Today’s Lesson: RTFM

So this past weekend I was out shooting the Ziontific Summer Solstice Music Festival, and I was getting some ok, but not great shots of the fire dancers.  I said to myself, “OK, let’s set up some rear-curtain-sync flash…  that will let me have the fire trails, and then freeze them at the end of the movement without making everything all blurry.”  Mind you these are dancers.  They are dancing.  They’re not going to pause in the middle of their act to let me take their picture, plus the fire wouldn’t look as cool anyway.

So I start digging through the camera menus.  I know it’s in here… settings… settings 2…  there it is, Custom External Flash Settings.  Open it up.  “M”  that was it, just a big M, that looks eerily similar to the M on the flash letting me know it’s in manual mode.  Duh, I was shooting in manual mode because I didn’t want to be a dick, and I could keep the flash low power.  Ok.  Get that switched over to E-TTL, and….

Oh wait, need to close and re-open the menu so it sees the new settings…


Bingo!  There are the settings I’m looking for.  Specifically where it says “First curtain sync,” but… wait…


Ugh.  Well, it is an older flash, maybe it can’t handle it, and the menu is just telling me that I’m on first curtain sync.

I give up, and just stick to high ISO / quick shutter speeds, it’s good enough, I guess.

So today I start thinking to myself again (as you can see, this happens a lot,) “Self, let’s ask the internet why that didn’t work.”  So I go to Google and put in “Canon Speedlight 550ex” and what comes up first?  The Canon website with the manual.  Duh.  Let’s look at that.  Sure enough, I start reading through.  This thing is older than I thought, but still works extremely well so whatever.

Section 1… setting up (batteries and such), skip, Section 2, skip, blah blah blah.

Finally I get to “Advanced techniques,” where there is a heading for “Second Curtain Sync Operation.”  Glad I wasn’t completely set in my ways of calling it “Rear Curtain Sync,” I might have missed it.  So I’m reading.  It can do it.  OK, what was I doing wrong in camera?  Nothing.



You have to press the + and buttons simultaneously ON THE FLASH to switch between first and second curtain sync.


Shouldn’t that be a signal that the camera sends…  WTF?

I will never understand engineers.

Anyway, after all that ranting, the moral of the story is…

(And if you’re not sure what that means, go read the funny manual.)

Author: Thomas J. F. Mottl

Photographer, computer nerd, and otherwise opinionated geek. Founder of Aperture to Pixels Photography and Research Chef.

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