How to Use an External Flash on a Nikon D3400

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

The Nikon D3400 is a great entry level camera that offers great image quality, battery life, and portability. Although it has a high ISO range for capturing photos in low light conditions, some situations warrant the use of an external flash. Thus, you should know how to use an external flash on a Nikon D3400.

How to Use an External Flash on a Nikon D3400

To use an external flash on a Nikon D3400, you must first choose the right flash unit that is compatible with the camera. After that mount, the unit, choose the mode, and adjust the flash speed and exposure compensation. This camera also allows you to use units wirelessly.

An image of a Nikon camera with external flash

Step 1: Choose the Right External Flash Unit

The Nikon D3400 is compatible with many flash brands besides Nikon’s external units. These include Neewer, Godox, and Meike. You can connect such a unit through Nikon’s hot shoe or use it wirelessly.

Step 2: Mount the Flash Unit

After choosing the right unit, mount it onto your camera. Make sure that the unit fits into your camera’s hot shoe properly. If it does not, it will not be able to fire the flash. Make sure you lock the lever too; otherwise, your flash can easily fall off.

Step 3: Choose the Mode

Now you need to choose a flash mode. The options you have are TTL, manual, and slave modes. These modes depend on the flash unit you have. TTL fires a flash according to the situation at hand. Slave modes fire after they receive a signal from the master camera.

Lastly, manual mode allows you to set each flash according to your specification. You can set the flash output level here. 1/1 means full output of the flash unit, ½ means half the output, and so on.

Manual mode is chosen when you are operating in a more controlled environment, such as in a studio or during a portrait shoot.

Step 4: Set Flash Sync Speed

You need to set up the flash synchronization mode. This means the speed of the flash relative to the shutter speed. To change this mode, hold down the shutter button which is at the top of the camera and move the main command dial on your camera.

The two main flash sync speeds that are available include high-speed sync and second curtain sync.

Step 5: Adjust the ISO Level

The ISO levels determine the sensitivity of your camera to light. When you are using an external unit, it is recommended to keep ISO levels low (around 100). This will make sure that you maintain good quality while being able to capture photos in low light conditions. However, adjust the ISO accordingly.

Step 6: Adjust the Other Settings

You can also adjust exposure compensation on the flash unit to change the flash output. The flash power depends on how close the subject is to the camera and the flash device, and the exposure settings of the scene. Therefore, if the subject is closer, use a lower flash output and vice versa.

If your external flash device has an adjustable head, change the angles according to the situation at hand. For example, if you want to create shadows, keep the angle of the flash unit tilted upwards.

Moreover, if you are capturing portraits and the external flash is your sole source of light, keep it at a right angle pointed towards the subject.

An image of Nikon camera

Using the Flash Wirelessly

If you do not want to use your flash while it is attached to the hot shoe, you have the option to use it wirelessly too. However, since the Nikon D3400 does not have a commander mode, you will need a Nikon Creative Lighting System, compatible commander.

This will allow you to use it wirelessly with Nikon branded external flashes only.  You just need to follow these steps:

  1. Fix the compatible commander onto the hot shoe of your camera.
  2. Switch on the commander and this will lead to a menu. Set the channels now, for the commander, switch it to channel 3 otherwise it would not work.
  3. Make sure that the channel you choose is the same as the one on the external flash too. Also, switch groups A and B to TTL.
  4. Turn on the external unit and turn on Remote mode. Also, switch it to TTL mode (match it to the one on your camera).
  5. When you position the unit, make sure that its sensor is within a line of sight of your camera. Then just take pictures normally and the flash device will fire whenever you press the shutter. The commander acts as the master flash for the external flash unit.

Using External Flash in Outdoor Portraits

As mentioned before, the Nikon D3400 does not have a very efficient flash. This means to capture in low light conditions you would have to keep a long exposure. This might ruin the quality of the image as high ISO levels cause grainy images and slow shutter speed might result in motion blur.

Therefore, using an external flash is a good idea. The obvious use is during the night. Using flash at night helps you illuminate the subject and leads to better quality portraits. You can use several flash units and accessories such as an umbrella to target the subject from different angles and bounce off blash.

Other situations to use external flash outdoors include during golden hour, blue hour, shades, and overcast conditions. Some portrait lighting methods include:

  • Loop Lighting: This is a lighting pattern where you can create a circular shadow on the subject’s face. This shadow is right under the person’s nose.
  • Short Lighting: This is a technique where the far side of the person’s face is lit in relation to the camera. This creates a slight shadow on the near side of the person’s face or keeps it dark.
  • Butterfly: Here, the main light is placed right above the person’s face. It points downwards on the subject’s face which creates a shadow under the chin and the nose which is shaped like a butterfly.
  • Split Lighting: Here too, one side of the person’s face is lit while keeping the other side in the shadows. Unlike short lighting, here the person faces the camera. Therefore, the lighting is perpendicular to the subject’s face.
A man holding a Nikon camera

Related Questions

How Do I Sync My Nikon D3400 With an External Flash?

To sync your Nikon D3400 with an external flash, go to the custom settings menu and scroll to Flash/Bracketing. You can set the highest speed you see. Setting this speed does not mean that your flash will fire at this speed only. It means it will fire up to the highest speed the camera offers.

Does the Nikon D3400 Have a Commander Mode?

The Nikon D3400 does not have a commander mode. Entry-level DSLRs such as this one do not come with a commander mode normally. The commander mode allows you to control an external flash wirelessly.

Therefore, you can either use a compatible commander to control flashes wirelessly or you can use two flashes. Here, one flash would work as a master flash for triggering the other one.


Using an external flash on your Nikon D3400 allows you a lot of flexibility and gives you the ability to capture in low light conditions. You can use it by either mounting it using the hot shoe or using it wirelessly. However, be mindful of the features of the flash unit before you use it.