What is TTL Flash? | TTL vs. Manual Flash

TTL stands for “Through The Lens,” and it is a metering technique that regulates flash power based on exposure settings.

Great photography necessitates the precise capture of light. Effective lighting allows you to capture important details while reducing distractions. It adds drama and excitement to a scenario that could otherwise be bland and uninteresting, or it softens and lightens a harsh scene. One of the most crucial aspects of every image is the lighting.

Sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got. If you are photographing landscapes, for example, you have no choice but to rely on nature. Lighting can be altered, however, depending on the type of photography you are doing. You might use a continuous light source (such as a lamp, a bank of fluorescent lights, or a pro LED) or a flash or strobe to do this (either a Speedlight or a moonlight).

There are two sorts of flashes to select from when it comes to photography: TTL lights and manual flashes. But what is a TTL flash, and how does it differ from a traditional manual flash?

TTL vs. Manual Flash

If  TTL is like the auto mode on your camera, should you always shoot in manual mode? Probably not. Every flash mode has its pros and cons. TTL might be useful in one scenario and manual in another.

TTL flashes are excellent in scenarios where the distance between the flash and the subject changes rapidly. The lighting will change as your subjects get closer to you when you are using the manual flash mode to photograph a wedding procession. In the end, you’ll end up with wildly inaccurate exposures.

When you use TTL, the flash output automatically adjusts to the distance between you and the camera.

The manual flash is best used in situations where you wish to have the most control over the light source. Additionally, it is useful if the distance between the subject and the flash doesn’t change rapidly.

When using TTL mode, it’s difficult to recreate the same lighting pattern twice, since you don’t know which settings the mode will use for you.

Photographers who understand manual mode usually shoot in that mode most of the time. When they can’t change the flash settings fast enough for the way the subject moves, they switch to TTL.

You’ll notice a dramatic difference in your images if you use manual flash and a diffuser.

TTL has a place for beginners, mainly when used with flash compensation and a flash modifier. With TTL, you can get your feet wet with flash by using simple flash compensation to adjust the brightness of the flash.

What is TTL Flash?

What is TTL Flash? | TTL vs. Manual Flash

TTL stands for “Through The Lens” and is a metering method that adjusts the flash’s strength based on the camera’s exposure settings. TTL flashes have been mostly superseded with ETTL (Evaluative Through The Lens) flashes over the years, however many people still refer to ETTL as TTL despite the technical differences.

Both systems will automatically adjust the flash power to guarantee “correct exposure” (as decided by the camera) while also taking exposure parameters like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO into consideration. They’re also available in manual and automated exposure modes.

To get the most creative freedom out of a TTL flash, photographers may alter the lighting ratios by combining the camera’s exposure correction with the flash’s built-in flash compensation. You may, for example, reduce the exposure compensation on your camera while increasing the flash adjustment. Because the flash lingers at a greater exposure, the whole image will darken, but the subject will be illuminated. Because everything that affects your camera’s exposure settings has a cascade impact on your illumination, the metering mode of your camera will also affect the performance of the metering of your flash. For additional information, see Important Camera Settings: A Guide for New Photographers.


TTL and ETTL both allow the camera to control the flash power but in different ways.

The exposure of the whole image was read directly from the camera’s built-in exposure meter, and the flash intensity was controlled based on that value. ETTL, on the other hand, fires a few flash bursts before reading the exposure while the flash illuminates the subject. It gains a few benefits as a result.

ETTL flashes can adapt to a variety of shooting situations. The subject will be exposed differently depending on how close or far they are to the flash, and ETTL systems can compensate for this. Similarly, bouncing the flash off a wall or ceiling can alter the quantity of light reaching the subject from shot to shot. With ETTL, this isn’t an issue.

Almost all contemporary flashes employ ETTL because of its benefits. However, if you’re using an older flash, make sure you know if it’s ETTL or real TTL.

What is Manual Flash?

Manual flashes need the user to select the output power and will retain that setting until the user changes it. TTL flashes will determine and set their power from shot to shot. This is usually expressed as a percentage of the maximum power output. The flash may be adjusted to the brightest level of 1/1. Power settings gradually drop until they reach their lowest power output, which is usually 1/64 or 1/128 watts.

One thing to bear in mind when using a manual flash is that the camera will seldom interact with it other than to tell it when to fire. This implies that any camera’s automatic exposure mode will push the exposure to what it thinks to be adequately exposed, regardless of the light from the flash. If you’re shooting with a manual flash, you’ll almost likely want to use the manual exposure mode, or at the very least the exposure adjustment function.

Should You Use a Manual or a TTL Flash?

TTL and manual flashes, as previously indicated, thrive in different situations.

ETTL flashes should be utilized if the flash power has to be altered fast and often due to their flexibility. Photographing wedding receptions or other events where you’re moving around, bouncing flashes off of various objects, and continuously altering the distance between you and the subject is maybe the finest illustration. While it is feasible to adjust a manual flash on the fly with enough skill, it will not be practical in many scenarios.

If, on the other hand, you want to start with no light and gradually add a variety of flashes to get the exact look you want, you’ll need full manual control. In a studio, these shooting circumstances are quite typical. When you have time to set up and fine-tune the exposure ratio between ambient light and your flash, manual flashes might be excellent for taking outdoor portraits.

Of course, both manual and TTL flashes have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. When compared to certain TTL flashes, manual flashes may be very cost-effective. TTL flashes, on the other hand, offer a more comprehensive range of functions. Additionally, all TTL flashes allow you to disable the automated settings and assume complete manual control, allowing you to choose between the two approaches based on your needs.

Keep in mind that TTL systems are frequently camera brand specific, thus the ETTL of a Canon flash will not be compatible with that of a Nikon flash. Similarly, brand-specific remote firing triggers with TTL compatibility are common. Manual models will assist those who enjoy shooting with a range of cameras while utilizing the same flash type.

In general, if you photograph a lot of events or moving objects, you should invest in ETTL-compatible flash units that are compatible with your camera system. If you take mostly static portraits or product photography in a studio (and especially if you’re on a budget), aftermarket manual-only flashes can suffice.

Adding artificial illumination to a photographer’s arsenal, particularly through the use of flashes or strobes, is a critical step in attaining their photographic vision for many. It’s all about the light in photography, and being able to control it completely is liberating.

A decent flash will open up a new world of photographs for you. Whether you prefer to sculpt the lighting with manual flashes or take a more dynamic approach by using a TTL (or ETTL) flash system.

If you’re not sure about jumping in and investing right away. You can always rent one or two and play around with them first.


The automatic flash adjustment of TTL can be useful for photographers with moving subjects. However, most of the time a manual flash setting will produce better results.

Understanding manual flash is only one piece of the puzzle. As well as understanding how diffusers and exposure settings affect your flash, you should also learn how to use off-camera flash for maximum versatility.

It isn’t a matter of preference in the end whether you use TTL or manual. It all depends on your lighting situation.

Would you like to improve your flash photography skills? To get perfect results every time, you must master these two modes.

Do you want to learn more about basic photography techniques? Check out our ebook Photography Unlocked.

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