|shot @ 55mm, ISO 800, 1/250 sec, f/4.8, on camera flash 1/32 pwr|
I always keep my camera set at a high "Sync speed" which allows me to adjust my shutter speed anywhere I want up to that speed--in this case 1/250th of a second--while using flash. You really don't have to worry about what this means right now. Just know while shooting in manual, you cannot have your shutter speed above your camera's top sync speed, that's it. If you do, weird things will happen to your image. Find out what you can set yours at (by looking in your camera's owner's manual) and set it at the highest setting and forget it.
Now, I agree that when just getting started with shooting in manual mode, things can seem complicated enough without adding anther variable in the mix (in this case, lighting). But I encourage you not to get bogged down with this stuff. Most of it is trial and error. With digital photography nowadays, it doesn't cost you a penny to take as many pictures as you want, view them on your playback screen, then adjust your settings as necessary. Having said that, here's what I did to take the above picture of Penelope.
Before waking the poor pussy cat from her slumber, I took a picture of the pillow next to her to kind of ballpark my settings. In this case (in almost total darkness) I pretty much knew already what I wanted my ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to be at. ISO sensitivity high (at 800) because I wanted to take some burden off of my flash. Same thing with my f-stop. I chose f/4.8, which allowed a lot of the flash's light to enter the lens when it fired. Then I wanted a fast shutter speed. Why? Because I was going to be waking Penelope up. As soon as I pulled her nice warm pillows back she might be a little upset and bolt (especially when I put a flash in her eyes), so I may have only one chance to get the shot I want. So I had to be prepared to "stop" a very fast moving cat in my photograph. I set my shutter to 1/250th of a second, which is plenty fast.
So now for the flash. More than likely your camera's flash is set at "TTL" by default, which means "Thru The Lens" (in other words, automatic). What this means is that while your flash is in this mode your camera will automatically sense how much light to "make it" produce. How? By sending lightening-fast little pulses of light out and reading them just before you click the shutter button all the way down. Pretty neat, I must admit. But we will be turning this feature off because I want you to learn how to use your brain to process this stuff. Shucks! But this is how you will eventually go from a person who just takes snapshots to an actual photographer.
Go into your camera's flash menu and set your flash to Manual. Now you can set the flash's power setting to anything you want. What you will find is that it can be set to fire at full power (1/1), half power (1/2), one-quarter power (1/4), and so on all the way down to 1/128th power (depending on the camera). That's a lot of control. Once you figure out how to set it, just play with it for a bit. Pop a few shots of a piece of fruit on you kitchen counter and see how your images turn out, adjust as necessary til you get the correct exposure.
For my picture above, I chose a modest 1/32 power setting for my flash. That means my on-camera flash is producing just over 3% of it's full potential. How can such a low flash setting get results like this? Because of 2 things. One, it didn't take much to light the scene with the high ISO and large aperture I was working with. And two, I was only 2 and a half feet away from Penelope. Distance from your subject is critical to how you set the power of your flash.
The photo above turned out rather well I thought...all done with manual controls and manual lighting. Try this yourself. Start simple, like with the piece of fruit mentioned earlier (produce can't run away from you!). Just have fun and don't judge yourself too harshly.
I am going to let this sink in a bit before going into something I love to do with light photograhy...the fun is about to begin, so stay tuned.
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