How to Use High Speed Sync to Improve Your Outdoor Portraits

High speed sync can dramatically change an outdoor portrait. Shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light that a camera captures. The faster the shutter speed, the less amount of ambient light captured by the camera. Using this principle, you can make wonderfully exposed outdoor portraits with blurred background—without blowing out the highlights. Another advantage of using high speed sync is that you can easily balance an external light and use it to fill in the shadows that you normally get when shooting on a bright sunny day:

So no more dreaded raccoon eyes and no more distracting backgrounds—regardless of the amount of light that’s there in the scene. This video by Manny Ortiz demonstrates the difference high-speed sync (HSS) can make to your outdoor portraits.

At first Ortiz mimics the standard flash sync speed limit on cameras and shoots at 1/250 of a second. He compensates for the extra light using a smaller aperture: f/5.

how to use high-speed sync for portraitures

Shot without external lights

Once the background exposure is sorted, Ortiz brings his light into the equation. At full power the light is too overbearing. Below is the result at 1/16 power.

high-speed sync tips

Without HSS and the light firing at 1/16 power

And then he takes a shot at an even lower power setting.

advantages of high-speed sync

Without HSS and the light firing at less than 1/16 power

That looks really nice for a JPEG straight out of the camera. But wait, there’s more. This is where the fun begins.

Ortiz now brings the power of high-speed sync into the equation. He resets the strobe power to 1/8, the exposure to 1/4000 of a second, and the aperture to f/1.4.

Outdoor portraiture tips with high-speed sync

With high-speed sync

The background has almost melted away. Here’s a quick side by side comparison:

high-speed sync tips

High-speed sync has dramatically transformed the second image

The portrait on the left, above, was shot without high speed sync. HSS makes a pretty dramatic difference. It opens up a world of opportunities for people who have the right tools at their disposal and want to start making better images in bright conditions.

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