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Flash Modes Explained

Using flash is one of the technical aspects of photography that’s difficult to understand, mainly because it’s something you cannot really see with your own eyes. Working with natural light, you can usually envision how your shot will turn out, and then when you become a bit more skilled, you can even envision how the effects of aperture and shutter speed will affect your images. Working with flash further complicates our visual relationship to what we’re photographing, since it’s an additional level of abstraction we’re adding to the mix.

I won’t argue that working with flash is difficult to master, even after you’ve become a veteran “strobist,” but it is one of those things that becomes easier to use the more you use it. One step toward learning to work with flash, whether it’s your on-camera flash or an external flash, is understanding that there are dedicated modes to help you refine how a subject is depicted when using flash. Much like how there are well-known exposure modes, flash modes exist, too. And mirroring the exposure modes we’re familiar with, these flash modes can be selected depending on the amount of manual control we want, versus automated settings selection, and they can also be chosen to prioritize certain aspects of exposure. For example, you’d choose to work with the shutter-priority mode if you’re trying to freeze fast-moving subjects since you can deliberately choose, or prioritize, a faster shutter speed. Let’s take a look at some of the common flash modes you’ll encounter.

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