Sony cameras and Through The Lens flash metering

Here are a few images from weddings I’ve shot over the years. They include images using each of the lighting kits I describe later in the article.

I’ll start this by explaining why I like using TTL flash metering; Events and weddings, especially the reception, involve a lot of people, with the photographer constantly on the move. I also want my added light to complement, rather than dominate, the ambient light, especially if its setting a mood. My preferred lighting setup is an on-camera flash, along with two or three remote flashes on stands. I place the stand mounted lights around the room based on its size, where people are moving about and the mood lighting that may be present. When using a manual flash on the stands I position the lights high and aim them across the top of the room. This means that the light cone outer edge hits those close to the light and the inner (brighter) portion hits those farther away. It also means that a lot of capacitor power is being expended lighting the ceiling and air above the people. At least this feathering approach minimizes the need to compensate for over exposure close to the light by increasing the F number. Reducing exposure to accommodate too powerful flash lighting means under exposing the ambient light and darkening the background.

When using TTL flashes I can aim the lights directly into the middle of the room from its edges confident that the TTL metering will achieve proper exposure, by reducing output from a flash that is close to the subject and increasing the output for a subject that is farther away. It also makes it easier for me to setup a lighting scheme with the on-camera flash as fill, one of the stand mounted flashes as the main, and another one or two as kickers. In Gr mode this is accomplished by adjusting the groups using Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC). One or two test shots when the lights are set up on the stands to confirm how the flash lighting looks complementing the ambient and I’m good for the night. The result is being able to shot without having to constantly check to ensure reasonable exposure.

Using TTL lighting this way means I can set the camera for a minimum shutter speed to protect against too much subject movement, use an appropriate F stop and set the ISO to auto. The camera metering for ambient is then set to about minus 2/3 EV and the TTL lights are set for the lighting ratio I want with the main at 0 FEC. Here’s the result:

Like through the lens ambient reflected light metering, TTL flash metering is going to make adjustments on an exposure by exposure basis. My experience having used this technique for hundreds of weddings and events is that TTL flash metering delivers acceptable results 99% of the time. At least has high a success rate as manually set flash units with exposure adjustments. Probably more.

Now you know why I’m looking forward to the newly announced Sony TTL flash metering products.

My history with flash photography and weddings

  • On camera TTL (Canon 580EX) and AB800s on stands
    • This migrated to Quantum bare bulb lights from the AB800s to eliminate need for mains power.
  • On camera TTL (Canon 580EX II) and Control TL off camera TTL
    • This started with 580EX on TT5s with all the radio interference problems
    • Then evolved to PCB Einsteins and MC2 with AC3 or 580 EX II on camera via TT1
      • This approach included using PCB lithium battery power packs for the E640s.
    • Then evolved to 580EX II on camera via TT1 and Nissin Di866s on TT5 to eliminate RFI problem
  • On camera TTL (Canon 600EX-RT) off camera TTL with Canon 600EX-RT
    • This was the first time Gr mode could be used to set the lighting ratio with TTL metering
  • On camera (Fuji XT-1) M mode with Cheetah Light V800 as bounce flash
    • Off camera CL V800s fired via on camera trigger
    • Same setup with Sony A7R, A7II or A7RII
  • On camera (A7RII) with Nissin Di700a as bounce flash
    • Off camera 3 Di700a lights fired and controlled in TTL by Air 1 Commander

Throughout this progression, covering several hundred weddings and close to 10 years, the basic lighting scheme and philosophy has been constant. Fill light on camera or near camera, main to one side of room, kicker positioned about 180 degrees opposite. When I use three off camera lights I place them about 120 degrees apart around the room. Each with a somewhat different power setting. All these approaches have the flash power about 1/2 to 2/3 EV brighter than the ambient light. I set the flash to ambient exposure that way to keep the ambiance of the room in the background rather than deep shadow.

To illustrate that all the lighting approach can deliver essentially the same look here are three sample shots:

I doubt you can tell which is which;

  • Girls hiking their dresses is all off camera TTL
  • Dance dip on white tile floor is off camera manual
  • Dance dip on wooden floor is Canon 600EX-RT with on camera and two off camera speedlites.

To complete the history lesson, here are three bridal portraits shot with bounce flash;

Again I doubt one can tell which approach was used;

  • The bride in the mink choker was shot with manual flash.
    • It had an Fstopper’s diffusion disk attached and was laying on a coat rack camera left.
  • The bride is standing in front of a white wall with a slide glass patio door camera right with sunlight outside but not shining in. Canon 580EX II in TTL was bounced over my left shoulder into the wall and ceiling for fill.
  • The bride was standing in front of a window with sheer white drapes. The sun was shining outside but not on the drapes. Nissin Di700a in TTL was bounced over left shoulder for fill. Plus FEC was applied to compensate for the strong backlighting.

New TTL flash metering options for Sony cameras

When I started my move to Sony one trepidation was that I’d have to rely on manual flash settings. It was going back to the way I’d shot with flash for years before TTL flash metering became part of a photographer’s tool kit. Over the years shooting Canon I had come to appreciate the benefits of TTL flash. It takes practice and an understanding of what’s going on with the equipment. The last year or so using Canon, I was able to take advantage of their 600EX-RT ETTL technology. For shooting wedding receptions and indoor events it was a significant step forward from Canon ETTL II. Two features key to my technique were Gr mode, and radio triggering.

Now fast forward a couple of years. I moved to Sony cameras for several reasons, but the one disadvantage was the nearly nonexistent TTL flash capabilities. Late in 2015 Nissin introduced the Air 1 Di700a system. I quickly acquired 4 Di700a speedlites and an Air 1 commander. They have radio triggers and Groups. The disadvantage is that when using the Air 1 Commander on camera there is no on-camera flash for fill. All-in-all its still the best TTL solution available for Sony users. If I need an on-camera fill, or flash I hold a Di700a with FStoppers flash disk in my left hand. That also permits holding it a bit higher and to the left for some modeling.

Recently, Phottix and Godox have upped the game. Phottix had offered the Mitros + speedlite in a Sony version but pulled it off the market. Early in the spring 2016 they reintroduced it to the market. They also have introduced the Odin II controller which will have a Sony variant later in the spring. The third component to this TTL kit is the Indra TTL battery powered strobe. This gives Phottix a TTL system that ranges from speedlites to 500Ws strobes.

Godox, introduced TTL versions of its speedlites and AD360 bare bulb strobes for Canon and Nikon in 2015. In February 2016 they announced that Sony TTL capabilities are being added. They also introduced the X1 TTL trigger which is also available in Canon, Nikon and soon Sony versions. Godox introduced a 600Ws battery powered strobe with TTL capabilities as well. One advantage with the X1 trigger system is a pass through hot shoe so that an on-camera TTL speedlite can be added to the lighting scheme. The only thing better would be to have the X1 capabilities built into a TTL speedlite so it can act as the system controller.

One nice benefit Godox has included in the AD360 bare bulb strobe is auto switching between camera manufacturer TTL types when its in slave mode.

 The final bit of good news for Sony users is the announcement by Nissin of the i60A. This is a physically smaller speedlite when compared to the Di700a, but more powerful flash output. It may prove to be a preferred speedlite to have on top of a Godox X1 controller.

You can click

  • HERE for more information about the Godox announcement,
  • HERE for more information about the Godox AD360 TTL,
  • HERE for more information about the Nissin i60A, and
  • HERE for more information about the Phottix Odin II.

As soon as I can get my hands on a Sony version Godox TT865 speedlite I’ll start testing and comparing it to the Nissin Air System. The objective is to determine that all the expected TTL capabilities work and to be ready for the release of a Sony variant X1 and the firmware to update an AD360TTL to include Sony TTL.

More to come!