Click on photo to see high-res version.

It’s not how many Speedlites you have, it’s where you put the one you have that matters. One Speedlite in the right place is far better than several in poor locations.

The Dutch painter Rembrandt (1606-1669) was celebrated for the dramatic merger of beautiful skin tones into deep shadow. His influence continues today as many photographers strive to create Rembrandt-lighting. What they are really after is a high degree of chiaroscuro (“KEE-ar-oh-sku-row”) in their images.

The key to getting beautiful chiaroscuro is to move the subject as close as possible to a large light source (or vice versa). In Rembrants’ day this was achieved by positioning the sitter by a large window in an otherwise unlit room. The closer the light source is to the subject, the more dramatic the fall-off.

Making a One-Light Portrait

The portrait above was taken in a dim studio with a single Speedlite fired through a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe. The softbox is literally just out of frame a camera left. The softbox turned the relatively small size of the Speedlite into a larger, wrap-around light source.

To get the Speedlite off-camera, I connected it with a a extra-long E-TTL cord. BIG TIP: this cord is the most useful piece of off-camera gear in my bag. If you are just starting with off-camera flash, spend $60 on this cord before you buy anything else! It maintains full E-TTL communication with the Speedlite so I can control the flash exposure from my camera. I like a straight cord, rather than a long cord, because I can run the cord from my camera down to the floor, across to the stand, and up to the Speedlite instead of having it swing through the air. So, when it comes to really long off-camera cords, straight is the way to go – avoid coiled.

The studio’s white background turned to black because the softbox was aimed to keep any spill off the back wall. The combination of aperture and shutter assured that none of the ambient light contributed to the exposure.

As for why the shadows are so deep when the light comes in close, we can blame that on the Inverse Square Law. But, that’s another story for another day.

Lighting Details

Environment: Inside professional studio
Time of Day: Not a factor
Ambient: Dim incandescent
Speedlite: one 580EX II
Modifier: Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe 24″
Distance to Subject: about 15″, just out of frame
Height of Light: centered just above model’s eyes
Trigger: Speedlite connected to camera hotshoe via extra-long off-camera E-TTL cord.

Camera Details

Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 200mm f/2 L
Distance to Subject: 10′
Exposure: 1/125″, f/4, ISO 200

25 Responses to It’s Where You Put The ONE Speedlite You Have That Matters

  1. Dan says:

    Love this tip! Also a newbie and am wondering if this will work with any model flash. Really wanting to get my Speedlite 430EX II off the camera for creative work.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Dan – Sure, the FlashZebra 24' E-TTL will work for your 430EX II. In fact it will work with all Canon Speedlites that have "EX" in the model number. The "EX" means that it's compatible with Canon's E-TTL system. Be sure to cruise through the Gear pages for more ideas about how to move your Speedlite off-camera flash.

  2. Danté Bell says:

    Syl, excellent post — good information very concisely communicated! Do you cover things like this in your books? If so, I'll have to put in an order 😉

  3. I'm loving this look and setup! Your explanation is pleasantly easy to understand and I look forward to your upcoming book with much gusto. 🙂

  4. Michael says:

    This is really helpful info for newbies like myself. Thanks for posting it (and keep it coming).

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by digitalforge: Nice Tutorial – RT @syl_arena: Now on ‘It’s Where You Put The ONE Speedlite You Have That Matters’ >

  6. Bo Vejgaard says:

    I really like your way of making these ligthing tasks so simple an achievable for us amateurs. It's hard having to wait so long for the Speedliter's Handbook. So I look forward to more previews.

  7. Knut says:

    Excellent post! Have just preordered the Speedliters Handbook on Amazon.

    Just wondering – can this be achieved without the cable using a Speedlite 430 EX II and EOS 7D. The 7D is able to control the flash wireless, but I'm wondering whether the flash is completely encased by the softbox and thus not able to "see" the trigger light from the camera.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Knut –

      The 7D pop-up will not work if the slave is inside a softbox. There needs to be a line-of-sight connection between the Master and Slave. Nor will the 7D pop-up work if you are shooting outdoors and the slave is behind you (indoors the 7D might be able to bounce the signal off a wall). The extra-long E-TTL cord gives you many capabilities that the 7D pop-up does not offer. If you don't need to control Speedlites inside a softbox (at least for now), then the 7D pop-up can be another great way to get started with off-camera flash.

      • aliak says:

        Hello, 2 quick questions: 1) Can your long ETTL Cord control multiple Speedlites? 2) Can the 7D control multiple Speedlites?

        Just learned of you and absolutely love your tutorials on Kelby, also ordered your book. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

        • Syl Arena says:

          The way to control multiple Speedlites is to learn the mechanics of Canon's built-in wireless system. With your 7D and a 580EX II Speedlite, you can control the entire system from the lcd on the back of your camera. If you put the master 580EX II on the cord, then you get the benefit of on-camera system control and the beauty of off-camera flash.

  8. Jeff says:

    Great information Syl…really appreciate you explaining this!!!

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  10. Don says:

    Thanks Syl. Great artical. This is the blog I have been waiting for.

  11. Kevin says:

    Hi Syl. Thank you so much! This is great information for a newb like me.
    Ordered a cord yesterday, looking forward to its arrival.

    Question: Can you attach the cord to your camera – then place a 580 EXII on the cord (on camera) as well as a
    580 EXII on the other end (inside a softbox) – Then set 580 EXII that is on camera to Master – to fire a 3rd flash (430 EX – set as slave) for background/hairlight etc.
    as well as?

    Once again Thank You!!

    • Syl Arena says:

      Kevin – The cord only has a hotshoe at one end. So it is not possible to mount a Speedlite on the camera end. That said, it is quite possible to use the Speedlite on the cord as the Master inside a softbox and control Slaves outside the softbox. I do this with a Lastolite Ezybox frequently. The Slaves just need to see the front of the softbox directly, so they cannot also be in softboxes.

  12. Kevin says:

    Hi Syl.
    I was wondering if it did have one or not. Saw the other non ettl cord mentioned and assumed this one was like that.
    Have you book pre-ordered and can hardly wait!!
    Thanks again for all your hard work and willing to share your time and knowledge.

  13. Tanner says:

    Great comments guys, I'm new to this site. I was thinking of using an umbrella instead of the softbox to soften the light and in this case you can keep a line of site between the 7D pop up and slave flash without the cable.

  14. Adam says:

    You've got a new fan Syl, thanks for all you do. What camera mode did you use to shoot this setup? M, A, Tv or P?

  15. Tom Thompson says:

    Just ordered the long cord. It's interesting how we evolve our technology in circles. I used a long cord years ago to trigger the strobes, and another long cord to trigger the camera. We moved to radio controls and now back to wired controls. Hard wire is simpler, cheaper, more reliable.

  16. I enjoyed this post and also wanted to point out which i really such as the style and really feel of your site. I'm utilizing wordpress as well on my blog but have been searching for a template like this that is much much better than what I have. I see the theme is listed on the footer so I'll take a much better look at it.

  17. […] said before, “it’s not how many Speedlites you have, it’s where you put the ONE Speedlite you […]

  18. […] why you would need a long TTL cord, check out Syl Areana's super smart way of using a Canon TTL master strobe inside a softbox to control other Canon strobes OR David Hobby's Strobe on a Rope self-assist way of off camera […]

  19. Ramneek says:

    thanks for sharing the setup down to details of distances of camera/light with respect to subject.
    I have 35mm not sure if i will be able to keep light this close to subject.

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