I’ve taken the past six months off from social media—no Tweeting, blogging, etc. (although I did occasionally post a noteworthy #Crocs&sox photo on Instagram). There is so much noise on the web (the electoral noise may be over, but the consumerist noise will continue to rise). I’m thinking about how not to contribute to the din of it all.

I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my brain aneurysm. Of course, it’s not the aneurysm that I celebrated, but my 1-in-10 survival. Today is the day that I came home from Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, still in need of tremendous healing, but able to join my family around the Thanksgiving table. A year later, I’m doing fine. There seem to be no long term disabilities.

Understandably, I think a lot about the spaces in my mind. The following are several self-metaphorical photographs that I created in my studio this fall. They are part of the work that I’ve been doing for my MFA (which I’ll write about soon). Contrary to the suspicion that everything is digitally manipulated these days, they are straight photographs created with a 4×5 camera and a vintage BetterLight scanning back. They represent where I’ve headed with my trichroic lighting since I first wrote about it here.


Syl_Arena_BL_161009__022, 10/9/16, 4:35 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/25 s, R47.6, G30.0, B54.3

Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Ela, Chromogenic print, 2016.

Syl_Arena_BL_161009__019, 10/9/16, 2:45 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/15 s, R47.6, G30.0, B54.3

Fig. 2: Syl Arena, Loak, Chromogenic print, 2016.

Syl_Arena_BL_161009__020, 10/9/16, 3:25 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/10 s, R47.6, G30.0, B54.3

Fig. 3: Syl Arena, Prin, Chromogenic print, 2016.

Syl_Arena_BL_161009__016, 10/9/16, 1:17 PM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/10 s, R49.9, G30.0, B31.1

Fig. 4: Syl Arena, Venk, Chromogenic print, 2016.

Syl_Arena_BL_161008__012, 10/9/16, 9:17 AM, 16C, 9000x12000 (0+0), 150%, Custom, 1/25 s, R19.9, G0.0, B1.1

Fig. 5: Syl Arena, Schen, Chromogenic print, 2016.

Fig. 1:

Fig. 1: Syl Arena, Color Ribbon 9775, Digital C print, 24″ x 36″, 2016.

I am very proud to announce that my Color Ribbon 9775 will be exhibited this summer in New York as part of the Aperture Foundation’s “Summer Open 2016.” CR 9775 is part of my trichroic series in which I use separate red, green, and blue light sources to illuminate common materials. For a behind-the-scenes look at my early trichroic work, check out this post from February, 2015. For peek at recent trichroic work, click on the photo below to hop to an online gallery.

Color Ribbons PIM 160406

Fig. 2 – Click through ^ to see recent works in my Trichroic series.

Charlotte Cotton served as curator for the show.  Charlotte is the Curator In Residence at the International Center for Photography in New York. The theme the Aperture show, “Photography Is Magic,” ties in with the title of Charlotte’s recent book by the same name. The exhibition includes the work of 50 photographers. It opens on July 14 and runs to August 11, 2016 at Aperture’s gallery in Chelsea. For details, click here.

My Artist Statement for the Aperture Summer Open

Visual ambiguity creates the magic in my ‘Color Ribbon’ series. These images play with the viewer’s perception of spatial organization. Questions of what is truly in front and what is behind reveal themselves slowly in these images.

In photographs, we interpret depth largely through clues provided by perspective and shadow. My slight-of-hand in this series is that I use three separate light sources in pure red, green, and blue. The merger of these three primary colors creates the secondary colors (yellow, cyan, and magenta). The separation of the sources and the resulting mergers of colored light cast multiple shadows that are often visually disconnected from the illuminated surface.

To create just a bit more visual magic, I use small, irregularly shaped mirrors to reflect light back onto the cut paper. For instance, redirecting red light coming from behind onto a green surface facing the lens creates a patch of yellow that distracts the viewer, thereby enhancing the illusion of the photograph’s spatial organization.

Of course there are small tells in each image—small clues that reward the viewer’s attention to detail. Bumps along the cut edges of the paper, in places, reveal that I have indeed photographed a sheet of paper that I cut into strips and rearranged as a jumbled bow. There are also spots where the paper’s texture becomes apparent through a highlight. Rather than hide these tells through digital manipulation, I leave them in plain sight to honor the sense of magic that is photography.



On the outside, the new 600EX II-RT Speedlite looks like the original 600EX-RT.

Canon recently announced an upgrade to its flagship Speedlite: the 600EX II-RT replaces the original 600EX-RT. My initial impression is that the new model is well-suited for power shooters who need faster recycle times. While the 600EX II-RT maintains the external layout of the 600EX-RT, the internal heat resistance has been improved to allow for longer runs of continuous shooting. For the fastest recycle times, you’ll want to pair the 600EX II-RT with the new CP-E4N battery pack.


Canon’s new CP-E4N battery pack provides the fastest recycle times when used with the 600EX II-RT Speedlite.

Rapid-fire shooters also will be glad to know that the “Quick Flash” feature (which fires the flash when only partially recharged) can now be used when the camera is set to Continuous drive. Also, when the 600EX II-RT is used as a radio master, off-camera Speedlites that are recycled will fire when others are not yet fully recycled. Previously, the system would not fire any off-camera Speedlites until all had checked in as ready-to-go.

Continue reading »


Art Camera Google Cultural Institute

Google’s Cultural Institute is providing their Art Camera to museums around the globe. The camera brings the gigapixel zoomability of the Google Earth experience to paintings and drawings. The detail of brushstrokes is amazing…better than sticking your nose up close and having a guard tap you on the shoulder. Plus, you can hop from museum to museum with just a few clicks.

Check the Art Camera out here on Mashable.

Click here to see the collection of Art Camera pix on the Google Cultural Institute site.

Google Art Cam example

Above: an example of the brushwork that can be seen in Cezanne’s painting Quarry at Bibémus.

Syl Arena Glad To Be Alive

Left: The day after brain surgery. Right: ten days later with my son, Tony.

Just a quick thanks to all who have offered up prayers and sent words of support over the past few months. I am now in that class of people who have walked away from a medical train wreck. Literally I am one in ten.

On November 10, 2015, I had a seizure at home which lead to a CT-scan at the local emergency room which lead to a 150-mile flight in a medical helicopter to a regional medical center in Santa Barbara (no, I did not have a window seat). At Cottage Hospital, the world-renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Alois Zauner, and his team injected me with radioactive dye and then drove a catheter from my groin into the center of my brain to seal a leaking aneurysm (a bubble on the side of an artery). Effectively, I underwent brain surgery without losing any of my trademark crazy, red locks.

Specifically, I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage; which is a type of stroke. I spent two weeks at Cottage, mostly in the neuro-ICU. As is typical after brain events, my body chemistry was whacked. My pituitary gland persistently instructed my kidneys to hold onto lethal amounts of sodium. My blood pressure, in response, stayed at stratospheric levels that causes strokes. Eventually the doctors and dedicated  NICU nurses at Cottage helped me find a path to recovery.

Continue reading »



On This Week In Photo #434, I join Frederick Van Johnson and Sara France for a spirited, hour-long conversation about recent events and announcements in the world of photography. You can watch (or listen) to it right here on TWiP.

Speedliting Events In NYC This Week During PhotoPlus

Heading to PhotoPlus this week? Click here for info on my free Speedliting events. And…when you see that guy with the crazy red hair, be sure to come up and introduce yourself as a PixSylarian.




Thanks to the support of Canon USA, I have four Speedliting events in NYC during the PhotoPlus Expo that starts two weeks from today. All are free, but you do have to register for admission to the events.

Thurs. Oct. 22, 10:00am – 12:00pm—B&H Event Space “New Frontiers for Lighting with Canon Speedlites” The long wait for the first shipments of the 430EX III-RT Speedlite is almost over. In this seminar I’ll share my experiences with this new Speedlite (the short version is that I think it’s amazing and a huge value). I’ll also provide a complete update on my workflows with Canon’s radio-enabled Speedliting system. Click here to register at B&H.

Thurs. Oct. 22, 3:00-4:00pm—Canon Live Learning Studio, PhotoPlus Expo (Javits Center)—live shooting demo with the 430EX III-RT Speedlite. Click here to register for the PhotoPlus Expo.

Fri. Oct. 23, 3:00-4:00pm—Canon Live Learning Studio, PhotoPlus Expo (Javits Center)—live shooting demo with the 430EX III-RT Speedlite.

Sat. Oct. 24, 10:00-11:00am—Canon Live Learning Studio, PhotoPlus Expo (Javits Center)—live shooting demo with the 430EX III-RT Speedlite.

[P.S. I’ve a new post queued up for next week that provides a complete review of the new LCD and interactive menu system used on the 430EX III-RT. Dare I say it? Sure. I think that the new 430EX III-RT is easier and faster to use as a radio master than the600EX-RT. I’ll explain why next week.]

Check out the 430EX III-RT on | B&H Photo | Amazon |


The new 430EX III-RT Speedlite integrates fully with Canon’s radio Speedliting system and can work with the 600EX-RT as either a radio master or radio slave.



Canon Professional Network, a great online resource produced by Canon Europe, just published my new article on deciding which Speedlite is the best for your needs. In the article I walk about:

  • Advantage of a Speedlite over pop-up flash
  • Features to consider when buying a Speedlite
  • Model-specific features and recommendations

Click here to read the article on CPN’s site.



Following the recent publication of my updated Speedliter’s Handbook, I had many overdue promises to fulfill. The foremost of which was to spent more time with my family. Now that I’ve made good on that promise, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve created the Exposure Quick Guide that I mentioned in the Handbook’s  Chapter 2: Exposure Exposed.

You can read the entire guide here and download PDFs designed for mobile devices and for printing (links below). Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of the info that you’l find in the new Handbook. (To take a peek inside the Handbook, check out this post.)


Page 1 of the Expsoure Quick Guide covers the idea of a stop and shows the whole-stop increments of shutter, aperture, ISO, and flash power.


Page two of the Quick Guide covers how I decide on which camera or flash setting to change.

Page two of the Quick Guide covers how I decide on which camera or flash setting to change.


Page 3 of the Quick Guide covers how I manage ambient light and why shutter speed does not affect flash exposure.

Page 3 of the Quick Guide covers how I manage ambient light and why shutter speed does not affect flash exposure.


Page four of the Quick Guide presents my simple and advanced workflows for lighting portraits.

Page four of the Quick Guide presents my simple and advanced workflows for lighting portraits.

Download The Quick Guide Here

Two steps: 1. click on one of the following links and 2. right-click/”save as” after it appears on screen.

Mobile layout: single pages that you can scroll (Syl Arena Exposure Quick Guide Mobile)

Print layout: designed for double-sided printing (Syl Arena Exposure Quick Guide Print)

Please Write A Reader Review of ‘Speedliter’s Handbook’

Every voice matters…especially when shopping online. If you’ve read the new Speedliter’s Handbook, I would be very grateful if you’d head to your favorite online bookseller and write a quick review. Your thoughts will help other photographers find the book online. Thanks!

Speedliter’s Handbook on:

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Amazon CN, Amazon JP

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository (ships to Australia!)



After 14 months on the project, I have finally crossed the finish line. The new Speedliter’s Handbook is heading to press and will start shipping in early August.

We’ve made five laps around the sun since I wrote the original Speedliter’s Handbook. In those five years, much has changed about the way I use Speedlites. Of course, Canon’s introduction of the 600EX-RT system—with its built-in, two-way communication—was reason enough to update the book. Yet, this new edition is so much more.

Virtually every word, photo, and diagram in the first edition has been evaluated and either polished or cut. Additions/expansions in the second edition include:

  • Coverage of every current Canon Speedlite from the 600EX-RT down to the 90EX along with tips on using older Canon Speedlites and models from other manufacturers
  • A new chapter about maximizing the benefits of on-camera flash
  • An expanded portfolio of portraits made with a single Speedlite
  • A complete update to my survey of light modifiers and gels
  • A greater emphasis on step-by-step workflows
  • A greatly expanded discussion of Canon’s camera-based menu system for Speedlite control
  • And, of course, complete coverage of how to use the radio-enabled 600EX-RT system by itself and with earlier generations of Canon Speedlites.f

The new Handbook is suited for Speedliters at all levels. If you don’t have the 600EX-RT system, rest assured that I’ve completely updated my coverage of earlier generations of Speedlites to incorporate my latest workflows for flash photography. If you don’t shoot Canon, as before, about 60% of the Handbook is non-demonimational (meaning that the concepts apply to all brands of lighting gear).

Pre-order the Speedliter’s Handbook on Amazon

Learn small flash with Syl at Santa Fe Workshops (July 19-24, hurray-just a few spaces still open)

Learn Canon Speedliting with Syl at Maine Media Workshops (August 2-8)


A Detailed Peek At The New Speedliter’s Handbook

There are 24 chapters and 400+ pages in the new Handbook. Here’s how it is organized:

[Note: Click through on the spreads below to read an actual PDF.]


Chapter 0: Quick Start Guide To Speedliting

Chapter 0: Quick Start Guide To Speedliting—A crash course in the basic ideas of creating photos with flash, including how to control your Speedlite from the LCD of your camera (which makes flash photography so much easier!).

Part 1: Before Speedlites, There Was Light

Chapter 1: Learn To See Light

Chapter 1: Learn To See Light

  • Chapter 1: Learn T0 See Light—How to see light, how to describe light (example above)
  • Chapter 2: Exposure Exposed—The fundamentals of camera exposure broken out in ways that relate to flash photography
  • Chapter 3: Mechanics Of Light—Why light behaves in certain ways
  • Chapter 4: Manage The Ambient Light—How to wrangle the ambient (background) light in flash photos
  • Chapter 5: Position Is Relative—Where to position your flash for specific purposes

Part 2: Speedlites Fundamentally


Chapter 6: Meet The Speedlites

  •  Chapter 6: Meet The Speedlites—A detailed buttons-and-dials tour of each of the Speedlites in Canon’s current lineup, from the 600EX-RT down to the 90EX. New to this edition is a discussion of non-Canon E-TTL Speedlites and economy-oriented Manual-only Speedlites (example above).
  • Chapter 7: Control Your Speedlite—A detailed look at the settings found on a Speedlite (mode, sync, etc.).
  • Chapter 8: Flashing Manually—When to shoot and how to maximize the benefit of your Speedlite in Manual mode
  • Chapter 9: E Is For Evaluative—When to shoot and how to maximize the benefit of your Speedlite in E-TTL mode
  • Chapter 10: Specialty Flash Modes—How to use the other Speedlite modes, such as: Multi, External Auto, External Manual, and Group

Part 3: Off-Camera Speedliting


Chapter 13: Radio Speedliting, Canon’s New Frontier

  • Chapter 11: Triggers For Off-Camera Flash—A survey of the many ways to fire an off-camera Speedlite in Manual and E-TTL mode
  • Chapter 12: Optical Wireless, The Canon Way—The details about how to set up master and slave Speedlites in optical wireless, including detailed button-and-dials diagrams for all the current Speedlites and how to do the same on the LCD of your camera
  • Chapter 13: Radio Speedliting: Canon’s New Frontier—The details about how to set up master and slave Speedlites in Canon’s new radio wireless, including detailed button-and-dials diagrams for the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3-RT transmitter and how to do the same on the LCD of your camera (example above).

Part 4: Gear For Speedliting


Chapter 14: Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite

  •  Chapter 14: Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite—My updated survey of my favorite small modifiers that can be attached to Speedlites (example above)
  • Chapter 15: Those Big Modifiers Always Get In The Way—My updated survey of my favorite large modifiers to which you mount Speedlites
  • Chapter 16: Get A Grip—How to attach your Speedlite to stands and other devices in a wide range of situations
  • Chapter 17: Keeping The Energy Up—My updated survey of batteries and external power packs

Part 5: Speedliting In Action


Chapter 19: Portraits With One Speedlite

  •  Chapter 18: Getting The Most From On-Camera Flash—the new chapter provides a wide range of strategies for on-camera flash, both pop-up and Speedlite
  • Chapter 19: Portraits With One Speedlite—an expanded chapter on a wide range of portraits that can be made with one Speedlite (example above)
  • Chapter 20: Portraits With Multiple Speedlites—an updated chapter on how two or more Speedlites can be used to create great portraits
  • Chapter 21: Gelling For Effect—an updated chapter on how I use gels for color correction and creative effects
  • Chapter 22: Slicing Time With High-Speed Sync—an updated chapter on how I use High-Speed Sync in a variety of situations
  • Chapter 23: Gang Lighting—an updated chapter on how I create synergy by using several Speedlites together as a unified light source

Pre-order the Speedliter’s Handbook on Amazon

Learn small flash with Syl at Santa Fe Workshops (July 19-24, hurray-just a few spaces still open)

Learn Canon Speedliting with Syl at Maine Media Workshops (August 2-8)