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25 May 2024

High Speed Sync (HSS)

Term: High Speed Sync (HSS)
Description: A camera flash technology that allows the camera's flash to synchronize with the shutter speed at higher speeds than the camera's standard flash sync speed. Normally, a camera's shutter speed must be at or below a certain speed (e.g. 1/200s) to fully expose the image sensor to the flash. High-Speed Sync allows the flash to fire multiple times in rapid succession as the camera's shutter curtains move across the sensor, effectively allowing the entire image sensor to be exposed to the flash, even at fast shutter speeds (e.g., 1/1000s). This enables the photographer to use larger apertures and/or higher shutter speeds while still utilizing flash, which can be beneficial for reducing motion blur, controlling ambient light, or achieving a shallow depth of field.

4 Reasons Why You Should Use High Speed Sync

High Speed Sync can be a difficult concept to grasp when you are first starting out and incorporating flash into your work. We wanted to break it down and feature some incredible work from our community to help you understand why you should use HSS for flash photography. If you need more background on HSS and what it means, our Lighting 101 course covers that in full!

1. To Control Ambient Light

If you want to maintain a shallow depth of field and you are already at your lowest ISO, you’ll need to speed up your shutter speed to darken your ambient light. Cameras have what is called maximum shutter speed sync – the fastest shutter speed you can set on your camera where both curtains will fully expose the sensor when using flash and avoid the black bands. Most cameras have this setting at 1/180th of a second or 1/200th of a second. Using HSS while speeding up your shutter speed yields dark & dramatic ambient light as you’ll see in some of these examples below.

Jared Gant – WebsiteWedding Maps Profile

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A darker ambient light exposure and a pop of flash really do the trick!
A darker ambient light exposure and a pop of flash really do the trick!

Jesse La Plante – Website | Instagram

high speed sync wedding photography
A stunning example of darkening down the ambient light exposure to make your subjects pop!

Matt Gruber – Website | Instagram

sunset flash photography
Using HSS while speeding up your shutter speed yields dark & dramatic ambient light

2. Maintain A Shallow Depth of Field

Portrait and wedding photographers love using their primes lenses as a compositional tool to blur out backgrounds with a shallow depth of field. The main issue with this choice is that when shooting in bright daylight you’ll need to compensate with your exposure settings to arrive at the correct exposure. It’s possible to use an ND filter to maintain a shallow depth of field without having to stop down, however, this could result in loss of quality depending on the type of filter you choose to use. If you don’t want to stop down to f/16 (and get literally everything in focus, defeating the purpose of your prime lens) then use HSS!

Pye Jirsa – Website | Instagram

high speed sync
The background falls out of focus in this image shot at f/1.4 on a Sigma Art lens with flash composited out in post.

Matt Gruber – Website | Instagram

High speed sync flash wedding photography
A beautiful image showcasing how combining shallow depth of field with high-speed sync flash.

3. Overpower Harsh Sunlight

Working on peak afternoon sunlight is definitely not every photographers’ dream. While we crave golden hour lighting at all times, sometimes you are forced to work with time constraints and you have to figure out how to make it work. One of the most popular ways to overpower sunlight is to use a high-powered strobe in HSS mode. You’ll need a lot of power to combat the harsh sun, a minimum of 200 w/s, and likely will need to composite out your light and stand because it will need to be very close in proximity to your subjects. Here are some examples of that technique:

Matt Gruber – Website | Instagram

Wedding portrait using HSS flash.
A great example of how using HSS during in broad daylight from Matt Gruber!

Rohit Gautam – Website | Instagram

flash portrait photography
How this was shot: Mola Demi Beauty dish on location with Profoto B2. Camera Left. 2 stop ND filter.

Julie Gayer – Website | Instagram

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Julie used HSS to photograph these children as the sun was setting behind them.
Julie used HSS to photograph these children as the sun was setting behind them.
Julie used HSS to photograph these children as the sun was setting behind them.
Julie used HSS to photograph these children as the sun was setting behind them.

4. Capture Motion in Bright Daylight

Since most cameras have a flash sync speed of 1/200th of a second, it can be hard to capture any type of fast-paced movement. Using HSS allows you to speed up your shutter to catch the motion. Here are a few examples of how wedding & portrait photographers use HSS to capture motion:

Trevor Dayley – Website | Instagram

Fashion portrait using High speed sync flash photography

Trevor does a great job in showing the flowy movement of the dress using HSS.

Jason Vinson – Website | Instagram

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Jason uses HSS here to capture and freeze the motion of the hairspray.
Jason uses HSS here to capture and freeze the motion of the hairspray.

 

 

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