Stroboscopic Flashing with Canon 580EXII Speedlight

Stroboscopic Flashing with Canon 580EXII Speedlight

What is Stroboscopic Flashing?

A Stroboscopic flash refers to a photography technique where a series of flashes are quickly and continuously fired off in a single picture exposure. These continuous flashes create multiple bursts of light that are all captured in your picture. Using this type of flash technique produces a unique effect on your final photographic results.

In essence, each multiple light burst from the flashes will ‘freeze’ your subject for that individual flash. When it comes to moving targets, this technique creates an especially dynamic and creative aesthetic within your photography. This holds especially true when a subject moves across the frame for a longer exposure with a large number of stroboscopic flashes.

The flash has captured the rider during a series of 11 flashes in a single exposure

The flash has captured the rider during a series of 11 flashes in a single exposure

Why Use Stroboscopic Flashing in Your Photography?

Stroboscopic flashing provides a great technique that you can utilise within your own photography to apply the concepts of motion into your work. It’s an especially helpful technique within any type of photography that encompasses a large amount of action and movement. For instance, stroboscopic flashing can produce some creative and fun images within your sports photography.

Using this technique, you’ll capture events in a new and exciting way that is distinctly different from traditional photography. This can allow you to express a different emotional impact into your work – such as expressive movement of a body or object to showcase intent, feeling, and even mood. When you bring the right creative approach to this technique, you’ll be surprised at just how much stroboscopic flashing can expand the potential for creativity in your own catalogue.

Creating Your Own Stroboscopic Flash Project

Part of the appeal of this technique rests in the broad range of creative expressions you have at your disposal. You can apply this type of flash technique across all sorts of creative photographic outlets. Best of all, you can experiment with how the flashing works and potentially find your next favourite photographic style.

If you’re just getting started on your own stroboscopic flash project, use these bits of wisdom to help.

Project Idea: The first thing you should incorporate in any project is movement! Remember, stroboscopic flashing works by capturing moving subjects through dynamic applications within your photo frame. Be sure to keep movement as the primary component of your stroboscopic ideas. If you need a bit of inspiration, just Google “stroboscopic flash” to see some great examples.

Hint: Lighter coloured objects are better for capturing movement.

Location: The right location can make or break your end results within stroboscopic photography. In general, darker backgrounds produce better results as they can contrast against your subject’s movement more effectively. However, don’t forget that at this point you’re in a period of experimentation. Try a variety of background colours, locations, and subjects to see exactly how these factors affect your end results.

Hint: Darker backgrounds and lighter subjects create a great contrast to get dramatic movement results.

Preparing Your Canon 580EXII Speedlight Flash

For this tutorial, we will be using the Canon 580EXII Speedlight for our set up. Verify that you’re using this specific model – or ensure that your flash has a quick burst mode available as you need this mode to enable the flashing necessary to produce this effect.

Note: The Canon 430 flash does not have this feature available directly. The good news is that you’re not out of luck if you don’t have a 580EXII handy. You can set your 580EXII as a master flash and set the 430 flash as a slave. This trick will allow your 430 to work with this technique.

Lens: In most cases, you’ll get the best results with a larger, wide angle lens. Anything from a 16mm to a 55mm will be optimal based on your precise setup. Your goal is to have ample room within your frame to effectively capture all the movement.

Tripod: Because of the nature of the stroboscopic flash and subject movement, mounting your camera on a tripod is advised. Your exposure may last several seconds to accommodate the amount of movement you’re trying to capture. Accordingly, you’ll want to keep your camera as stationary as possible to isolate the subject motion (and prevent blurring or other problems you may experience with a handheld camera setup).

Electronic & Cable Setup

Shutter Release: While this may not be necessary for your shot, it certainly can be useful. This is especially true if you’re out photographing yourself independently as both the subject and the photographer. If your camera is not equipped with this feature, you can also use a self-timer or a camera delay timer to achieve a similar effect.

Camera & Flash Logistics

Batteries: Having ample power is essential while utilising a technique that takes multiple flashes. Please ensure your batteries are fully charged – and take along any spares you may have as well. This type of technique typically draws a lot of power to produce, so the more battery power you have, the better. For photographers who want to use this technique more often, investing in a battery pack for your flash can help keep you powered no matter the length of your session.

Setting Up Your Canon 580EXII for a Stroboscopic Flash Project

1. Press MODE to cycle through to MULTI

2. Then press the SEL/SET button in the middle of the dial to set:

a. The number of flashes required

b. The Hertz (flashes per second)

c. The required power level

Note: use the dial to rotate to your selected choices for each component

3. Press the SEL/SET button to confirm your choices.

Refer to the below table for different configuration setups. These will help you get a baseline for how to get your flash producing the stroboscopic effect you need.


Question: What is the Hertz in your camera setup?

Answer: Hertz is the frequency at which the flash is fired. The higher your Hertz setting, the faster the flash fires.

Determining the Ideal Number of Flashes

How many flashes will produce the effect you want to see in your photography? The answer, as you may have guessed, is up to you! Your vision will help determine the number of times you want the flash to fire during your picture exposure. And this Hertz setting will directly impact the overall results of your photography.

As mentioned, this is where your own preferences and experimentation will take precedence. Spend some time experimenting with different configurations, layouts, and especially flash numbers per frame.

Your results will vary based on the duration of motion for your subject as well as how much of the movement you want to capture. Keep trying different configurations to determine which results work best to capture your artistic vision. This type of experimenting will only lead you toward a greater level of skill within your photography – and will give you the ability to achieve the level of artistic results you want to express.

Warning: Potential Risk of Flash Damage

It’s important for you to recognise that using the stroboscopic flash technique can damage your flash due to overheating. Fortunately, Canon has two mechanisms built into the 580EXII Speedlight to prevent overheating. This controls the maximum amount of flashes it will allow on MULTI mode – based on the power level and the frequency of the flashes.

Check the 580EXII table below to see the maximum number of flashes based on specific power levels and flash frequency. Use this as guide to help you better understand the limitations you should follow to prevent flash damage. And if you’re not using a 580EXII, refer to your own flash manual for a table to suit your specific flash unit and prevent any damage.

Power Levels on Canon 580 EX II Speedlight Flash Unit

Power Levels on Canon 580 EX II Speedlight Flash Unit