What Is High-Speed Sync Flash & How To Make Portraits With It?

| Published On:
Orah.co is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More
High Speed Sync

When you are talking about photography, there are a lot of aspects that go into that you must understand. Photography is not just picking up a camera and taking pictures; it is much more than that, and in most situations, you have to be sure that you are doing it right and not messing things up.

But what exactly is high-speed sync flash I get this question all the time, and honestly, I never get tired of answering this question. It is better when you are looking at all the things whenever you are reading about a flash because it is a very integral part of photography.

That is why we have this guide in place for you. We are going to take a look at all the aspects of a high-speed sync flash and how things work. That way, you would not have any issues.

What Is High-Speed Sync Flash?

Now, here is the thing about the sync flash is that a lot of the times, people have no idea what they are getting into, but the thing is that the process is really easy to make sense of, and once you do get the proper understanding of it, things become a lot easier and simpler to deal with.

image of Kyle Cleveland under the bridge
@Kyle Cleveland

With that said, in the simplest of terms, high-speed flash sync is your camera’s ability to use a flash at shutter speeds that are faster than the camera’s native sync.

Most cameras come with native sync of 1/250th of a second, and anything faster than that is essentially higher than the camera’s ability to synchronize the shutter speed with the flash.

The purpose of this is to ensure that the pictures do not end up looking overexposed when we are using a flash.

How Does High-Speed Sync Work

Now that you know what high-speed sync flash is, the next step is to start looking at how things work. With photography, if you don’t know how most things work, you might not be able to take pictures properly, and things can get out of hand, too. Which we don’t want, in the first place.

With that out of the way, understanding how high-speed sync works is easy. Simply put, at higher shutter speeds, the rear curtain starts to close before the curtain fully opens.

how high speed sync flash works

When this happens, only a tiny amount of exposure finds its way across the sensor. To compensate for it, then with this tiny amount of exposure, the flash also fires, and you get a synchronized flash.

This time, the flash also lasts longer than the standard flash mode, giving you an evenly exposed photo across the entire spectrum.

We understand that using and mastering this mode, in the beginning, can be an overwhelming part for a lot of people as we have faced similar situations in the past, but I can assure you that when done right, you will do just fine, and you will not have any troubles.

How To Use High-Speed Sync Flash?

Being a photographer, I have been asked this question countless times. Just how exactly to use a high-speed sync flash, it is very easy.

You already know that this technique is used when you want to use a shutter speed that is faster than your camera’s native flash sync speed or when you are looking at using a wider aperture setting with a higher shutter speed, which is useful in outdoor or well-lit scenes.

guy taking photographs in street

For instance, if you are looking to take an outdoor portrait, and the TTL meter is telling you that you should set your aperture at f/16 or something along those lines and the shutter speed of around 1/150th or above.

This is a great setting, but remember, you are taking a portrait, and you want to have only the subject in focus with a softer, blurred background.

This would require an f/2 aperture and along with 1/5,000th shutter speed, and this is where you are going to use a high-speed sync flash because this will allow you to take a perfectly exposed picture without any aspect of the photo looking overexposed or underexposed. It is going to take some time to master, but once you are done with it, you will not have any issues.

Rear And Front Curtain Sync?

Almost all the cameras that you see in the market consist of two shutters; you have a front shutter and a rear shutter that opens and closes based on the shutter speed that you have set on your camera.

By default, the flash is synced with the front curtain, which means that as soon as the front curtain starts the movement, the subject gets illuminated for the duration of whatever shutter speed you have set.

image of light trail effect in cameras

However, many modern, 35mm cameras give you an option to fire the flash just before the rear curtain or the second curtain moves. By tinkering with this setting, you can achieve creative motion-blur or cool-looking lighting effects, especially with longer shutter speeds of 1 second or more.

Again, it is not something that you are going to be able to master right away. I have seen a lot of veteran photographers struggle with mastering the use of both curtains.

This takes time and practice, and without that, you are not going to get a lot to begin with. Therefore, start slow but have faith in your skills.

Settings For High-Speed Sync

Now, setting for high-speed sync is often confusing for a lot of people. I understand why because I have found myself in the same situation years ago, but I can tell you that the process is not that difficult. Just a few experiments, and you will be good to go. So, what settings should you use?

image of a camera taking a photo of building

Well, the first thing that you must know is that you don’t have to rely on flash sync all the time; it is mainly used for situations where you need light, to begin with.

So, if you are in an area that is already well lit, like outdoors, and you want to take a portrait, things might be complicated for you.

Why? Because you want to take a portrait with some nice blurred background, but if you crank the aperture up, you will lose that blur.

In such situations, you can crank the aperture down (wide) and the shutter speed as high as possible with high-speed sync and use a flash.

That way, you will be able to take a portrait that looks like a portrait that you had imagined, and everything else about the portrait will look excellent.

Reasons Why You Should Use High-Speed Sync

Honestly, I have found myself in so many situations in which I asked for reasons to use high-speed sync, and there are numerous.

Photographer taking pictures at beach

I am going to make things easier for everyone and mention a few reasons below so you can have a proper understanding of how things are going to work for everyone.

  • Controlling Ambient Light: One of the main things that you need to understand about high-speed sync is that it is one of the most useful things when you are talking about controlling ambient light. I say this because a lot of the time, you have little to no control over ambient light and how things are going to work, but with this sync, you can sort things out in no time.
  • Consistent Shallow Depth of Field: If you are looking for consistent shallow depth of field, it can easily be achieved with proper high-speed sync, and you will not have to worry about it, either.
  • Handling Harsh Sunlight: If you are shooting outdoors in harsh sunlight, you would be surprised to know how high-speed sync can help you because you would easily be able to handle the harsh light with the right high-speed sync.

These are just a few reasons that you should be using high-speed sync because without that, you might not get the results that you want.

High-Speed Sync Vs Standard Flash

By now, you are already aware of the fact that high-speed sync is a very helpful tool that users can use to achieve the type of photography they are looking for.

showing how the high speed sync flash works

However, that does not mean that it is a one-shoe-fits-all situation here. The thing is that there are certain situations in which a standard flash would be more than enough.

For instance, high-speed sync is one of the most useful things in situations where you would want to use it at a wider aperture, and there is a lot of ambient light as well, such as outdoor locations where you want portraits on a sunny day. It can save you from the hassle of using ND filters.

how standard flash works

However, if you are without a portrait lens and still looking for a shallower depth of field, you might be able to get more out of a standard flash in this situation, and there is nothing wrong with that, either. So, always keep that in mind when deciding between two.

Related readings:

Using Neutral Density Filter

You can alternatively use a neutral density filter that is going to do the same thing in a way, but here is the thing, an ND filter is a bit more technical to use.

Different lenses require different ND filters, and in most cases, your ND filter might not be for the job that you are trying to do.

photo of how Neutral Density Filter looks

That is not to say that ND filters are not good. It is the opposite. I own a couple of them, along with all the flash accessories that one would need. I am just saying that an ND filter can be on the trickier side of the spectrum as far as understanding is concerned.

If you are looking for the easiest way out without compromising on the quality of the image that you are getting, start using a high-speed sync flash, and I can assure you that you will get used to it quickly.

Once that is done, you can move over to ND filters and practice your hand on those, too. After all, it is all about being good at everything imaginable to get the best results.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1- What is high-speed sync flash?

Answer: In simplest terms, a high-speed sync flash is your camera’s ability to use flash at varying shutter speeds, all faster than the camera’s native sync. The most cameras ship with 1/250th of native sync, but some of the modern cameras have higher native sync.

Q2- Do I need high-speed sync flash?

Answer: I believe it is one of those accessories that everyone has to have. I understand when you are getting into photography, it is hard to keep track of what you need to buy for photography and what you don’t, but a high-speed sync flash is a very important item.

Q3- How do I set up a high-speed sync flash?

Answer: Whenever you are looking at a high-speed sync flash and setting it up, the process for doing that is not that difficult, to be honest. In most cases, it is going to take place on its own, but there are instances in which you might have to make some manual adjustments, but those are going to relate to shutter speed and aperture.

Q4- What are HSS and TTL?

Answer: High-speed sync is different than through the lens because the latter is a metering mode rather than a way to sync the flash, but they are often confused with one and the other.

Q5- Is high-speed sync worth it?

Answer: Definitely. Any photographer who is in the market looking for good accessories for photography. Having high-speed sync is a thing that you should not start without.


Photography is a wonderful form of art, and while it is just as intricate and confusing for a lot of people as some other art forms, in the end, it is one of the most worth it, as well.

With high-speed sync flashes, there are a lot of ways through which you can take good photos, and using this flash is crucial to many of them.

You can get started with ease, and there are not a lot of issues that will come in the way, either. Learning how to use high-speed sync is perhaps one of the easiest things that you can learn, and in the end, you will be able to get some great-looking photos, and that too, with ease.

Just be sure that you have learned all about it, and you will do just fine.

Leave a Comment