Flash fires but photo way too dark or bright?

Here are a couple of popular camera-settings related mishaps when using pop-up or studio flashes. The result is always the same: the flash visibly fires but the image is either way too dark or too bright.

Pop-up flash fires but photo way too dark/underexposed?

For this post I’m assuming you already know the limits of a pop-up flash (e.g. you probably can’t properly light a subject 20 feet away with a small flash). Here’s list of camera settings to go through. I’m using a Nikon DSLR body with a built-in pop-up flash, so the settings’ names may be different on your camera.

  • Check camera mode, use “P” to rule out aperture or shutter speed issues
  • Check flash mode, don’t use REAR or SLOW
  • Check exposure compensation value, set it to 0.0
  • Check flash compensation value, set it to 0.0 (or higher if neccessary)
  • Set e1 “Flash sync speed” to 1/250s
  • Set e2 “Flash shutter speed” to 1/30s
  • Make sure you’re not using auto-bracketing
  • Set the exposure metering to center-weighted
  • And this one happened to me recently and I spent quite some time to find it out: Check e3 and set it to TTL. My flash was in commander mode with the built-in flash disabled. It will still fire though (with reduced power) if the mode is set to “- -” because that’s the way it communicates with the slave flashes.

Studio flash fires but photo way too bright/overexposed?

This happened to me the other day: camera was in manual mode, exposure settings were dialed in as indicated by the light meter. The image turned out way (I mean waaaayyyyyyy) too bright and I just didn’t know why. Checked exposure compensation (not that it matters in manual mode), made sure bracketing was off and so on. Heck, I was even thinking about using a neutral density filter to get the needed exposure.┬áIn the end I’ve finally found out the camera was set to auto ISO and it always used ISO 6400 (the maximum it was allowed to use when in this mode) because metering for auto ISO obviously took place before the studio flashes fired.

I recently read a post from a professional photographer and he lets his aides always reset the camera settings to their defaults before using the cameras on the set. Seems like a smart idea.

2 replies on “Flash fires but photo way too dark or bright?”

  1. LOL – That one got me ! I just bought a set of Studio Flash, Triggers, umbrellas, stands etc, was taking a few test pictures on my Nikon D800 – and every one was blown out. Then I saw the Auto Iso flashing. First time using this type of kit so I think I can be forgiven..

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