for the room
So I’m going to get an exposure for the room. I’m probably going to use a fairly high ISO because in this situation here 800 ISO is going to give me the ability to keep my shutter around 1/60th of a second. And I want like an f/4, a shallow depth of field. If you’re doing events and those kinds of things you don’t want an f/11 or f/16 even though your TTL will give you an exposure at that. But we’ll show you why.
Set exposure that shows the room
We want to start with an exposure that shows the room. So I’m going to do a shot here, flash off. I’m going to just do an exposure for my room. And let’s take a look here. That just is going to show me the lights in the background.
I’m at 1/100 at f/3.5 and there’s my room. I see depth in the background. I see warmth. I see the lights. I have some exposure back there from the ambient lights. That gives me a really pretty look in the background. So now if I go from there, but look at her face. Her face is dark. It has no light on it. It’s a problem. But what most people do with this, if I go to like f/11, so I’m at f/3.5.
If I go to f/11 and I just decide to take a picture in this room, look at what the background does back there. So now the background is just, it’s just dark. There’s nothing back. There’s no room. There’s no context. I mean, it’s just there’s nothing back there.
So if I go from f/11 to f/8, then I go to f/5.6 and I go to f/4 you see that background start to get brighter. I’m at 1/100th of a second. I think I could even go to 1/80th of a second.
I’m going to do that, 1/80th of a second and f/3.5. Take another picture here. And now take a look at what I’ve got. And I’ve got beautiful context there. I see the whole room. But as I shoot those higher f-stops it’s just, it’s not a correct exposure for the room. It’s underexposed. It’s underexposed by four stops or five stops. So give yourself a correct exposure for the room and don’t worry about the face.
Turn on TTL and add flash
Now we’re going to use the strobe to light our face. So I’m going to turn on the FJ80se and I’m going to change it to TTL mode. And now when I take a picture here I now have TTL. The TTL is going to give me exposure for her face because that’s the closest thing to me. And it’s going to give me a proper exposure, simple as that.
I have a great exposure. If I don’t like that exposure I could take this down a stop. I go to minus one and take another shot and see what that does. And that looks really nice. I have context in the background. I see the lights. I see the room. It does start to open the room up more than what I had before because the flash is giving me some light back there. But now I have a nice light on Jamie’s face. I’ve got the nice room in the background that I can see.
Now if I go from there with the TTL, let’s say I go back up to f/11 and I take a shot here. I’ll see a little bit of the background. So it will give me a correct exposure at f/11. But look at the background. There’s no detail in that background. It’s just a couple of the party lights. She just looks like she’s strobed completely.
But as I go from f/11 back to now, let’s say, let’s go back to f/8 and take a shot.
You’ll see that background slowly start to come in with the strobe. F/5.6 and then up to f/4.
Now we’ve integrated the two. We see the room. We see her face. This is super important if you’re in a large room, an event for a wedding or a gymnasium. Because the room is so large the strobe is not going to light the stuff that’s way back there. You’ve got to use the ambient light in the area to light the room. And then the strobe simply to give you some nice light on the face. So before we take our next step with a speedlight in how to modify it or to make it look more beautiful on the face, let’s just reiterate the four steps on setting this up for TTL.
Number 1 – set your camera on manual. Number 2 – choose the ISO that is right for the situation you’re in. Low ISO like 100 for outside. Higher ISO could be as high as 2,000 or even higher, 3200 if you’re inside in a very dark room.
Then you take, Number 3 – you choose the correct camera setting to give you a proper exposure for the situation you’re in. Favor a slower shutter like 1/80th, 1/60th, maybe even a 1/50th. Because you have pretty good stabilization in cameras today you can let that shutter be just a little slower. And a faster aperture like f/2.8 or f/4 because when you get f/2.8 or f/4 with like 1/60th of a second or 1/50th of a second at a higher ISO, it now takes the ambient of the area you’re in and it’s going to give you a correct ambient room exposure.
Now 4 – we turn on the TTL, add our flash and it’s going to light the person’s face in front of us.
But that’s direct, it’s really direct. It’s too direct. Let’s talk about how to soften that and make that look beautiful. So let’s take some more images and start modifying the light in TTL mode. So I’ve done just a little bit of a reset. When I took my reading for the room there’s a little bit of sunlight that’s coming into the room now, so I’ve gone now to 1/60th of a second at f/4.
And that gives me a really nice exposure for the room. Then when I add my strobe I get a nice combination of those two. So let’s take a look at without the strobe in the room. Now is this reset.
And now I’ll turn my strobe on. And those look great together. There you go, there’s the room, there’s the strobe. So this strobe was way too harsh.
The first thing I do, because I’m in a room with a low ceiling, is I would take the strobe and I would point it straight up, not quite straight up. I want just the back edge of that strobe to just throw a little bit of light on her face. So I’m going to throw that up to the ceiling. The TTL is going to give me a correct exposure on her face. Because even though it’s bouncing off from the roof, it’s coming through the lens. And it’s saying, okay, we got to give more light until we get a correct exposure.
So there’s my first modification with this light. It’s very, very, very directional above her. You see the deep spots under her eyes. So I’m going to take this and I’m going to go like this.
I’m going to bounce it back and bounce it off the ceiling behind me.
And that’s going to open her eyes up quite a bit. Much better. I think I could even put this down a little lower. I’m going to come down a little lower so it’s bouncing out of the wall behind me. And it’s going to just open up her eyes a lot more. So that’s a very beautiful light. It’s a soft light in from the front. It gives us nice drawing under her chin and opens up her eyes. And it’s a directional light.
I can now change and do something a little different from that. I would try sometimes, and that would be to go to the side. I’m going to bounce it off from the side and see what happens when I put it over to the side over here. That’s going to give me a nice open light on her face. But the lights now from the side. Not so much from the front. It gives us very, you get a little stronger from the side and give them more of a side light. Now we start to see we have a highlight side on the side of her face and a shadow side. So it gives us a nice wrap and drawing on her face.
So where you direct this is going to make a huge difference. That’s why these things swivel so it gives you the ability to change direction with this. And everywhere you point it and every place in a different room is going to be different. If you’ve got a tall ceiling that’s like 30 ft tall it’s not going to work. It’s going to need to be in a situation where you have a ceiling that’s low enough that this will bounce and work. It works in here because the ceiling is pretty low.
Use a modifier if the ceilings are too tall
So what do you do if the ceiling’s high and you can’t bounce off of the walls. Well you can go to a modifier and there’s all kinds of modifiers out there. I started using the Kobra back when Kobra came out and I love the Kobra modifier. The reason why I love the Kobra, and I’m not so sure you can even find them anymore, but I do love them is because they have this black back on them.
Which means you’re bouncing light forward. This just simply goes over top of your strobe like this. And when you use your strobe out front this is now going to, the light’s going to bounce in here. This becomes a nice glow from the front.
It’s going to open up the face. So let’s do some shots using that Kobra and let’s try to play with it bouncing it behind and forward and just see how it changes the face. All right so that’s a really pretty light.
I’ve got my strobe. I’ve had the TTL under a stop. I’m going to go back to full stop now. And that just gives me a beautiful light from the front. It gives me drawing because you see the shadow drop. I see that soft light there. It’s much softer than it was before. And it just gives me a beautiful light. So using some kind of modifier like this is super important because it doesn’t matter how large the room is that I’m in. This is going to work and it’s going to give me a beautiful light. So I’m going to try it like this, aiming backwards and see what happens with that modifier. That’s even softer because now it’s, I’m doing two things: I’m bouncing and I’m softening this. So those two work great.
I’m going to go to the side and try it from the side now. You can certainly bounce it to the side. It gives us a little more of a highlight on the side of her face.
A little more of a shadow on the left side of her face. I think the best with this modifier is shooting just straight in and it just gives you a beautiful light on the face. Unless you can do the next thing and that is if we take the strobe off from the camera and don’t have an on camera flash any longer. Use a trigger and now I can position this strobe where I want it to be.
So let’s apply this principle to a large room. This is a basketball court. It’s got tall ceilings. Obviously, I’m not going to bounce any light out of the ceiling. I’m going to have to use my strobe or my modifier to light Jamie.
So the first thing I’m going to do is just, I’m going to get an ambient for the room. I’m going to keep my strobe off. I’m going to take a quick shot of the room. And I’m going to look at my meter.
And at 1/60th at f/4 I get a pretty good exposure of the room with 1250 ISO. I’ll now turn on my strobe, TTL and I take a shot with TTL. And I’ve got the TTL set up minus one stop.
And it gives me a nice light on her face. I mean obviously she’s just right in the middle of the room and it’s just, it’s a little bright on her face. But it gives me nice light on her face compared to just the room. But watch what happens to the room if I keep going to a larger aperture. So I’m going to go from f/4 to f/5.6 and take a shot.
It starts to get darker. F/8 the light stays the same on her face. So in each one of those the light stays the same on her face but the room gets darker and darker and darker.
So there’s the principle. Get a correct exposure for the room. Then add your strobe. In this situation I would need a modifier because I want to make the light a little softer. So I’m going to put this on.
All right, and I’m going to take my strobe back up to full power. And I get a shot here of Jamie. That’s just a nice softer light on her face bouncing the light out of this Kobra. It has a black back that bounces the light in and gives me beautiful light on her face. But we still have the contextual of the room. Now you may say, “Oh I think the room’s too bright.” But then you just dial it down a stop. Go to f/4 to f/5.6. And that’ll make the room a little darker. So there’s the principle in a large room. You’re going to use the strobe. The strobe is not going to light the room anymore like it did in the small room back at our house. The strobe doesn’t have enough power to light this room. It’s just going to light what’s right in front of us.
So let’s wrap this up. Speed lights are an essential part of every photographer’s kit. I’ve always had one. I’ve always used them. They’re especially useful in any kind of event situations like weddings or events. You know, if you’re at a gym, any of those kinds of places, a family get together, they just are a really great device. You can control light in a run and gun kind of situation. But you’ve got to modify them and understand how to set them up. So setting them up is just very simple. Stay on manual. Get a correct room exposure. And then use your TTL. It’s going to give you great light. And if you want really nice light, especially in large rooms, you’ve got to modify it somehow. Bounce it, use a modifier that gives you beautiful light. So there’s how to set up your speedlight on TTL mode. So keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’!
About Jay P. Morgan
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