Jim Divitale
Jim Divitale

Jim DiVitale has been an Atlanta commercial advertising photographer and photography instructor for over 25 years.

How to creatively use E-TTL flash in your photos

October 28, 2014

As a commercial photographer for over 30+ years, my thought process has leaned towards using large strobe light systems in my studio and location photography and to keep the Speedlites for on-camera projects and mostly people subjects. Working with the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT along with the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT over the last year has really opened up my mind into a different way of thinking about exposure control and lighting.

Coming from being trained as a film photographer, lighting is something that I have tried to keep as constant like shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Digital was no different – you still need to get it correct in the camera. When working with strobe lighting, if I was happy with the composition, shutter and F-stop settings and I needed to change the overall exposure of an image, it was time to manually adjust the lighting. If the light were exactly in the right position already, I manually raise or lower the power output until I get exactly what I’m looking for. Now at this point, if lighting or camera settings change, everything would need to be reconfigured. For example, if you wanted to change the F-Stop setting from f/22 to f/2.8 for a selective focus effect, you would now have to manually dial down the lighting with some trial exposures to see if you got the exposure correct for the new settings. If you moved the lights in closer for a different lighting effect, it’s time to reconfigure the exposure again. The lighting and exposure changes can go on and on.

Now enter the E-TTL way of dealing with light – Evaluative Through The Lens metering. Basically, once you've got the lighting look you want, the Speedlite will recalculate the exposure as you change any of the other variables. When the shutter button is fully pressed, the camera's Evaluative metering sensor reads a single E-TTL pre-flash that's fired, separately reads the ambient light, and calculates the necessary flash power for good exposure. It’s pretty smart about all of this, except it doesn’t know what your subject matter is. The normal setting might be right on the money, or it might be needing a flash exposure compensation setting adjustment of a stop or two on either side. The adjustments are in 1/3 F-stop measurements and usually need only a third or two-thirds adjustment, plus or minus depending on the situation. Extreme creative lighting situations can have larger compensations.

But here’s the cool part: once you have that set, you have now taught the camera what the normal exposure is for this situation and as you make any changes, the Speedlites 600EX-RT will recalculate on the fly. Shoot at f/16 and it’s a normal exposure, but if you open the aperture to 2.8, it’s the same exposure again. Move the light to a new position or change the modifier, and it’s the same exposure again. It really works very well. And because the radio controlled compatibility is built right in, there are no line of sight issues at all.

In the example below, I was setting up a sequence of images to show the difference between hard light and soft light when it really hit me what was happening here.

Photo by Jim Divitale


In the image above, I had the Speedlite off camera and to the left and made a +2/3rds flash exposure compensation to the transmitter to teach the camera what the normal exposure was. Exposure was not right on the money. When I placed a diffusion screen between the Speedlite and subject in the photo below and fired off anther shot, I was somewhat surprised about how the Speedlite perfectly recalculated the 2 to 3 F-stop loss of light from the diffusion screen on the set and rendered the exact same exposure.

Photo by Jim Divitale


I then switched to the glass blocks for a more dramatic lighting look, and when I fired off a shot, same exposure again. I opened up the aperture from F-22 to F-2.8 and fired, and got the same exposure again. The E-TTL really worked amazingly well.

Photo by Jim Divitale


I am finding that using a set of the smaller Speedlites have a real advantage when set conditions are changing quickly. Being so lightweight and easy to set up, I find I can get in and out of a location shoot fast and have some of the most consistent exposures that I ever had. I look forward to seeing some of you in the remaining cities of this year's Canon In Action Tour real soon to learn more about these techniques.


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