Epic level photos – portraits and ND filters for HSS and ES

However, what about bokeh and bright light? Bright lenses are just as much about bokeh as they are about shooting in low light. Not every photo session will take place during the golden hour, when everything is picture-perfect. Even yet, there are occasions when golden hour is still too bright to use a flash while shooting at f1.2. However, a photographer may combine intense ambient light with a wide-open aperture using a variety of methods at their disposal. There are three basic options for blending bokeh with ambient light: ND filters for portraiture, high-speed sync flash, or an electronic shutter.

All three of these technologies enable wide-open prime lens photos with plenty of background blur. A second issue is utilizing a wide aperture lens with a flash in strong light; ND filters and HSS address this. A camera’s built-in flash sync speed, which is often 1/200, 1/250, or 1/320, cannot normally be exceeded by a flash. A high-speed sync flash enables the camera to operate as if the flash sync speed restriction does not exist, whereas an ND filter permits a slower shutter speed with a wider aperture.

However, each has drawbacks as well. The precision of the focusing may be affected, for example, when using ND filters for portraiture. Meanwhile, HSS may rapidly deplete the flash battery. Which is the wisest move?

To test the three approaches side by side, I enlisted the sole family member willing to model in return for Milk Bones.

Summary of Contents

Pros and Cons of ND Filters for Portraits
Cons of High-Speed Sync Flash
Pros and Cons of Electronic Shutters
therefore, which is best?


use a larger aperture or a slower shutter speed
maintains the balance between the ambient light and the flash.
Premium NDs may have beautiful color.
Use either with or without flash CONS
decreases the precision of autofocus
This completely dims the light, thus it has no effect on regulating ambient light or flashes.
Cheap NDs may cause picture fading
Using a neutral density filter, all light entering the lens is completely blocked. In the middle of the day, wide-open aperture portraits are possible because to NDs’ ability to suppress harsh sunlight. It is fast and simple to photograph with wide apertures during the day by twisting a filter over the front of the lens.

The amount of light that NDs filters can block out enables photographers to utilize a flash without going faster than the flash sync speed. ND filters are a common option among flash photographers even though they may be used without light. These filters reduce the brightness of the day so that a flash, a 1/250 shutter speed, and a large aperture may be used.
ND filters are often simple to use since they evenly block out all light. You may just reduce the aperture by the same number of stops that the ND filter eliminates if you balance the flash output with the shutter speed without the ND filter in place. Working in this manner eliminates the need to recalculate the flash output.

However, ND filters may cause a few issues since they completely block out all light entering the lens. To begin with, the autofocus on the camera may not perform as effectively. In bright light, autofocus systems operate most quickly. Reduce the amount of light entering the lens, and the autofocus will behave like it would in low light, sluggishly focusing and sometimes failing to lock on. The camera may have greater trouble autofocusing the darker the ND filter is. While focusing and applying a filter are simple steps for landscape photographers, they don’t work as well for moving subjects as they do for portraiture.

This isn’t a solution to merely decreasing ambient light since the flash strength will also be decreased because the ND completely blocks out all light. An ND won’t miraculously transform a flash that isn’t strong enough to overwhelm the sun into one that can. The ambient light is still too intense in the image above compared to the one with HSS, resulting in hot spots on the grass behind the dog.
Last but not least, despite the fact that the “neutral” in ND is designed to imply that the filters have no additional impact, this is often untrue. Colors are often impacted. While some less expensive NDs may drastically alter a photograph’s hues, more expensive ones can actually provide some more aesthetically pleasing tones.

Use a wide-aperture flash when the light is bright.
Establish catchlights
Don’t let the sky blow out CONS
consumes flash battery and could overheat
lowers the flash power
makes the flash duration “longer”
needs a more expensive flash
HSS produces many light pulses as opposed to a single one. This enables the camera to shoot at shutter speeds that are substantially faster than the flash sync speed. You are not constrained to shutter speeds at or below 1/200 (or 1/250, or 1/320, depending on the camera), while using a flash with HSS.

The shutter speed affects how much ambient light is allowed in when using a flash. You have greater control over the background ambient light by raising the allowable shutter speeds. When balancing the ambient light with the flash, HSS provides additional alternatives. To synchronize the flash with the ambient light, the shutter speed may be set rather slow (about 1/500). Alternately, to reduce ambient light, the shutter speed may be raised (for example, to 1/2000).
HSS has the ability to “overpower” the sun. The backdrop, which is illuminated by ambient light, will get darker as the shutter speed rises. The backdrop might be entirely black when HSS and a quick shutter speed are used to take the photo. The shutter speed and flash intensity may be raised using a strong flash or studio strobe in order to completely blacken a highly lit backdrop.

The main distinction between NDs and HSS is that. NDs eliminate all light while maintaining the same balance. HSS offers a greater selection of choices for balancing the light. With HSS, photographers may use a wider range of shutter speeds to make the surrounding light darker. Because I was able to raise my shutter speed to adequately expose the ambient light, the picture above, which was taken with HSS, doesn’t have the hot spots on the grass that the one taken with an ND filter had.

But it doesn’t imply using NDs makes it impossible to achieve a balanced lighting situation; boosting the flash’s output and wider the aperture will likewise make the flash look brighter than the backdrop. Flash output and aperture are two factors that photographers who use NDs may use to adjust the light balance. With HSS, photographers have three options for balancing the light, as opposed to just two: flash power, aperture, and shutter speed.

Don’t get carried away just yet; although HSS gives you additional options for adjusting the lighting in a scene, it also has significant drawbacks. First off, shooting a number of tiny light pulses will cause the flash battery to discharge considerably more quickly than firing a single large burst of light. The flash may become more prone to overheating while using HSS.

The flash output is also lessened when HSS is used; it is not as strong as a single burst. When switching to HSS, the flash strength must be increased, or the flash must be placed closer to the subject than when the HSS mode is off. HSS requires waiting longer between photos since the recycle time is shortened when the flash strength is increased. Although it is difficult to discern from the photographs, I experienced more instances of the flash not firing when using HSS than when using an ND filter.

Although HSS seems like a tool for sports photography because of the quicker shutter speed, it’s not always required. Action is frozen in flash photography by the length of the light, not the shutter speed. Because the flash, not the shutter speed, will stop motion, a 1/200 shutter speed may stop motion. While HSS may be used to freeze activity when using a high shutter speed, it actually extends the length of the light. Action is not as successfully frozen by longer flash durations as it is by shorter ones. Because HSS lowers flash power and shortens light duration when a lot of flash power is required, utilizing a conventional flash to freeze motion might sometimes be the preferable option.

Another drawback is that inexpensive flashes often don’t provide HSS. Although there are some HSS flash choices for around $300, such as the Flashpoint Zoom Li-Ion III, this functionality is not often seen on the most affordable versions.

Simple and quick to set up
No extras to purchase CONS
sometimes distorted shutter
None of the artistic flash photography possibilities
There are no catchlights unless you front illuminate with natural light.
Usually, the backdrop will be overexposed while the subject is underexposed.
What about shooting in strong light with an aperture that is wide open and without a flash or a filter? The mechanical shutter’s limitations are exceeded by the electronic shutter, allowing for faster shutter speeds. On a bright, sunny day, photographers may shoot at f1 thanks to the electronic shutter.

employing the electronic shutter has the advantage of being simpler and not requiring the purchase of additional equipment over employing an HSS flash or NDs. For some cameras, activating the electronic shutter in the menu is all that is necessary. No flash stand has to be carried along. Many DSLRs and the majority of mirrorless cameras already include an electronic shutter.

However, using an electronic shutter in place of an ND filter or an HSS flash has some distinct drawbacks. First, rolling shutter distortion, which modifies the form of objects, may be introduced by an electronic shutter. When photographing moving objects, such as children, this is most obvious. But even on sitting pictures, I’ve seen the strange effects of the rolling shutter distorting the backdrop. Electronic shutters may sometimes increase the amount of noise in the picture.

Naturally, not utilizing an ND with flash or an HSS flash instead of an electronic shutter also means that none of the advantages of a flash are there. There is no flash to enhance catchlights, eliminate shadows, or give the face depth and perspective. My dog’s image is quite dark, lacking catchlights, and his fur lacks clarity. His features are obscured by the darkness. Although I could move him to face the light, he squints when I do. Without a flash, the sky is usually overexposed white in strong light. Natural light portraits can only be taken in settings with adequate lighting on their own.

Although many photographers may choose NDs, HSS, or an electronic shutter and stay with that equipment exclusively. Others will choose the gear that best matches their shooting vision. The flash power and battery can be preserved best using ND filters, while the ambient light and flash output can be balanced best with HSS. While the electronic shutter gives the fewest creative options, it is still the most straightforward method of taking photographs in high light.

Here is a summary of how each tool functions:
ND filters: Dim all light entering the lens. Best for saving flash battery life and retaining high flash output, but less versatile for individually regulating ambient light and flash.
HSS: Better ambient light management. The worst for the flash battery, recycling times, and equipment budget but best for blocking off the sun.
Electronic Shutter: The simplest option with the least amount of equipment and setup. The poorest for balancing light and creating artistic lighting effects, but the best for beginners

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