How to Use High Speed Sync on Speedlites


We have come a long way technologically in the photography world. Not that long ago, photographers were limited to slower shutter speeds or requiring filters in order to create the shots they wanted using speedlites and flashes. Fortunately, High Speed Sync is just one of the many features of modern speedlites that allows for more versatility in an affordable, portable lighting kit. You don’t need to spend a lot of money purchasing high powered, HSS cabable strobes anymore because with the Canon 600EX-RT and Nikon SB910, you can set the High Speed Sync to match any shutter speed on your camera.

Hockey Player Spraying Snow

ISO 800, 1/1000, f/4

High Speed Sync (HSS) – What is it Good For?

When thinking HSS, most people think outdoor sports and freezing action, which is true, but there are a few more applications for HSS that allow for more creativity and versatility for photographers looking to control their light. Here’s a list of scenarios where HSS really shines:

  • When photographing an outdoor portrait, especially when the subject is back lit by the sun, and you want to use a large aperture like f/1.4 or f/2.8 to blur the background and make the subject pop. In order to use fill flash and have the image not be overexposed, you’ll have to use a faster shutter speed like 1/800 or 1/1000.
  • When you want to set a mood and make the background darker than the subject.
  • When photographing an interior on a sunny day and you want to capture the view and the blue sky as well balance the light outside with the light from the speedlite. Your camera’s sync speed of 1/250 or 1/320 might not be fast enough to darken the blue sky outside so you’ll need a faster shutter speed.
Outdoor Portrait of a Man in a Park Using HSS

ISO 100, 1/800, f/2.8

Water Spraying up From Arms of Swimmer

ISO 200, 1/1250, f/2.8

How to Set High Speed Sync on Your Speedlite

On the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, turning HSS on is as easy as pressing ‘function button 4’ or SYNC until the HSS symbol appears. Here’s what it looks like on the speedlite’s screen:

Canon 600EX-RT Speedlight Screen

Important Points to Remember

It’s important to remember that when using HSS, the faster the shutter speed, the shorter the flash range and the lower the intensity. This is because when your speedlite is set to HSS, instead of firing in one burst, the speedlite fires a series of low-powered pulses, like a strobe. So, because the flash is dividing up it’s light over multiple bursts, as the shutter speed increases, the output decreases. With this lower output, you may need to move closer to your subject in order to light them properly.

Also keep in mind that when turned on this technique requires a lot of juice and will kill your batteries quicker. So make sure HSS is off when you don’t need it. Also, always bring extra batteries when shooting on location using High Speed Sync. There’s nothing that can halt a shoot faster than running out of batteries!

Black and White Image of a Speed Skater

ISO 5000, 1/1000, f/2.8

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About Julie Whelan

Julie Whelan, professional photographer of over fifteen years, has had the opportunity to shoot all over the globe--from capturing portraits in Vanuatu to shooting off rooftops in Maui to photographing products in Calgary. She now finds herself in Ontario photographing outdoor adventures and the active lifestyles of athletic individuals and athletes in competition & training. Julie has also worked with professional athletes such as Don Cherry, Darryl Sittler, and Roberto Alomar. When not behind the lens, Julie likes to unwind with a good book or spending time in the garden.

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