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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Speedliter's Handbook

I can't resist picking up every photography book that is within my reach, unfortunately most of them don't engage me for very long.  I have in my possession a book that has not only held my attention from cover to cover but it is a book I know that I will come back to many times for reference.  This book is titled "Speedliter's Handbook" by Syl Arena.

As a photographer Syl clearly knows a lot about light and how it is used in photography and he manages to put down this knowledge in a clear easy to read format.  Don't be mislead by the title, although the books focus is on creating beautiful light with a Speedlite Syl also gives the reader an immense lesson on light in general.  The book is broken into 5 parts, each part with it's own theme.

If you shoot Canon and you use or want to use speedlite's then walk (make that run) to your nearest bookstore and buy this book immediately, you won't be disappointed.  If you shoot another SLR brand and you want to shoot Speedlights then this book still has a lot to offer and you will learn a lot about creative lighting techniques with off camera flash.

This was my quick answer to buying "Speedliter's Handbook" but if you are still unconvinced or you simply want to know more about this fabulous book then read on.





  • Chapter 0 Quick Start Guide to Speedliting
This chapter gives you just enough information to give you an idea of what the book is about but it also makes you want to jump right in to find out the answers to the questions that no doubt are now swirling in you mind.

If you are an experienced photographer this chapter will just touch on a few key concepts that you already know about and you might be thinking "big deal" but just keep reading, because the book will teach you some new things guaranteed!  If you are new to photography this chapter will leave you with more questions than answers but don't worry, the answers will be explained in beautiful detail throughout the rest of the book.

The book is broken into five parts and a total of 25 chapters.  I will give a brief overview of these parts and then you should have a good idea if this book is for you.


  • Part 1 Before Speedlite's, There Was Light
Part one contains chapter 1 through 5.  This section of the book teaches a lot of concepts of how light works and most photographers will learn from this chapter even if you only shoot ambient light photographs.

Chapter 1 Learn to See the Light
This chapter covers a very important aspect that eludes many photographers (sometimes even experienced photographers) and that is simply learning to see the difference between good and bad light. Syl covers such characteristics as contrast, colour temperature, intensity, angle and more.  You will learn about these characteristics and the difference between how our eyes see the light vs. how the camera sees the light.  I can't overemphasize the importance of learning this chapter.

Chapter 2 Exposure Exposed
This chapter covers how you and the camera control the exposure with the exposure triangle.  For new photographers this chapter is a key piece of the puzzle.

Chapter 3 Mechanics of Light
In this chapter you will learn more about the science of how light works as opposed to chapter one which covered the more artistic aspects of light.  At the end of this chapter you will understand the difference between additive and subtractive light and the inverse square law and more!

Chapter 4 Light of the World
As the title suggests, ambient light is the subject and you learn the difference between mixing the ambient with your speedlite(s) and eliminating the ambient with your speedlite.

Chapter 5 Think Globally Light Locally
The entire subject in chapter 5 is the angle of light.  If you think there isn't that much to talk about on just angles then you really need to read this book.


  • Part 2 Speedlite's Fundamentally
Part 2 contains chapters 6 through 12 and this is the only part of the book that is Canon Specific.  If you shoot Canon then this chapter is worth every word in here, if you shoot another brand of SLR then this is the only section that you may want to skip.

Chapter 6 Meet the Speedlite's
Learn all about Canon's different models and their strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 7 Control your speedlite
The mechanics of how your speedlite works from Manual vs. ETTL to Zoom and Bounce.  I feel that this is information that should be in the manual when you buy the flash.  This chapter is a primer for the next few chapters.

Chapter 8 Flashing Manually
Everything you need to know about using Manually controlled flash power with a Canon Speedlite.

Chapter 9 E is for Evaluative
ETTL broken down for the reader to understand how to best use this powerful technology.

Chapter 10 Move Your Speedlite off Camera
The real exciting part of speedliting is how you can use them off camera for some very impressive lighting effects.  This chapter will get you started by outlining the various ways to control your speedlite's while they are out of reach.  Syl does an excellent job of giving a basic overview of the Canon Wireless, ETTL Cables, Radio Poppers, Pocket Wizards, Optical Slaves, Infrared Triggers and Manual Radios.

Chapter 11 Wireless Speedliting the Canon Way
If you are ready to delve into wireless speedliting then this is the chapter to build the foundation.  Syl goes into great detail about how Canon's speedlite's work in wireless mode.  Have you heard of "Free Agent Wireless"?  Me neither, but I learned about it in this chapter.

Chapter 12 Mixing Canon Speedlite's With Other Lights
If you work with Mono Lights, Studio Packs or other brands of Speedlights then this chapter will help
you sort out the details.


  • Part 3 Gear for Speedliting
Part 3 covers chapters 13 through 16.  Syl talks about why you want to use a light modifier and shows excellent examples of what each mod does.  After the modifiers are out of the way he talks about batteries and chargers which you will soon realize is very important advice.  How to mount all these speedlite's is also covered in a chapter on Grip!  This chapter is a very exciting one to read because it makes you start to see how your humble Speedlite is transformed into a powerful lighting tool.

Chapter 13 Go Ahead, Mod your Speedlite

With the rise in popularity of speedliting there is now a large selection of accessories designed to modify the light coming from your speedlite.  Syl covers not only what is available from Dome diffusers to Grids and Ring Lights but he also explains why you would use these accessories and how to attach them.

Chapter 14 Those Big Modifiers Always Get In The Way
If you want a larger modifier than what is covered in chapter 13 then this is the chapter for you.  Syl talks about using full size studio light modifiers with your speedlite and offers some advice on which one to choose.

Chapter 15 Get a Grip
Booms, Stands, Clamps, multi light clamps etc.  This chapter gives you everything you need to know about mounting your speedlite just where you want it.  If you are handy with tools you may even be inspired to try building some of these Grip items!

Chapter 16 Keeping The Energy Up
What is a Speedlite without batteries?  In this chapter you will learn about different types of batteries and chargers and when to use which one.  Definitely read this chapter BEFORE you go buy batteries.


  • Part 4 Speedliting In Action
Part 4 will get the creative juices flowing in any photographer!  This series of chapters 17 through 25 shows beautiful examples of lighting scenarios with different numbers of speedlite's and modifiers but it doesn't stop there!  Syl also talks about how your speedlite can be used for effect!  Hold on these chapters will have you itching to pick up your camera!

Chapter 17 Lighting Portraits Classically
In this chapter you are shown the most commonly used lighting techniques.  Syl shows an example photo along with a lighting diagram of how to create this look.  This chapter is the foundation for portrait lighting.

Chapter 18 Portraits With One Speedlite
If you only own one speedlite don't despair, Syl shows you how you can create stunning lighting scenarios with one Speedlite.  Syl shows you 9 different beautiful portraits that he took with one speedlite and he shows you the details on how he did it.  It's an amazing learning tool.

Chapter 19 Portraits With Two and Three Speedlite's
If you are lucky enough to own several speedlite's or if you want to know what additional options open up to you if you buy more speedlite's then this is your chapter.  Much the same way as in chapter 18, Syl shows you 10 portraits done with multiple speedlite's and shows you the details on how he shot it.

Chapter 20 Gelling For Effect
A Gell is a piece of translucent plastic that you shoot your speedlite through to change it's colour.  In this chapter you'll learn how to use these to correct colour or to use them for effect.

Chapter 21 Slicing Time With High Speed Sync
The info in this chapter is exciting because it shows you how to use your speedlite to do something you can't do with studio lights, shoot at shutter speeds all the way up to 1/8000 of a second!  Syl carefully explains the technical side of how this works and then moves on to give examples of when you would use this.

Chapter 22 Dimming The Sun
Continuing with the High Speed Sync from the last chapter Syl shows you how you can darken mid day sun for effect.

Chapter 23 Smashing Pumpkins with Gang Light
If you own multiple speedlite's then one option that is not immediately apparent is a gang light.  Syl shows you how to make a gang light and shows 5 different photo shoots using a gang light for different reasons.  As always full detail of how the shoot was accomplished is disclosed!  I loved this potential so much I am making a gang light right now!

Chapter 24 Speedliting Events
One of the greatest advantages to using speedlite's rather than studio lights is their incredible portability and ease of set up making them powerful tools for event shooters!  Syl covers the use of speedlite's in the event business.

Chapter 25 Strobo, Strobo, Strobo
Stroboscopic flash is a creative lighting technique that Speedlite's are capable of.  While not something you will use every day it is something worth learning because one day you will be looking for a new way to light something and this just may be it!  This chapter explains how it works and shows 3 photo shoots using this technique.


  • Part 5 Appendices
There are 4 appendixes in the back of the book but I'm not going to go over them, not because they are not worth talking about but rather because if you are still reading this then you really just need to buy this book for yourself.

I have very few photography books in my possession that are as well written and useful as this one.

I would like to personally thank Syl Arena for writing this book as I have learned a lot, I also find it inspires me to try harder.

Now I'm going to go set up my Gang Light.